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Health Highlights: April 20, 2004

Illinois Considers Importing Drugs From Europe Recalled Mirror Books Pose Cut Risk Study Suggests Link Between Testosterone and Autism Power Tools May Cause Permanent Hand Damage Human Bird Flu Confirmed in NYC Suburb FDA Approves Faster-Acting Insulin

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Illinois Considers Importing Drugs From Europe

Illinois is looking to Europe to lower its costs for prescription drugs. A team of experts from the state will travel to the continent to study the drug market there, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

An earlier study ordered by Gov. Rod Blagojevich concluded that purchasing drugs from Canada could save the state and its current and retired employees about $91 million a year.

In Canada and Europe, drug prices are controlled by government. Drug prices in Canada are as much as 50 percent cheaper than in the United States, where there are no government controls on drug prices.

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration opposes the importation of drugs from foreign countries, saying it can't guarantee that the medicines are safe.

Meanwhile, thousands of Americans are traveling to Canada to buy drugs, or purchasing Canadian drugs over the telephone or Internet. Although this is illegal, the FDA isn't cracking down on individuals, the newspaper said.


Recalled Mirror Books Pose Cut Risk

A potential risk of cuts has led to the recall of 225,000 children's mirror books, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The mirror in the Vinyl Mirror Books can crack or break, posing a threat to young children. There have been 26 reports of the mirror cracking or breaking, including four reports of cuts and one report of a pinched finger.

The brightly colored books, made in China and distributed by Kids II Inc. of Alpharetta, Ga., are made of flexible vinyl and contain a plastic mirror on one of the inside pages.

There are four models: Baby's Fun Book; Baby's Photo Album; Picture This Vinyl Book; and Carter's Imagination Picture Book. The books were sold for between $2 and $8 at mass merchandise and juvenile specialty stores across the United States from December 2001 through March 2004.

The books should be taken away from small children immediately. Parents can get a refund by detaching and mailing the mirror page to Kids II, 1015 Windward Ridge Parkway, Alpharetta, GA 30005.

For more information, phone Kids II toll-free at 877-325-7056 between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.


Study Suggests Link Between Testosterone and Autism

Research by scientists at Cambridge University in England suggests a possible link between the male hormone testosterone and autism.

They found that babies who produce high levels of testosterone while in the womb are more likely to show autism-like symptoms, such as having difficulty fitting into new social groups and being less curious than other children, BBC News Online reported.

The study findings suggest that autism may have a genetic basis. That raises the possibility of developing a test to screen fetuses for the disorder.

The Cambridge team studied 70 children whose mothers had an amniocentesis test while they were pregnant. The researchers checked those samples for levels of fetal testosterone.

When the children reached age 4, their parents filled out a checklist designed to reveal signs of behavioral and social problems in the children. The study will be published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.


Power Tools May Cause Permanent Hand Damage

People who frequently use power tools that vibrate may ultimately suffer lasting damage to the small arteries in the hand, wrist and lower arm, researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin concluded from new research.

Symptoms of a condition called hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) could include pain, tingling, and numbness of the hand, leading to a progressive loss of dexterity. A common symptom of the restricted blood flow caused by arterial damage is numbness of the fingers when exposed to cold, the researchers said in a statement.

Prevention may come from a popular heart drug -- nifedipine -- a so-called calcium channel blocker that appears to prevent muscle contraction during vibration, preventing arterial damage, the researchers said. In cardiac patients, the drug is used to keep arteries open wider, allowing for more blood flow to the heart.

The scientists studied the drug's effects on rat tails, which contain blood vessels and nerves similar to a human hand. Results of the research were reported Monday at a meeting of the American Association of Anatomists in Washington, D.C.


Human Bird Flu Confirmed in NYC Suburb

A Westchester County, N.Y., man has survived an extremely rare case of bird flu, becoming only the second known person in the United States to contract the disease, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The unidentified man was admitted to Westchester Medical Center last November, complaining of fever and cough. But it was only last Friday that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed his case as the H7N2 strain of bird flu, according to the newspaper. That strain is not the same as the deadly version that led to at least 16 deaths in Asia earlier this year.

The man recovered and went home after a few weeks, but his case remains a bit of a mystery because he had no known contact with infected birds -- the single proven method of transmission. The only previous case of avian flu in the United States, recorded in 2002, was diagnosed in a Virginia poultry worker, the Times reported.

The H7N2 strain is the same one that affected poultry at chicken farms in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey earlier this year, leading to the preventive slaughter of thousands of birds.

The CDC has tested the Westchester man's family, co-workers, and close contacts, finding no evidence that any had been infected, the Times reported.


FDA Approves Faster-Acting Insulin

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a fast-acting form of insulin for diabetics who experience spikes in blood sugar levels that occur immediately after eating.

The genetically engineered Aventis drug Apidra is designed to take effect sooner but last for less time than natural human insulin in controlling blood glucose spikes that characterize a condition called hyperglycemia, the company said in a statement.

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body does not produce or make proper use of insulin, a hormone that converts blood sugar (glucose) into energy. People with diabetes may need different types of insulin at certain times of the day to help manage their blood glucose levels, the company said.

An estimated 18 million people in the United States have diabetes, and as many as 60 percent of them may not be managing their condition properly, the company added.

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