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Health Highlights: April 23  2005

Last Deadly Flu Virus Outside U.S. Destroyed: Report Women's Groups Ask for Review of FDA Breast Implant Vote Black Women More Likely to Have Unnecessary Cesareans: Study FDA OKs Return of Contraceptive Sponge

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

Last Deadly Flu Virus Outside U.S. Destroyed: Report

The last batch of a deadly flu virus sent outside the United States was destroyed Friday, officials at the American University of Beirut said.

The sample, which was found Wednesday at the Beirut airport, was destroyed "in accordance with internationally accepted safety measures designed to guarantee public safety," the Daily Star of Lebanon reported Saturday.

The virus, called H2N2, was mistakenly sent to nearly 4,000 laboratories worldwide -- most of them in the United States -- as part of a viral proficiency testing program. Previously missing samples of the pathogen that had been sent to Mexico and South Korea were destroyed earlier this week, according to the World Health Organization.

U.S. labs received the vast majority of the test kits sent out in October and February. On Thursday, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Julie Gerberding, said that virtually all of the samples sent to American labs had been destroyed. But as many as a couple of dozen test kits still had not been rounded up, she said.

The H2N2 virus killed more than 1 million people worldwide in 1957. It has not been included in flu vaccines since 1968, leaving anyone born after that date with little or no immunity.


Women's Groups Ask for Review of FDA Breast Implant Vote

The National Organization for Women and five other women's groups have asked Congress to investigate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recent review of silicone-gel breast implants. The groups contend that an FDA e-mail suggests agency officials were under outside pressure to approve the controversial devices, the Associated Press reported.

Inamed Corp. and Mentor Corp. are seeking an end to a 13-year FDA ban on most uses of the implants, which many women blame for a variety of health problems caused by leaking silicone. Earlier this month, an FDA advisory panel recommended that Mentor's implants be allowed back on the market under the certain conditions, but Inamed's products required more review. The FDA is weighing that advice as it completes its own review, the AP said.

A month before the advisory panel met, an aide to FDA Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford e-mailed the agency's medical device chief an unsigned "Update on Silicone Gel Breast Implants" that contended the devices were safe and that criticism of them amounted to "junk science," the AP said.

Responding in e-mail to the aide, FDA medical device chief Dr. Daniel Schultz wrote, "The truth lies somewhere in between this very positive perspective and the totally negative viewpoint of the other side," the news service said.

The women's groups sent copies of the e-mail to members of Congress on Thursday, asking that it and other complaints about silicone implants be investigated. "This e-mail implies the FDA had a predetermined interest in approval even before the FDA advisory panel met," they wrote.

A Senate panel -- the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees the FDA -- is reviewing the groups' request, a spokesman said.

FDA spokeswoman Julie Zawisza told the AP that the e-mailed "update" was not an FDA document and did not represent the agency's position. "We receive a lot of input from a lot of parties," she said.


Black Women More Likely to Have Unnecessary Cesareans: Study

Black women, women 35 or older, and those admitted to hospitals on weekends are more likely to have potentially unnecessary cesarean section deliveries than other women, a new study finds.

The analysis by researchers at Tulane University is the first to examine factors related with the surgery at the national level. The results appear in the April issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The researchers also reviewed repeat cesareans and found that white women were more likely than other mothers to have a second potentially unnecessary cesarean.

Overall, the researchers found that 11 percent of mothers had potentially unnecessary first-time cesareans and 65 percent of women with a previous cesarean had a second potentially unnecessary one. Black women had a significantly higher rate of first-time potentially unnecessary cesareans (14 percent) than women of other racial or ethnic groups. Other factors related to a first-time potentially unnecessary cesarean included the mother being older than 35 (12 percent), being admitted to a hospital on a weekend (12 percent) and living in the Northeast part of the country (12 percent) or in a zip code with a median income under $25,000 per household (12 percent), the study found.

Repeat unnecessary cesareans occurred more frequently among white women (66 percent) than other groups, the researchers said.


FDA OKs Return of Contraceptive Sponge

Like Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld," millions of American women may no longer have to measure prospective mates as "spongeworthy." The contraceptive sponge is poised to make a comeback.

The Today Sponge, pulled from shelves a decade ago due to production problems at the only plant that made it, was reapproved Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Associated Press reported.

Manufacturer Allendale Pharmaceuticals bought rights to sell the sponge several years ago from the prior maker, Wyeth Co. Then called American Home Products, Wyeth stopped producing the sponge in 1995 rather than follow through on an FDA-ordered factory upgrade. The device's effectiveness and safety were never questioned, the AP said.

The Today Sponge prevents pregnancy by covering the cervix and releasing spermicide. Some 250 million of them were sold from 1983 to 1995, the wire service said.

The product's original withdrawal sparked a "Seinfeld" episode in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character stretched her remaining supply of sponges by setting high standards for their use.

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