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Health Highlights: Aug. 1, 2005

Celebrex Gets New Label Warning FDA Allows Guidant to Relaunch Defibrillators U.S. Highway Fatality Rate Hits 30-Year Low New Technology May Make Individual DNA Sequencing Possible Pig-borne Illness in China Now Infects 181

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

Celebrex Gets New Label Warning

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has added new warnings to the label for Pfizer's Celebrex, reflecting concerns over the arthritis drug's potential cardiovascular risks, the Associated Press reported.

The new labeling recommends that Celebrex be prescribed at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible duration. Celebrex belongs to a class of painkillers called Cox-2 inhibitors, of which two other drugs -- Merck's Vioxx and Pfizer's Bextra -- have been pulled from the market due to studies linking long-term use of the drugs to increased risks of heart attack and stroke.

The label will also include a warning that long-term use of Celebrex, like older painkillers, could cause gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers, the AP said.

In related news, the FDA on Monday approved a new use for Celebrex as a treatment for arthritis of the spine, a condition called ankylosing spondylitis. The condition affects some 400,000 Americans, typically young men, the AP said.

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FDA Allows Guidant to Relaunch Defibrillators

Guidant Corp. has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to relaunch its Contak Renewal 3 series of implanted defibrillators, the company announced Monday.

The Contak Renewal 3 was among 11 models withdrawn from the market in June because of faulty magnetic switches that could have led to premature battery drain. A total of 88,000 defibrillators, which shock an irregularly beating heart back into its normal rhythm, were involved in the recall.

In a statement, Guidant said the FDA approved the devices, including a new switch, and that it expected to resume global distribution of the Contak Renewal 3 models by mid-week. The Indianapolis-based company said it expected to resume a "full product supply within this month."

Guidant also has issued safety warnings on some 28,000 pacemakers, which were not addressed in Monday's statement.

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U.S. Highway Fatality Rate Hits 30-Year Low

The fatality rate on U.S. highways fell to its lowest level in 30 years in 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday.

A total of 42,636 people died on the nation's highways last year, down slightly from 42,884 in 2003. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.46 in 2004, down from 1.48 a year earlier, the agency said in a statement.

A significant factor is that 22 states now have primary seat belt laws, leading to a record 80 percent use of front-seat safety belts, the NHTSA said.

In other news from last year:

  • Alcohol-related deaths fell 2.4 percent from 2003, to 16,694.
  • Passenger car fatalities dropped to 31,693, lowest since 1992.
  • Pedestrian deaths fell 2.8 percent to 4,641.

But not all of the news was positive in 2004, the NHTSA said:

  • Motorcycle deaths rose 8 percent to 4,008.
  • Rollover deaths rose 1.1 percent to 10,553.
  • Deaths in large truck crashes rose 3 percent to 5,190.

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New Technology May Make Individual DNA Sequencing Possible

New technology developed by a Connecticut company may soon make it economically feasible to decode a person's DNA for medical reasons, its creators report in Monday's issue of the journal Nature.

The $500,000 machine, developed by 454 Life Sciences, was able to sequence the genome of a small bacterium in about four hours, the developers said. In 1995, when the same bacterium's genome was first mapped out, it required 24,000 separate operations that took up to six months, The New York Times reported.

The technology uses the chemistry of fireflies to generate a flash of light whenever a unit of DNA is correctly analyzed, the newspaper said. The flashes are monitored by a light-detecting chip, which then sends them to a computer that reconstructs the genome.

However, the machine is limited to reading DNA fragments that are about 100 units in length, which may make mammalian genomes beyond its present reach, the Times reported.

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Pig-borne Illness in China Now Infects 181

Seven more human cases of a pig-borne disease have been reported in southwest China's Sichuan province, raising the number of people infected to 181, the Bloomberg news service reported Monday. The human death toll remained at 34.

The illness, believed caused by the bacteria streptococcus suis, has affected mostly pig farmers and butchers. Symptoms include high fever, headache, dizziness, vomiting, and bleeding beneath the skin, the wire service said. China is the world's biggest pork producer.

Chinese officials have ruled out bird flu and SARS, news reports have said.

A Chinese firm, Yongshun Biomedical Co., told the country's official Xinhua news agency that it has shipped an initial batch of streptococcus vaccine -- enough for 350,000 pigs -- to the region.

Yongshun plans to produce enough vaccine for 10 million animals, the report said.

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