Health Highlights: Aug. 29, 2003

Colorado Reports 10th West Nile Death Doctors Rebuild Woman's Heart FDA Approves New Uses for Older Drugs Study Links Urban Sprawl, Obesity New Zealand Investigates 3 Sudden Deaths

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

Colorado Reports 10th West Nile Death

An 85-year-old Brighton woman is this year's 10th Colorado resident to die of West Nile virus, the Rocky Mountain News reports Friday. Add the state's 46 new cases reported Thursday, and Colorado retains its dubious distinction as the nation's top West Nile hotspot.

Its 821 confirmed cases and 10 deaths represent almost half of the nationwide totals, the newspaper reports, though its figures don't quite match with those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Thursday, the CDC had listed 1,482 cases in 34 states, with a total of 24 deaths in 10 states.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy may be the time needed to confirm a diagnosis and report it to the CDC. West Nile has a three- to 14-day incubation period, and test results can take several weeks, the News reports.

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Doctors Rebuild Woman's Heart

University of Maryland doctors say they've removed a diseased woman's heart, rebuilt it using a combination of human and animal tissue, and reimplanted the organ in the woman's chest, reports the Washington Post. The newspaper labels last week's 12-hour procedure "one of the most extensive surgeries of its kind in the United States."

The patient was Sandra Lanier, a 46-year-old woman with a history of a rare heart tumor called myxoma. She had had three prior surgeries to remove the tumor since 1997, each approximately two years apart.

Cardiologists Barley Griffith and James Gammie opted to remove all of the upper-chamber heart cells that could be involved in forming another tumor. The diseased portions were replaced with a combination of cow and human donor tissue. During periods when the organ was not being repaired, it was placed in a bucket of ice, the newspaper reports.

Doctors had said there was a 25 percent chance that Lanier could have died during the procedure. They say there's still a 10 percent chance that the tumor could return, noting also that Lanier will have to take blood thinners for the rest of her life.

Lanier, the physicians acknowledge, had been a candidate for a heart transplant. But they opted for the more radical approach since transplant patients risk rejecting the new organ, and about half die within 10 years of their surgeries.

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FDA Approves New Uses for Older Drugs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved new uses for a trio of existing drugs. Here's a quick summary:

  • Valtrex (valacyclovir hydrochloride), used to genital herpes, is now approved to prevent the infection's spread, as well. Many people who have the infection show no symptoms and may transmit the virus during sexual contact. A study of 1,500 people by Valtrex's manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, found that the drug reduced the transmission rate by 48 percent. Valtrex was first approved by the FDA in 1995 to treat the herpes simplex virus, which has infected some 45 million people.
  • Cipro XR (ciprofloxacin extended release), is the once-daily form of the powerful antibiotic that won fame during the fall 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks. A new FDA approval permits the drug to be marketed for treatment of complicated urinary tract infections. In clinical trials, 96 percent of participants treated with once-daily Cipro XR were cured of complicated UTIs, versus 91 percent of those receiving traditional Cipro twice daily. The Bayer Pharmaceuticals drug was first approved in 1987.

  • Wellbutrin (bupropion hydrochloride), used to treat major depressive disorder in patients 18 and older, is now approved in a once-daily form, Wellbutrin XL (extended release). The drug, believed to act on two brain chemicals that regulate mood and behavior, is touted for its lower risk of sexual side effects and weight gain. Wellbutrin XL tablets have a two-layered coating designed to release the drug slowly in the body. The FDA first approved the GlaxoSmithKline drug in 1995.

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Study Links Urban Sprawl, Obesity

People who live in sprawling areas where cars are required tend to weigh more and have higher blood pressure than those who live in more compact neighborhoods, reports HealthDay, citing a new study in the September issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The typical person living in a compact area weighs, on average, six pounds less than someone living in a sprawling area, the study finds. People in sprawling communities are also more likely to be obese and have high blood pressure, although the study does not reveal a statistically significant relationship between sprawl and diabetes.

The researchers say that people in sprawling areas tend to walk less, which may well account for some of these health woes.

"[These problems] may be the result of lower levels of physical activity, driving to work, driving to lunch, driving to school, basically driving everywhere," says Reid Ewing, lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth.

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New Zealand Investigates 3 Sudden Deaths

New Zealand hospitals are on high alert following the mysterious sudden deaths of three people -- two within an hour of collapsing, reports the New Zealand Herald.

Authorities have ruled out SARS in the deaths of two women and a man in Dunedin, but say they have no idea whether the illness will spread or whether it's infectious, the newspaper reports.

They say the deaths involved otherwise healthy people ages 40 to 60, who appear to have died from heavy bleeding in their lungs. One woman who survived for about 12 hours in the hospital showed some symptoms of pneumonia, the Herald reports.

The deaths came within 10 days of one another, and although the victims came from the same part of Dunedin, there is no indication that they knew each other or had traveled to a foreign country, the newspaper says.

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