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Health Highlights: Aug. 29, 2004

Schwarzenegger Vows Veto of Canada Drug Bill 'Cheeseburger' Bills Gaining in States Chinese Lawmakers Finally Face AIDS Crisis FDA Experts Keen on Blindness Drug Vaccine Maker Reports New Problem

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

Schwarzenegger Vows Veto of Canada Drug Bill

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to veto a bill, passed Friday by the heavily Democratic state Legislature, that would allow the nation's largest state to re-import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, faces a torrent of bills lawmakers passed on the final day of their session when he returns from the Republican National Convention in New York.

Margita Thompson, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that he'd veto the measure because it breaks the law, the Los Angeles Times reported. "Right now, what we need to do is focus on what's right for the people and not breaking the law."

The Legislature actually passed several bills regarding Canadian imports, including one that would set up a Web site to compare prices and another allowing California pharmacies to sign contracts to purchase drugs from Canadian pharmacies. A third would enable the state to buy drugs in bulk for its prison system, according to the Times account. Advocates said that would save $9 million a year.

Critics said Schwarzenegger, who has received hefty contributions from drug companies, should vote his conscience and allow senior citizens to save money.

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'Cheeseburger' Bills Gaining in States

Several states are passing bills aimed at protecting restaurants and food manufacturers from lawsuits claiming that their food is responsible for making their patrons fat.

The Associated Press reports that these so-called "cheeseburger" bills would prohibit people from seeking damages from food companies for weight gain and associated health conditions like diabetes. The National Association of State Legislatures tells the wire service that a dozen states have passed such measures so far this year.

While supporters say the measures would put a cap on what they call frivolous lawsuits and place the responsibility where it belongs -- on the customer -- opponents say the claims are often accurate and as such should have their day in court.

"Most people don't see any reason to impose liability for an individual's inability to push himself away from the dinner table," Washington State Rep. Patricia Lantz, a Democrat, told the AP. Washington is one of the states that have passed such measures.

But John Banzhaf, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University and a supporter of such actions, said that the push will continue. "Is it a shoo-in? No," Banzhaf, who helped orchestrate suits against Big Tobacco, told the wire service. "But if we pick our plaintiffs carefully, the guy who eats there every day, we can make our cases stick."

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Chinese Lawmakers Finally Face AIDS Crisis

China, which for years has been accused of hiding a major public health threat, has passed its first laws aimed at preventing the spread of AIDS.

The People's National Congress on Saturday approved a measure saying that the central government will fund projects in the nation's poorest areas where people cannot afford treatment for the disease, the country's official Xinhua news agency reported.

Xinhua noted that it is the first such law specifically targeting the spread of the AIDS virus.

Officially, China has 840,000 people with the AIDS virus, but unofficial estimates place the figure much higher, according to the BBC. About one in 10 people got the virus through blood transfusions or blood drawings, and the new law aims also to protect the blood supply.

In addition, the measure prohibits discrimination against people with HIV or other infectious diseases, Xinhua reported.

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FDA Experts Keen on Blindness Drug

A new drug that fights a form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the elderly, won applause if not approval from a panel of advisors to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The panel did not formally vote to approve Macugen, made by Eyetech Pharmaceuticals. However, eye doctors were impressed by the research, according to an account by the Associated Press.

Macugen treats what is known as the "wet" type of AMD, where blood vessels cause blindness by forming behind the retina. The condition strikes an estimated 1.6 million older Americans, but experts believe that, as the population ages, some 6.3 million will suffer form the disorder by 2030.

In a study of 1,186 patients, Macugen slowed progressive vision loss, FDA medical officer Jennifer Harris told the advisory committee Friday. Those given a 0.3 milligram dose every six weeks suffered 15 percent less vision loss than untreated patients, according to the AP account.

The drug did not improve eyesight, however.

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Vaccine Maker Reports New Problem

A day after it announced that it was delaying release of its flu vaccine, Chiron Corp. confirmed Friday that it was probing possible problems with another type of vaccine in Brazil.

The New York Times reports that health officials in Brazil have stopped using Chiron's triple vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) after an unusually high number of children experienced allergic reactions to the jab.

At least 125 children suffered from the reactions, which ranged from rashes to anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition.

The Times reports that officials are concerned about the latest development because Chiron, the world's fifth largest vaccine maker, is under contract to produce pilot supplies of human vaccines against bird flu, which has spread quickly in Asia.

Children were much more likely to suffer bad reactions to the Chiron vaccine than they were from a vaccine made by another company.

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