Health Highlights: Dec. 16, 2003

FDA Panel Recommends Non-Prescription Sale of the 'Morning-After Pill' U.S. Agency Recommends Food Label Changes Flu Fears Prompt Temporary Changes in Catholic Mass Report Cites Success Rates for Reproductive Technology Procedures U.S. Buys 375,000 More Flu Shots FDA OK's First Weight-Loss Drug for Children

HealthDay News

HealthDay News

Published on December 16, 2003

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

FDA Panel Recommends Non-Prescription Sale of the "Morning-After Pill"

Two advisory panels have overwhelmingly recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve the pill known as the "morning-after pill" for over-the-counter sale and distribution


The New York Times reports the 23-to-4 vote came after a day's hearings in Gaithersburg, Md., in which proponents and opponents of the pill's use presented impassioned arguments.

According to the TimesFDA commissioner Dr. Mark B. McClellan will make the final decision, but because the vote was so lopsided, it all parties believe the recommendation will be adopted. There's been no indication when McClellan will make his decision, the newspaper said.

The drug is already used by 2.4 million American women,and is known as Plan B, to be taken when regular contraception either fails or is skipped.

According to the Times,Plan B consists of two high-dose birth control pills and is meant to be used within 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse and may prevent up to 89 percent of unplanned pregnancies.

The drug is recommended as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but works up to 72 hours later. Supporters of allowing the drug to be sold over the counter say it's often difficult to find a doctor in time to prescribe it, especially on weekends and holidays.

In five states -- Alaska, California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington -- the drug is already available without a doctor's prescription.

Proponents argued the drug's widespread availability could prevent more than 1 million unplanned pregnancies every year. Opponents, including anti-abortion groups, are against any interference with an egg that may have already been fertilized.


U.S. Agency Recommends Food Label Changes

In an effort to help consumers choose lower-calorie foods, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recommended that the government review the serving sizes on food product labels.

The FTC says people may be confused about the information on the current labels, causing them to underestimate how much they're eating. The FTC says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should change requirements for label information so it's easier for consumers to compare the amount of calories in different foods.

That may make it easier for people to select foods that contain fewer calories, says an FTC news release.

The FTC recommendations about label changes were made in response to a Food and Drug Administration request for public comment on food labeling. An FDA report on the matter is expected to be completed early next year.


Flu Fears Prompt Temporary Changes in Catholic Mass

Catholic Church officials in the dioceses of San Jose and San Francisco in California have issued guidelines for churches to suspend certain Mass traditions -- including receiving the communion wafer on the tongue and sharing the wine chalice -- in an effort to control the spread of the flu.

The new rules were issued Friday and took effect on the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The guidelines say parishioners should receive the Communion wafer in their hands, should refrain from shaking hands during the "sign of peace," and should not hold hands while reciting the Lord's Prayer.

Those who administer the sacrament are required to wash their hands with an alcohol-based anti-bacterial solution. If parishioners have the flu, they're being asked to stay at home and watch Mass on television.

Officials in neighboring dioceses have not decided whether they'll issue similar flu-control guidelines.


Report Cites Success Rates for Reproduction Procedures

A new U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says that more than 40,000 babies were born in the United States as a result of assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures done in 2001.

This is the seventh annual ART report from the CDC. It summarizes national trends and offers information on the success rates of the 384 fertility clinics in the United States.

This new 2001 report says that, overall, 27 percent of ART procedures resulted in the birth of a baby for women who used their own fresh eggs. That's an increase over the 25.4 percent success rate in 2000.

ART refers to infertility treatment procedures in which both egg and sperm are handled in the laboratory. The most common ART procedure is in vitro fertilization.

The new report says 35 percent of ART procedures done in 2001 among women younger than 35 resulted in live births. The percentage of live births was 28 percent among women aged 35-37; 20 percent among women aged 38-40; 10 percent among women aged 41-42; and 4 percent among women older than 42.


U.S. Buys 375,000 More Flu Shots

The U.S. government said it has purchased an additional 375,000 flu shots in an attempt to ease nationwide shortages, the Associated Press reports.

The adult doses were bought from Chiron Corp., and had been intended for use in Europe. It's not immediately clear how the company came up with the extra doses, the AP reports, since the major suppliers of the inoculations had said their worldwide stocks had been all but exhausted.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also announced it had struck a deal with the maker of the new nasal flu vaccine FluMist to allow state and local health departments to buy the spray at $20 a dose, less than half the usual price.

And the world's top producer of flu shots, Aventis Pasteur, said it's rushing to manufacture 250,000 more inoculations for the United States -- more than half intended for children -- to be shipped sometime next month, according to the wire service report.


FDA OK's First Weight-Loss Drug for Children

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first-ever weight-loss drug for children. Hoffman-La Roche's Xenical (orlistat) is now permitted to treat obese 12- to 16-year-olds, the company said in a statement.

In a 54-week trial involving 539 adolescents in this age range, 27 percent of those who took Xenical achieved a 5 percent reduction in their body mass index (BMI, a ratio of height to weight), versus 16 percent who achieved that goal without the medication.

Approved for adults in 1998, Xenical works by blocking about 30 percent of the body's absorption of dietary fat. As in studies on older people, the medication did have several negative side effects in the studies on children, including loose stools and bowel control problems.

In blocking fat absorption, the drug also stems absorption of certain vitamins and nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E, and K, and beta-carotene. The manufacturer recommends that people who take Xenical also take a daily vitamin supplement.


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