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Health Highlights: Dec. 22, 2004

FDA Rebukes Crestor Ad Fewer Nursing Home Residents in Physical Restraints Many Large U.S. Airports Lack Smoke-Free Policy Poll: Americans Confident of Drug Safety Japan Confirms 1st Human Bird Flu Case Dick Clark Could Spend Holidays in Hospital

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

FDA Rebukes Crestor Ad

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has told drug maker AstraZeneca to withdraw a print ad that touts the safety of the cholesterol drug Crestor. The FDA says the claims in the ad are misleading.

In a letter dated Dec. 21, the FDA wrote: "The 'patient safety' print ad makes false or misleading safety claims that minimize the risks associated with Crestor, thereby suggesting that Crestor is safer than has been demonstrated by substantial evidence or substantial clinical experience."

An AstraZeneca spokesperson said the ad was meant to run for a only a short time and is no longer being used, the Associated Press reported.

After the ad appeared in the Washington Post on Nov. 23, Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the consumer group Public Citizen filed a complaint with the FDA. Wolfe has been trying to have Crestor withdrawn from the market because he's concerned about the rate of liver problems associated with the drug.

Crestor belongs to a family of drugs called statins. The prescribing information for Crestor includes warnings about possible liver damage or failure, the AP reported.

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Fewer Nursing Home Residents in Physical Restraints

The use of restraints on residents of U.S. nursing homes has declined by nearly 25 percent in the last two years, according to a report released Tuesday by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In 2004, 7.5 percent of nursing home residents were in physical restraints, down from 9.7 percent in 2002, the report said. That means that about 35,000 fewer nursing home patients are in physical restraints on any given day.

The use of restraints can result in patients becoming weak, developing bedsores, and losing the ability to go the toilet on their own.

The report also said that fewer short- and long-term nursing home residents reported being in pain in 2004, dropping 11 percent and 38 percent, respectively, since 2002. However, there was a 2 percent increase in the number of patients with bedsores, the Associated Press reported.

There are 16,400 nursing homes in the United States. This report is an assessment of the federal government's program to address serious problems in many of those facilities. The program, which started in 2002, offers public information about patient care in every facility.

It's believed this will help consumers make better choices and force nursing homes to improve their quality of care.

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Many Large U.S. Airports Lack Smoke-Free Policy

Just over 60 percent of U.S. airports reported they were smoke-free in 2002, but larger airports seem to be lagging behind, according to a study in the Dec. 24 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The study found that less than half of the country's largest airports, which account for the majority of passenger traffic, had a smoke-free policy. That means that many travelers and airport workers lack adequate protection from secondhand smoke, the study said.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which can cause cancer. It's estimated that secondhand smoke is responsible for more than 35,000 heart disease deaths and 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S.

Secondhand smoke can also cause lower respiratory infections, chronic ear infections, and asthma among children and adolescents.

There is no known safe level of secondhand smoke, the study noted.

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Poll: Americans Confident of Drug Safety

Despite the recent withdrawal of a popular prescription painkiller and warnings about several others, Americans remain confident in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ability to monitor the safety of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, an Associated Press poll finds.

The FDA has come under close scrutiny following the October withdrawal of Merck & Co.'s Vioxx due to concerns that it could raise a user's risk of heart attack and stroke. Since then, two more painkillers in the same family -- Pfizer's Celebrex and non-prescription Aleve (naproxen) -- have demonstrated similar risks, but their makers haven't withdrawn the drugs.

Despite these setbacks, eight in 10 of those polled said they have confidence in the general safety of prescription drugs sold in the United States, the AP said. Almost the same number expressed confidence in the FDA. The poll was taken after the Vioxx and Celebrex incidents but before this week's warning involving Aleve.

Agency critics have said the FDA approves drugs too quickly and is unable to effectively monitor them once they're on the market. The FDA was also criticized for its slow response to recent research indicating that certain antidepressant drugs could cause suicidal behavior in teenagers.

On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card defended the FDA, saying it does "a spectacular job."

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Japan Confirms 1st Human Bird Flu Case

Japan has confirmed its first human case of bird flu, and officials added that four other people are suspected of having been infected, the Agence-France Presse news service reported Wednesday.

Japan quickly banned imports of South Korean poultry, which the Tokyo government said is suspected as the source of the outbreak.

Four of the five suspected cases are employees at a poultry farm near the western city of Kyoto, a health ministry statement said. The other person is a city official who helped disinfect the farm. All five have tested positive for avian influenza, AFP reported.

The four suspected cases are not thought to be contagious since the incubation period has passed, the health ministry statement said.

Earlier this year, 20 people died of the virus in Thailand and Vietnam. World Health Organization officials have long warned of the avian flu virus possibly combining with a human strain, causing a pandemic that could kill millions of people worldwide.

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Dick Clark Could Spend Holidays in Hospital

TV and music impresario Dick Clark, who reportedly suffered a minor stroke on Dec. 6, is likely to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve in the hospital.

Clark, 75, is out of intensive care now and is "doing some rehab" publicist Paul Shefrin told the Associated Press.

Shefrin would not discuss the impact of the stroke, including whether Clark had suffered paralysis. He would only say that doctors are "thrilled" with Clark's progress and that Clark's mental abilities haven't been impaired.

Regis Philbin is to be the substitute host of this year's "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" in New York City's Times Square.

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