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Health Highlights: Dec. 29, 2004

Suit Filed Over Death in AIDS Drug Trial Officials Warn About Disease As Tsunami Death Toll Nears 77,000Lawsuit Alleges Children's Motrin Caused Blindness in 7-Year-Old GirlJerry Orbach Dies From Prostate Cancer

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

Suit Filed Over Death in AIDS Drug Trial

The family of a pregnant Memphis, Tenn., woman who died while taking an experimental AIDS drug in a U.S. clinical trial is suing the government, several hospitals, and the maker of the medicine.

The wrongful death complaint alleges that doctors continued to give Joyce Ann Hafford the drug, nevirapine, even though she was displaying signs of liver failure. It also claims that they failed to tell Hafford of the risks involved in the trial.

Hafford was taking the drug as part of a trial to see whether it could prevent her from passing the AIDS virus onto her unborn baby. Hafford died of liver failure in August 2003, less than 72 hours after her son Sterling was born prematurely, according to the Commercial Appeal of Memphis.

The family originally filed the action in June, but withdrew it. The lawsuit was filed again after the Associated Press supplied the family with documents showing that the National Institutes of Health concluded that the drug most likely killed her, according to the wire service.

The family is seeking $10 million. The baby was born HIV-negative.

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Officials Warn of Disease As Tsunami Death Toll Nears 77,000

The climate that made south Asia a winter attraction for thousands of tourists is now a major factor in spreading disease in the wake of the earthquake and tidal waves that have killed more than 70,000 people, according to the latest reports.

The New York Times said rotting food and outdoor toilets used by million of homeless people in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Thailand and other south Asian countries are among the elements that have become breeding grounds for possible epidemics.

Reports of thousands of bodies continuing to wash ashore days after Sunday's earthquake and tsunamis that battered beach communities with 30 foot waves have health officials worried that even burials in mass graves won't be able to keep disease from spreading in epidemic proportions.

The Times quoted the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying it would be the survivors who would contribute to the spread of disease. "Besides the need for mass management of casualties in hospitals, WHO foresees the urgent need for reactivation and boosting the capacities of local systems for health-care delivery," the WHO statement said. "At short term, in a few days, additional threats to human life can be expected to arise from contaminated water sources."

"The initial terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer-term suffering of the affected communities," the newspaper quoted Dr. David Nabarro, head of crisis operations for WHO, as saying in Geneva.

Pleas for help continued to pour in from various countries. The Times quoted Ramesha Balasuraya, the United Nations Development Program spokeswoman in Sri Lanka, as saying the country needed all sorts of aid. "It's main relief items, like water, food, clothing and drugs," she told the newspaper.

"The longer-term effects may be as devastating as the tidal wave or the tsunami itself," CNN quoted the U.N.'s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, as saying. "Many more people are now affected by polluted drinking water. We could have epidemics within a few days unless we get health systems up and running."

The Associated Press quoted Jasmine Whitbread, international director of the aid group Oxfam, warning that without swift action, more people could die in the aftermath. "The flood waters will have contaminated drinking water and food will be scarce," she said.

Scores of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, China, and Japan have begun relief efforts, including sending workers to the affected areas.

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Lawsuit Alleges Children's Motrin Blinded 7-Year-Old Girl

Another pain reliever is under fire, this time as the result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 7-year-old Los Angeles girl.

The Associated Press said the parents of Sabrina Brierton Johnson have sued the makers of Children's Motrin, a formula of ibuprofen developed for children with fevers and headaches, and a number of the drug's commercial distributors, claiming their daughter suffered a number of severe side effects after taking the drug for fever.

According to the wire service, Kenneth and Joan Brierton Johnson claim in their lawsuit that Sabrina came home from school Sept. 8, 2003, complaining of a fever. She took Children's Motrin drops, and the next morning she awoke with a high fever, pink coloration in her eyes and sores in her mouth. The next day, she was blind in both eyes, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the AP, the lawsuit claims that the drug's maker, Johnson & Johnson, concealed from consumers and doctors the possibility of health risks for children taking flu and pain medication -- specifically two ailments -- Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis. These two conditions usually occur as adverse reactions to a drug or virus, and their symptoms were similar to those Sabrina suffered. The lawsuit also says that Sabrina had no known allergies.

Bonnie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Consumer & Specialty, which makes Children's Motrin, said the company was aware of Sabrina's condition. "As the makers of Children's Motrin products, we are deeply concerned by all matters relating to our products and we are investigating the situation," Jacobs told the wire service.

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Jerry Orbach Dies From Prostate Cancer

Only three weeks since it was announced that he had prostate cancer, actor Jerry Orbach has died.

Wire reports quote a representative of the television show "Law & Order" as saying that Orbach, 69, died after several weeks of treatment. His diagnosis was publicly announced Dec. 2.

Orbach may have been best known for playing New York City detective Lennie Briscoe for 12 seasons on "Law & Order." But the Bronx-born actor first gained notice in New York as a Tony-award winning stage actor who starred in some of Broadways biggest hits: "Promises, Promises," "Chicago," and "42nd Street."

His movie appearances included "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Dirty Dancing."

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