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Health Highlights: Dec. 30, 2004

Disease Warnings Heighten As Tsunami Death Toll Passes 100,000 Celebrex Prescriptions Falter in Wake of Heart Studies Canada Cow Tests Positive for Mad Cow Disease FDA Warns Drug Company on Animal Deaths 1 in 5 Kids Drive Under the Influence: Report

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

Disease Warnings Heighten As Tsunami Death Toll Passes 100,000

Tens of thousands of tsunami survivors are at risk from diseases spread by dirty water, mosquitoes and overcrowding, and the best medicine is large quantities of clean water, officials of the World Health Organization warned.

While no epidemics have been confirmed in the vast coastal areas of South Asia and East Africa devastated by the tsunamis on Sunday, the officials said they were most worried about diarrheal diseases -- cholera, typhoid fever, and shigellosis -- as well as liver diseases such as hepatitis A and E. Those diseases are caused by bacteria or viruses in contaminated drinking water or food, in sewage, and among people who lack clean water to wash their hands, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, the death toll has jumped sharply, to more than 116,000, after Indonesia reported that almost 80,000 people were killed in that country alone, CNN reported.

And the WHO now estimates that up to 5 million people in the tsunami-stricken region lack access to the basic supplies they need to stay alive, such as clean water, shelter, food, sanitation, and health care, according to the Associated Press.

Water-purifying tablets are being rushed into the affected countries, along with medicines to treat the dehydration that can result from diarrhea, the Times reported.

Another hazard to drinking water is contamination of wells by salt water from the tsunamis. Martin Dawes, a regional spokesman for UNICEF in Colombo, Sri Lanka, estimated that 1,000 drinking-water wells in the country's hard-hit eastern region had been contaminated and would have to be pumped out.

Dawes told the Times that UNICEF had also bought about 20 million gallons of drinking water in 1,500-gallon barrels, enough for 100,000 people, and was expecting them to be delivered to the affected areas on Thursday.

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Celebrex Prescriptions Falter in Wake of Heart Studies

New prescriptions for the pain reliever Celebrex have fallen by nearly half since a government-led study linked the drug to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes two weeks ago.

Celebrex's share of new arthritis drug prescriptions sank to 7.9 percent for the week ended Dec. 24, down from 14.2 percent a week earlier, according to Verispan, a market research firm that gathers information from U.S. pharmacies.

The drop-off for the Pfizer Inc. drug was not unexpected, the Associated Press reported. Celebrex is a cox-2 inhibitor, the same class of drugs as Vioxx, the Merck & Co. pain reliever that was withdrawn from the market in September when a study found it doubled patients' risk of heart attacks and strokes. In October, Pfizer announced that two studies showed its other cox-2 inhibitor Bextra increased the risk of cardiovascular problems in coronary bypass operation patients. The trio of events has made doctors suspicious about prescribing the class.

At the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer has stop advertising Celebrex directly to consumers. But data from ImpactRx, a Mt. Laurel, N.J.-based firm that tracks pharmaceutical promotions to doctors, reveal that the company has intensified its sales calls to physicians.

Pfizer spokeswoman Mariann Caprino said the visits reflect the sales force's attempt to explain the data from the government study to doctors, the AP reported.

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Canada Cow Tests Positive for Mad Cow Disease

A 10-year-old dairy cow in Canada has tested positive for mad cow disease.

The disclosure, released by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) early Thursday, came just hours after the United States announced plans for reopening its border in March to nearly all Canadian exports of beef and live cattle. The border was closed 19 months ago when a single breeder cow in northern Alberta tested positive for the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a Canadian Press report said.

The CFIA released few details on the new suspect case, other than to say that the finding was not definitive, but that multiple screening tests have yielded positive results. No part of the animal entered the human food or animal feed systems, the agency said.

The CP reported that samples are currently being analyzed at the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg. Results are expected in three to five days.

BSE is a chronic, degenerative disorder affecting the central nervous system of cattle. Since it was first diagnosed in Great Britain in 1986, there have been more than 180,000 cases.

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FDA Warns Drug Company on Animal Deaths

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent a warning letter to Novartis Animal Health U.S because of what officials say were late reports on the death of cats being tested with a painkiller.

The drug being tested, Deramaxx, is in the same chemical family as Vioxx and Celebrex, two drugs that have been linked to heart attacks in humans, the Associated Press reports.

The FDA's Nov. 29 letter said the death of 14 cats that were being tested with Deramaxx were reported to the agency months past the deadline for such reports. Regulations require such reports to be filed within 15 days.

Novartis spokesman Joseph Burkett said the cats were participating in an experiment testing whether Deramaxx could be used in cats. He said the company is no longer conducting such tests.

The experiment concluded in July 2003, but the adverse events were not reported to the FDA until Feb. 24, just after an inspection of the Novartis animal drug facility in Greensboro, N.C., according to the FDA letter.

Deramaxx, which has the chemical name of deracoxib, is approved for use in tablet form by dogs. The drug's purpose is to relieve arthritis and surgical pain in dogs. It works by blocking what is known as the cox-2 enzyme. The effect is similar to that of Vioxx and Celebrex, human arthritis drugs that have been linked in studies to heart attacks and stroke. Vioxx has been taken off the market by its manufacturer.

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1 in 5 Kids Drive Under the Influence: Report

More than 4 million people under the age of 21 drove under the influence of drugs or alcohol last year, according to a government report released in advance of New Year's Eve. That translates to one in five of all Americans aged 16 to 20.

"That's an awful lot of kids, if you think about it," said Charlene Lewis, acting director of the Office of Applied Studies at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which produced the report.

The report, based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found a small drop in driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol between 2002 and 2003. In 2002, 22 percent drove under the influence; last year, it was 20 percent, the Associated Press reported.

Young people were most likely to drink alcohol and then drive, with 17 percent admitting this. Fourteen percent said they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs, and 8 percent reported driving after consuming a combination of alcohol and drugs.

The rates were highest among people who lived in the Midwest and among those who lived outside of metro areas.

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