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Health Highlights: Feb. 12, 2004

Barry Bonds' Trainer Indicted in Steroid Case FDA Approves Drug at Center of Stewart Scandal U.S. Shuts Sites Selling Fake Contraceptives GM Recalls Corvettes With Steering Problems Chickens With Bird Flu Found in New Jersey Student in Antidepressant Study Commits Suicide

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

Barry Bonds' Trainer Indicted in Steroid Case

The personal trainer for San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds was among four men indicted Thursday on charges of distributing steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs to some of the world's top athletes.

A federal grand jury in San Francisco charged the men in connection with a Bay Area lab that provided the substances to "dozens of elite track and field athletes and professional athletes from Major League Baseball and the National Football League," according to a U.S. Justice Department statement. Many of those athletes -- including Bonds, New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, and Olympic sprinter Marion Jones -- testified before the grand jury.

Along with Greg Anderson, the trainer, the 42-count indictment also charges Victor Conte, owner of the Bay Area Lab Cooperative (BALCO), a nutritional supplement laboratory in Burlingame, Calif., James Valente, vice president of BALCO, and Remi Korchemny, a track coach, the Justice Department said.

They are accused of running an illegal distribution ring out of the lab. Providing anabolic steroids is illegal because they are a controlled substance. The defendants are also accused of distributing human growth hormone, misbranding another performance-enhancing drug called tetrahydragestrinone (THG), and money laundering. No athletes were charged.

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FDA Approves Drug at Center of Stewart Scandal

The anti-cancer drug at the center of the Martha Stewart scandal won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval Thursday, the FDA announced.

While the agency said ImClone's Erbitux didn't extend the lives of patients with advanced colon cancer, trials did show that it shrank tumors in some people and delayed tumor growth, especially when combined with another chemotherapy drug.

In 2001, the FDA rejected the company's first application, saying the firm's clinical trials were poorly designed and conducted. The charges against Stewart focus on her sale of ImClone's stock shortly before the FDA announced the rejection. She is charged with lying to investigators and securities fraud, but not insider trading. The company's former president is in jail for his role in the scandal.

Known as a monoclonal antibody, Erbitux (cetuximab) contains proteins engineered to target molecules that cancer cells need to grow, thus shrinking tumors. And its side effects reportedly are often more tolerable than conventional chemotherapies.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Some 147,500 cases were diagnosed in 2003.

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U.S. Shuts Sites Selling Fake Contraceptives

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered three Internet drug suppliers shut down, alleging the sites illegally sold counterfeit contraceptive patches that contained no active ingredients.

The sites involved are www.usarxstore.com, www.europeanrxpharmacy.com, and www.generic.com. The agency says consumers should be wary of any drugs purchased at the sites before the closure, saying the products purported to be FDA-approved medications were in fact obtained from unknown sources and are of undetermined safety and effectiveness.

The counterfeit contraceptive patches were illegally promoted as actual Ortho Evra transdermal patches -- made by Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc. The authentic patches are FDA approved.

The agency says it has no reports of pregnancies or adverse reactions linked to the counterfeit patches.

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GM Recalls Corvettes With Steering Problems

General Motors is recalling 127,000 Chevrolet Corvettes, whose electronic steering columns may fail to unlock when the cars are started.

Affected cars are 1997-2004 models with automatic transmissions sold in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and other unspecified foreign countries, the Associated Press reports.

GM said owners of affected Corvettes will be notified before July and instructed to bring their vehicles to Chevrolet dealers for free repairs. Until then, owners can verify that the steering column is unlocked by turning the wheel a full turn before shifting into gear.

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Chickens With Bird Flu Found in New Jersey

A mild strain of bird flu has been discovered in a second American state, New Jersey, less than a week after outbreaks were confirmed at two farms in neighboring Delaware, the Star Ledger of Newark reports.

The H7N2 form of the virus found in birds at four live chicken markets in northern New Jersey is the same as the Delaware strain first discovered last weekend, the newspaper says. Some 80,000 birds in Delaware have been destroyed in an attempt to contain the virus. The domestic strain -- said to pose no danger to people -- is not the same as the deadly HN51 form that has killed at least 19 people in Asia and has led to the mass slaughter of at least 45 million chickens and other fowl across the continent.

The first farm in Delaware to report bird flu activity regularly supplied live poultry markets in the New York City area, the newspaper reports. New Jersey has 35 live chicken markets, which are popular among some Hispanic immigrants who prefer newly killed poultry.

New Jersey state veterinarian Nancy Halpern says the state began testing all markets in late January, and four positives have been returned so far. She told the newspaper that discovery of bird flu is not unusual, despite what she characterizes as strict measures designed to prevent infected birds from reaching the markets. She says distributors tend to buy their stocks from many different farms, and that it's nearly impossible for New Jersey to completely prevent interstate transmission of sick birds.

When a market is found to be infected, the owner is ordered to sanitize the cages and other equipment before the facility is allowed to reopen, the Star Ledger reports.

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Student in Antidepressant Study Commits Suicide

A 19-year-old college student with no known history of mental illness has committed suicide while participating in clinical trials of a new antidepressant, The New York Times reports.

Traci Johnson was among 25 patients at an Eli Lilly clinic in Indianapolis who had been administered duloxetine, which would be marketed as Cymbalta if it were to win approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Four days before she died, she was taken off Cymbalta and given a placebo, the Times reports.

Since her death, roughly one-fifth of the volunteers have dropped out of the trial, the Associated Press reports.

Johnson's death is sure to inflame the already heated debate over whether antidepressants can increase suicidal tendencies among young people with certain genetic profiles. Four other patients who were given the drug during earlier trials also committed suicide, the company tells the newspaper.

Johnson's death last weekend came less than a week after an FDA advisory panel recommended stronger warning labels advising doctors that this class of antidepressants -- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) -- may be linked to suicide and violent behavior among some children and teens.

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