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Health Highlights: Jan. 14, 2005

CDC Cites Health Disparities Among Black Americans FDA Plans Public Meeting on Painkiller Risks Johnson & Johnson Recalls Coated Heart Stents High Blood Pressure Cases Projected to Soar Vietnam Reports 5th Human Bird Flu Case in 2 Weeks Marijuana Causes Same Respiratory Symptoms as Tobacco

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

CDC Cites Health Disparities Among Black Americans

Black Americans bear disproportionate risks of avoidable illness, disability and death from certain conditions, including AIDS, stomach and colorectal cancer, and murder, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a new report.

In 2002, the number of potential years of life lost due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and illnesses affecting infants and young children was three times higher among blacks age 75 or younger than among whites, the agency said. The disparity jumped to 11 times for AIDS and nine times for murder, the report found.

In Friday's issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC cited poor access to local health resources and "unequal implementation of effective interventions" in black communities.

In related research published in the same journal, the CDC found that blacks were much more prone to high blood pressure than other racial and ethnic groups. Some 40.5 percent of non-Hispanic blacks suffer from hypertension, versus 27.4 percent of whites and 25.1 percent of Mexican Americans. A third study concluded that blacks were at significantly greater risk of disability after suffering a stroke.


FDA Plans Public Meeting on Painkiller Risks

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's arthritis advisory committee will hold a public meeting in mid-February to discuss the benefits and risks of prescription and over-the-counter painkillers, the agency announced Friday.

The meeting is planned in Gaithersburg, Md., for Feb. 16-18. FDA experts will discuss fresh concerns over the prescription medications Celebrex and Bextra, which a recent study linked to an increased risk of heart attack. A third drug in the same class, Merck & Co.'s Vioxx, was withdrawn from the market last fall after company trials found that users were at greater-than-normal risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.

The public meetings at the Hilton Washington DC North will begin at 8:00 am each day. For more information, visit the FDA's Web site at


Johnson & Johnson Recalls Coated Heart Stents

Johnson & Johnson is recalling 300 Cypher heart stents after an internal audit revealed that some of the devices weren't properly coated, The New York Times reported Friday.

Stents are polymer-laced metal mesh cylinders that are used to prop open blood vessels after they've been cleared of blockages. The Cypher devices are coated with siroliumus, a drug designed to prevent formation of new blockages.

The company said the recalled stents, produced in Puerto Rico, were shipped to 145 hospitals last month. The devices weren't completely coated to specification, the company said, although it believed there would be no ill effects among patients who had already had a stent implanted, the newspaper reported.

Cordis, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that produced the devices, said it had taken undisclosed steps to correct the problem. The same Puerto Rican plant was cited last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for unspecified manufacturing violations, the Times reported.


High Blood Pressure Cases Projected to Soar

Close to 1 billion people worldwide now have high blood pressure, a number that's expected to jump to 1.56 billion in 20 years, a new study predicts.

Tulane University researchers analyzed 30 population studies involving more than 700,000 people from different global regions, HealthDay reported. The greatest rise is expected in underdeveloped regions such as Africa and Latin America -- an ironic byproduct of Westernization, which can lead to unhealthy lifestyles, the researchers said.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. The report predicted a 24 percent jump in the incidence of hypertension among developed nations by 2025, and a staggering 80 percent hike in developing countries in the same span, the HealthDay report said.

Results of the study are published in the Jan. 15 issue of The Lancet.


Vietnam Reports 5th Human Bird Flu Case in 2 Weeks

Vietnam has revealed its fifth human case of bird flu in the last two weeks, raising fears of a new epidemic, BBC News Online reported Friday.

The four earlier victims have already died, and the fifth patient is reported in critical condition. The 35-year-old woman is hospitalized in Ho Chi Minh City.

More than 100 million birds died or were culled last year as a result of bird flu. The virus has killed 25 people in Vietnam and 12 in Thailand over the past 12 months.

Global health officials have been expressing fears for months that the deadly strain of bird flu would combine with a human form of influenza, resulting in a pandemic-causing strain for which people have no protection from vaccine. The aftereffects of last month's tsunamis in Southeast Asia has only heightened those fears, World Health Organization officials told the BBC.


Marijuana Causes Same Respiratory Symptoms as Tobacco

Smoking marijuana is associated with an increased risk of many of the same respiratory problems that afflict cigarette smokers, including shortness of breath, wheezing, chronic bronchitis, coughing and phlegm, according to new Yale University research.

The study also found that marijuana smoking may increase the risk that the respiratory system will be exposed to infectious organisms such as molds and fungi. That's because marijuana plants are contaminated with different kinds of fungal spores.

The findings were based on data collected from 6,728 adult men and women in 1988 and 1994. They appear in the current issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"Because more than two million American adults are heavy marijuana smokers, these risks represent a potentially large health burden," study lead author Brent Moore, an assistant professor of psychiatry, said in a prepared statement.

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