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Health Highlights: Jan. 15, 2005

Tsunamis Take Huge Psychological Toll, Experts Report Japanese Baby Recovers From Six-Organ Transplant Anemia Drug May Cause Blood Clots CDC Cites Health Disparities Among Black Americans FDA Plans Public Meeting on Painkiller Risks Johnson & Johnson Recalls Coated Heart Stents

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

Tsunamis Take Huge Psychological Toll, Experts Report

The devastating southern Asia tsunamis that killed more than 157,000 people last month and left survivors prone to potentially deadly epidemics have created another severe health problem -- psychological trauma.

Meeting in Helsinki, Finland, European health ministers urged governments to be mindful of the emotional scars caused by the disaster. Children are particularly vulnerable, the Associated Press reported.

Representatives of the European Union and the World Health Organization agreed to send more aid to the devastated region during a three-day conference that concludes Saturday.

"The trauma for so many millions of children is a first. After World War II, there has not been such a trauma," said Marc Danzon, European regional director of the U.N.'s World Health Organization. "We are confronted by something that is extremely demanding, and I'm not sure that at this moment we are equipped to face the problem," he told the news service. "But we will do our best."

The ministers released a 12-page mental health plan that also recommends "professional help and assurances" for people in crises, including natural disasters. Asian officials said up to three-quarters of local health personnel could not work because of depression caused by the tsunamis' destruction, the AP said.

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Japanese Baby Recovers From Six-Organ Transplant

An 11-month-old Japanese boy who underwent a six-organ transplant on Christmas Eve continues to recover at a Florida hospital and could be released within a month.

Yosuke Ohashi's case drew widespread attention because Japanese law does not permit organ donations from children under 15 years of age. The child was operated on by doctors at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Medical Center, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Five months after he was born, doctors discovered that Yosuke's intestines were twisted, causing his organs to deteriorate. "He was really, really sick," said lead surgeon Dr. Tomoaki Kato.

Kato said there will be a chance of organ rejection for the next four to five months. The baby will be able to leave the hospital in about a month if all continues to go well, CBC reported.

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Anemia Drug May Cause Blood Clots

Biotechnology firm Amgen Inc. has sent a warning letter to health-care professionals that says its anemia drug Aranesp may cause cardiovascular problems, including blood clots, when used in higher-than-recommended doses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it and Amgen had sent the letter to health-care providers, urging them to adhere to the drug's dosing instructions. The FDA recommended the warning after two recent clinical studies linked drugs similar to Aranesp to cardiovascular problems when taken at levels above the recommended doses, CBS MarketWatch reported.

Aranesp is used to treat anemia in patients undergoing dialysis or chemotherapy.

Amgen spokeswoman Trish Hawkins said the company agreed with the FDA's recommendation. She said the company was not aware that high doses could cause blood clots, CBS MarketWatch reported.

"We haven't seen these events in our Aranesp clinical trials," said Hawkins.

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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.

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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 http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/news/2005/NEW01151.html.

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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.

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