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Health Highlights: July 10, 2004

Global Health Officials Call for Routine HIV Testing in Developing Countries Centenarian Sets a Record Pace Psoriasis Pill Linked to Birth Defects, FDA Report Says FDA Tightens Mad Cow Safeguards EPA Seeks Huge Fine From DuPont

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

Global Health Officials Call for Routine HIV Testing in Developing Countries

Top global health officials on Saturday called for routine HIV testing in developing countries.

The current strategy of leaving it to patients to request an HIV test is not working in the developing world, where 90 percent of those infected with the AIDS virus have no idea they are carrying it, officials at the U.N. AIDS agency and the World Health Organization said.

The agencies proposed that countries where HIV is widespread and where treatment is available should test routinely -- while allowing patients to opt out, according to an Associated Press report.

Their change in recommended policy came on the heels of a WHO report, also released Saturday, that showed only 14 percent, or 440,000 people, of the six million people infected with HIV in developing countries are getting immediate access to the medicine they need.

Both the policy change and the treatment record were released in Bangkok, where an international AIDS conference opens Sunday.

The treatment statistics are from a six-month progress report of the WHO's "three by five" program launched last December, which had a goal of having three million people on HIV treatment by the end of 2005, according to CNN. Funding for the program is also behind schedule: About $40 million has been raised, far lower than the six-month goal of $84 million.

The WHO report also showed that the cost of AIDS medicine has decreased to somewhere between $150 and $450 per person per year, but most developing countries can only afford to spend less than $1 per person per year on health care, CNN also reported.

The news follows release earlier this week of the UN's annual AIDS report, which showed that almost 5 million people became infected with HIV last year -- the largest number of new infections since the disease was discovered in 1981. In addition, the agency is now warning of a looming health crisis for young women in particular, who it said make up 60 percent of the 15-to-24-year-olds with HIV.

And, the AP reported, the percentage of adult women with HIV has jumped to 48 percent of the world's cases from 35 percent 20 years ago. About 77 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa, but the UN speculates that Asia could become the next epicenter, because of similarities like widespread poverty, low levels of education, and the second-class status of women, the AP reported.


Centenarian Sets a Record Pace

Good-health news doesn't get any better than this.

South African Philip Rabinowitz made it into the Guinness Book of World Records Saturday as the fastest 100-year-old to run 100 meters.

Rabinowitz made his run at Capetown's Green Point stadium in 30.86 seconds, beating the previous record of 36.1 seconds.

He had also broken the record last week, clocking 28.7 seconds at another stadium outside Cape Town. But a power outage stopped the official electronic clock, so the time was not recorded or recognized, according to a South African Broadcasting Corp. report relayed by the Associated Press.

Rabinowitz, who turned 100 in February, already holds the record for world's oldest competitive walker. He practices daily by walking 3.7 miles and sticks to a healthy diet. He also still works, handling accounts for his daughter's business.


Psoriasis Pill Linked to Birth Defects, FDA Report Says

A psoriasis pill currently under development could cause birth defects when used by pregnant women, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report.

The drug, called Tazoral, was effective in treating psoriasis, the Los Angeles Times reported, but harmed animal fetuses in lower dosages than did Accutane, an acne pill that has been linked to severe brain and heart defects and other abnormalities.

Some analysts predicted that safety concerns would delay FDA approval of the oral drug, even though Allergan Inc., the California-based company that is developing the drug , has told the FDA it would address the issue by tracking all doctors, pharmacies and women who prescribe, dispense and use Tazoral. The psoriasis pill had been expected to reach the market in September. Allergan is best known for the anti-wrinkle treatment Botox.

Both Tazoral and Accutane are retinoids, a class of medications linked to physical deformities and mental disabilities in the children of women on the drugs.

The FDA said in its report that efforts to prevent pregnancies in Accutane users had failed, adding to the agency's concerns about Tazoral. The report will be reviewed Monday at a meeting of medical advisors to the FDA.


U.S. Tightens Mad Cow Safeguards

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday tightened restrictions aimed at safeguarding food and other products from mad cow disease.

The FDA banned the use of high-risk cattle parts in certain meat-based products, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. The ban covers the brain, skull, eyes, and spinal cord from cattle 30 months of age or older, and tonsils and a portion of the small intestine from all cattle, regardless of age.

These parts of cattle are where the infectious agent that causes mad cow disease is most likely to be found, the FDA said in a news release.

According to the Associated Press, the rules are meant to coincide with similar restrictions put forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has banned such products in meat.

People who consume meat with these infectious agents -- misshapen proteins called prions -- can develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad cow disease.


EPA Seeks Huge Fine From DuPont

Chemical company DuPont could face a multimillion-dollar fine over allegations that it failed to report potential health and environmental problems caused by a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, an ingredient used in making Teflon and other materials.

The U.S. Environmental Agency said DuPont's failure to report information about the chemical stretches over two decades. The agency is seeking a large penalty in order to send a message that this type of information about chemicals must be provided so that government officials can make accurate assessments about potential risks.

The EPA could seek a fine of hundreds of millions of dollars, the Washington Post reported. If so, that would be the largest penalty the EPA has assessed for toxic contamination, and the largest environmental penalty in U.S. history.

Industry studies have linked perfluorooctanoic acid to cancer and birth defects in animals. Ohio and West Virginia residents, along with an environmental group, are suing DuPont. They say the company contaminated soil and drinking water around its plant in Parkersburg, W. Va.

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