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Health Highlights: July 19, 2005

FDA Issues New Health Warning for RU-486 'Double Diabetes': A Double Whammy Health Threat DuPont Faces $5 Billion Lawsuit Over Teflon Bird Flu Can 'Hide' in Ducks: Report

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

FDA Issues New Health Warning for RU-486

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory Tuesday night for the abortion pill mifepristone, better known as RU-486.

The agency said in a press release that it is investigating four new reports of death, all in California, following use of RU-486 for medical abortions. All the deaths occurred between September 2003 and June 2005. The advisory follows previous reports of serious bacterial infection, bleeding, ectopic pregnancies that have ruptured, and death; the drug's black box label warning was subsequently strengthened in 2004.

The latest advisory warns of the risk of sepsis or blood infection when having a medical abortion using RU-486. Two of the four deaths involved infection with Clostridium sordelli, a bacteria that can produce fatal toxins in rare cases following childbirth or medical abortions.

The FDA action follows an announcement Monday by Danco Laboratories, which markets the drug as Mifeprex, that it was modifying the label to update the safety information.

Since FDA approval in September 2000, a press release from the company said, "Danco has received reports of five deaths from serious bacterial infection and sepsis following treatment with Mifeprex and misoprostol." Misoprostol is a drug taken two days after Mifeprex to complete the abortion.

One death occurred during a clinical trial in Canada in 2001, the other four were reported from California -- "two in late 2003, one in early 2004, and a recent one in mid-2005," the company statement said.

"No causal relationship between these events and the use of Mifeprex and misoprostol has been established," the company statement added.

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'Double Diabetes': A Double Whammy Health Threat

Health experts have dubbed it "double diabetes," and it's a growing threat to the health of Americans that's fueled, in part, by the nation's obesity epidemic.

What's more, it's harder to diagnose and treat than traditional diabetes, particularly among children, the Associated Press reports.

The syndrome includes features of traditional type 1 and type 2 diabetes, a disease in which the body doesn't produce or properly use insulin, the hormone needed to convert blood sugar into energy for the body's cells, according to the American Diabetes Association.

"Double diabetes" can strike at any age, and comes in various forms, the AP said.

For instance, children who must rely on insulin injections to treat their type 1 diabetes may gain weight, a typical trigger for type 2 diabetes. Or someone with classic type 2 symptoms may not respond to therapy (typically losing weight and exercising) and subsequent tests show they're getting the insulin-dependent -- type 1-- form of the disease. Or they may not fit neatly into either category, the AP said.

"There are many people in which it's very blurred as to what kind of diabetes they have," Dr. Francine Kaufman, a University of Southern California pediatric endocrinologist and past president of the American Diabetes Association, told the news service.

And that can make treatment difficult because each version of the disease requires different therapies.

There are no reliable statistics on the number of Americans struggling with "double diabetes," the AP said. But Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh estimates that about 25 percent of its patients with type 1 diabetes are also overweight and have other characteristics of type 2 diabetes, Dr. Dorothy Becker, a pediatric endocrinologist and leading double-diabetes researcher, told the AP.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause heart and kidney disease, blindness and amputations -- even death if they're not properly treated. Scientists don't yet know if double diabetics will need special treatments. For now, the AP said, the best approach is prevention.

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DuPont Faces $5 Billion Lawsuit Over Teflon

A $5 billion class-action lawsuit is being filed against DuPont for failing to warn consumers of the dangers of an ingredient allegedly contained in Teflon, lawyers said Tuesday.

Two Florida law firms told the Associated Press they were filing the federal suit on behalf of 14 people in eight states who bought cookware coated with non-stick Teflon. It reportedly is made with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which earlier this month the U.S. Environmental Protection agency said is "likely" to cause cancer in people, the AP said.

The plaintiffs contend DuPont has known for more than 20 years that the product caused cancer in lab animals, according to the AP. A company spokesman said federal tests "show that nonstick coatings used for cookware sold under the Teflon brand, do not contain any PFOA." Spokesman Cliff Webb added that DuPont would "vigorously defend itself against the allegations."

PFOA is used in other DuPont products, including automobile fuel systems, firefighting foam, phone cables, computer chips, and clothing, the wire service reported.

Teflon has been used since World War II and DuPont has sold or licensed more than $40 billion in Teflon cookware, the AP reported.

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Bird Flu Can 'Hide' in Ducks: Report

The bird flu virus that's sweeping many parts of Asia has mutated and become less lethal to ducks, which could become carriers of the disease that's still deadly to people and other types of birds, a new study finds.

"The ducks that are unaffected by these viruses continue to circulate these viruses, presenting a pandemic threat [to people and other types of fowl]," researchers at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital wrote in Tuesday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Over the past two years, hundreds of millions of birds have died or were culled across Asia due to the H5N1 strain of bird flu. The virus also has infected some people, killing 51 in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, according to the Associated Press.

While the human victims in most cases appear to have been infected by contact with birds, there have been a few reports of possible person-to-person transmission. Experts fear that if the virus changes into a form that's more easily passed between people, it could spark a global pandemic that's resistant to vaccines.

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