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Health Highlights: July 21, 2005

6 Floridians Died From Generator Exhaust After 2004 Hurricanes 3 Deaths Linked to Recalled Medical Pumps Cholesterol Drugs Could Harm Some Diabetics: Study Medicare to Offer Doctors a Free Electronic Records System Merck Says It Didn't Perform Early Heart Studies on Vioxx Colleagues Seek Liver for Dying PR Exec

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

6 Floridians Died From Generator Exhaust After 2004 Hurricanes

At least six people in Florida were killed by portable generator exhaust in the wake of last year's four major hurricanes that left millions without power, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released Thursday.

Misplacement of the gasoline-powered generators led to the carbon monoxide (CO) deaths of at least six people and caused non-fatal cases of CO poisoning in at least 167 others, the agency said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC said the tolls may have been higher because it measured statistics from a sample of 10 hospitals. Between Aug. 13 and Sept. 25 last year, the state was battered by a record four major hurricanes: Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.

The agency reminded the public that these generators should never be used indoors, in garages, or outdoors near windows. A typical 5.5 kW generator produces as much carbon monoxide -- an odorless, colorless gas that can kill within minutes -- as six idling cars, the CDC said. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath, and loss of consciousness.

In a related report, the CDC said 48.7 percent of Florida residents had no evacuation plan before any of the hurricanes; this included people in the direct paths of the storms. The agency called on the state and local governments to do a better job of devising hurricane-preparedness programs.

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3 Deaths Linked to Recalled Medical Pumps

Baxter Healthcare is recalling all models of its Colleague Volumetric Infusion Pumps that could shut down while delivering vital fluids or medications to patients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

Baxter has reports of three deaths and six serious injuries associated with the pumps. The FDA issued a statement saying it has categorized the recall as Class I, its most serious recall in which there is a reasonable likelihood that the product could cause death.

Affected models include: 2M8151, 2M8151R, 2M8161, 2M8161R, 2M8153, 2M8153R, 2M8163, and 2M8163R. In addition to the shut-down problem, the FDA said users might inadvertently press the on/off key instead of the start key when attempting to start an infusion.

Some 255,000 of these pumps are now in use, including 206,000 distributed in the United States. They have been sold to physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, and other medical facilities.

Consumers who have questions about the recall should contact Baxter Healthcare at 800-422-9837. Those with technical questions should call the company at 800-THE-PUMP (800-843-7867).

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Cholesterol Drugs Could Harm Some Diabetics: Study

Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins could harm, and possibly kill, some severely ill diabetics, new research finds.

A study of Lipitor conducted by the drug's maker found that diabetics who required kidney dialysis and took the medication were twice as likely to die of a stroke, the Associated Press reported.

The study, funded by Pfizer Inc., involved 1,255 Europeans with Type 2 diabetes. There were 27 fatal strokes among the 619 people on Lipitor, compared to 13 among the 636 users who took a placebo, the AP said. The findings were reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Robert Stanton, chief of kidney diseases at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, said this single study probably didn't offer enough proof to limit the use of statins like Lipitor in this group of patients, the AP quoted him as saying. He was not involved in the research.

Lipitor is the world's most prescribed drug, the wire service said.

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Medicare to Offer Doctors a Free Electronic Records System

Medicare will soon offer U.S. doctors free software that will allow them to computerize their patient records, The New York Times reported Thursday.

An office with five doctors could save more than $100,000 by choosing the software provided by Medicare rather than buying a similar product from a private provider, the newspaper said. Medicare has said it considers lack of electronic records a major impediment to improving health care.

The software is a version of a program called Vista, which has been used for 20 years by hospitals and doctors associated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Times said.

However, the program has a history of being difficult to install, the newspaper said, which is why Medicare will also provide doctors with a list of companies that have been trained to install and maintain it.

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Merck Says It Didn't Perform Early Heart Studies on Vioxx

Merck & Co. didn't conduct any studies on whether Vioxx caused heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems before the painkiller was approved in 1999, the company's top epidemiologist testified Wednesday.

Testifying in an Angleton, Texas, courtroom at the nation's first Vioxx-related lawsuit to go to trial, Nancy Santanello said Merck had no indication before the painkiller went on the market that it could cause heart attacks, the Associated Press reported.

The plaintiff in the case, Carol Ernst, contends that her 59-year-old husband, Robert, developed an abnormal heart rhythm after taking Vioxx for eight months. He died in 2001. Merck, which has vowed to fight all Vioxx-related suits, contends there's no proof that Ernst's heart problem was caused by the once-popular painkiller.

A 2000 study showed Vioxx could increase some users' risks of heart attack by five times, compared with people who used older painkillers, the AP said. Vioxx was pulled from the U.S. market in September.

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Colleagues Seek Liver for Dying PR Exec

Two years ago, Shari Kurzrok was spearheading the public-relations push for the nation's largest-ever blood drive, for the American Red Cross.

Today she's fighting for her life.

The 31-year-old executive for Ogilvy Public Relations in New York City needs a liver transplant. Doctors say she'll die within days if she doesn't get one.

Kurzrok was admitted to New York University Hospital last weekend, and within 24 hours was told she needed a new liver to save her life. Her still-unexplained sudden illness has taken her family, friends, and doctors by surprise, colleagues say.

Kurzrok led the 345-city "Save-a-Life Tour," which collected 3.2 million pints of blood in 2003 and registered more than 38,000 new potential donors, a statement from Ogilvy said.

Blood is a factor in her plight too, since she needs a liver from someone who is Type A or Type O.

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