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Health Highlights: July 25, 2003

India Moves Into 2nd Place for HIV Cases Aussie Researchers Ace Tennis Elbow With Heart Medication U.S. House Votes to Allow Drug Imports New Drug Approved to Treat Arthritic Condition Hong Kong Rules Out New SARS Outbreak

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

India Moves Into 2nd Place for HIV Cases

India has become the world's second largest hub for HIV -- with more than 4.5 million people carrying the virus that causes AIDS, U.N. officials say.

India Health Ministry estimates, made public Friday, show about 4.58 million people -- or about 0.8 percent of the country's adult population -- have the HIV virus, compared with 3.97 million cases last year. That means that India has the second-largest population of HIV sufferers after South Africa, the Health Ministry said.

Despite the large number of infections, the percentage of the population affected in a country with more than 1 billion people is significantly lower than in many African countries, the Associated Press reports.

Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said the Indian government's efforts to combat HIV/AIDS were patchy, with some states taking up the campaign vigorously, "while others were still in denial." Piot spoke to reporters ahead of an AIDS conference in New Delhi this weekend for legislators and village council members from throughout the country.

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Australian Researchers Ace Tennis Elbow With Heart Medication

A topically applied angina medication appears to be effective in treating tennis elbow.

New research on the use of nitric oxide in patches was presented by Australian researchers Friday at the annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine(AOSSM) in San Diego.

"Patients with tennis elbow, who use patches to deliver nitric oxide to the affected area, recover on average about 20 weeks earlier than those not receiving the treatment," says George A.C. Murrell, director of the Orthopaedic Research Institute at St. George Hospital, University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Tennis elbow, a common cause of chronic elbow pain and wrist dysfunction, typically affects people between 35 and 54 years of age. Nitric oxide, which helps dilate blood vessels, has been used for more than 100 years to treat angina, which is chest pain caused by clogged arteries, and also enhances collagen synthesis, which is crucial to tendon healing.

Murrell and his colleagues conducted a study of 86 patients with tennis elbow to evaluate the continuous topical nitric oxide effect on patients with chronic tennis elbow. Half the patients were given nitric oxide patches and tendon rehabilitation exercises; the other half received placebo patches and tendon rehabilitation exercises.

At six months, 81 percent of the patients using the nitric oxide patches were pain-free compared to 60 percent of patients using placebo patches, Murrell says in a news release.

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U.S. House Votes to Allow Drug Imports

A bill to allow Americans to buy lower-priced prescription drugs from other countries has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Friday's 243-186 vote was a defeat for the drug industry, which fears the law would encourage drug counterfeiting and tampering.

The bill now makes its way to the Senate. Supporters hope the Senate will incorporate the measure into the wider Medicare legislation now making its way through Congress, reports the Associated Press.

But the import bill contains a provision that could lead to its demise -- a requirement that the Secretary of Health and Human Services certify that drug importation would be safe. Two prior attempts to approve similar legislation failed when previous HHS secretaries refused to sign this type of certification.

The current HHS secretary, Tommy Thompson, has said he wouldn't sign such certification. The Food and Drug Administration and the White House also have voiced opposition to the current bill, citing concerns similar to those of the pharmaceutical industry.

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New Drug Approved to Treat Arthritic Condition

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Enbrel (etanercept) to treat ankylosing spondylitis (AS), an arthritis-like condition that affects the lower back and joints.

Some 350,000 people in the United States have AS -- more men than women. The disease usually begins by age 30 and has symptoms including lower back pain and stiffness, chest pain, joint pain and swelling. In severe cases, the pain can be debilitating and last many years.

Enbrel is a genetically engineered protein that binds to and prevents the harmful effects of another protein, TNF, which promotes inflammation in the body. In a study of 277 AS patients, Enbrel significantly reduced pain and inflammation symptoms in 58 percent of those tested.

The drug is already approved for rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. Side effects among AS patients were similar to those already seen -- injection site reactions and upper respiratory infections.

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Hong Kong Rules Out New SARS Outbreak

The government of Hong Kong has ruled out SARS as the cause of a respiratory disease outbreak among 18 patients at a psychiatric institution, CNN reports.

A government statement says the patients have tested positive for the flu, while all tests for the SARS virus have come back negative.

Hong Kong was the second worst-affected SARS hotspot after mainland China during the global outbreak that began late last year. Between March and June, 1,755 Hong Kong residents were infected with SARS and 296 died.

The World Health Organization recently declared the virus contained worldwide. But experts have warned the disease could easily return, especially during the onset of winter.

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