Health Highlights: July 27, 2003

CDC Plans Better Tracking System for HIV Cases Addictive Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes Vary Sharply: Study India's Prime Minister Urges AIDS Action 'Test-Tube Babies' Celebrate Procedure's Silver Anniversary FDA Approves Growth Hormone Shots for Short Kids

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

CDC Plans Better Tracking System for HIV Cases

U.S. government health officials will switch to a new surveillance system to better track HIV infections, scrapping an existing method that doesn't indicate how recently people were infected.

The new system no longer relies on AIDS data submitted by state health departments -- half of which don't report those cases because of privacy laws. Instead, it will use anonymous data from 35 sites around the country to create a nationally representative snapshot of new infections by the virus, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Associated Press. The CDC planned to announce the system Sunday during the first day of the agency's National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta.

The system will also include two antibody tests that indicate whether a patient had been infected in the last six months, tests that CDC officials say are about 95 percent accurate. With some HIV-infected people living for more than a decade without developing AIDS, the old method did not reflect recent HIV infection trends.

The new reporting system will provide statistics from areas that represent 93 percent of the country's HIV population, according to Dr. Robert Janssen, director of the CDC's HIV and AIDS Prevention division. To help collect the data, the CDC will send a total of $13 million to states participating in the program.

By knowing where recent HIV infections are, health officials can shift resources to tackle the new cases, they say. The government has been trying to cut new HIV cases -- currently about 40,000 a year -- in half.


Addictive Nicotine Levels in Cigarettes Vary Sharply: Study

Some cigarette brands contain up to 20 times more of the most addictive form of nicotine than other brands, according to a new report.

A study by Oregon Health and Science University found a wide range of concentrations of "free-base" nicotine in 11 popular brands of American cigarettes, according to a CBC report. Free-base nicotine is missing a hydrogen ion, which allows it to vaporize easily into a gas during smoking.

Lead researcher James Pankow says the study, which is published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, is a major step in understanding nicotine addiction. "Gaseous nicotine is known to deposit super-quickly in the lungs. From there, it's transported rapidly to the brain," Pankow says. "(A) drug becomes more addictive when it is delivered to the brain more rapidly."

The researchers compared the first three puffs of smoke from each brand to measure what percentage of the nicotine is in the free-base form. They found some brands had only 1 per cent free-base nicotine and others up to 36 per cent.

Marlboro contained up to 9.6 per cent freebase nicotine. Camel had 2.7 per cent; Winston 5 per cent to 6.2 per cent; Gauloises Blondes, 5.7 per cent to 7.5 per cent. In many cases, the freebase content was higher in the first puffs. Marlboro had a freebase nicotine level of 9.6 per cent in the first three puffs and 2.7 per cent in later puffs, according to wire reports.

"The study shows that the modern cigarette does to nicotine what crack does to cocaine," says Jack Henningfield, an addiction expert and adviser to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


India's Prime Minister Urges AIDS Action

India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called for a concerted national effort to combat HIV and AIDS, in the wake of new government figures showing a major leap in the number of those infected.

Addressing the biggest forum on HIV/AIDS ever held in India, Vajpayee said Saturday that the epidemic demanded an "effective and undelayed response" from all sections of society, the BBC reported. "It is obvious that political parties in our country need to pay far greater attention to issues of health care than they do now," he told more than 1,000 politicians at the two-day conference in New Delhi.

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, according to UN officials.

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 on Friday that 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."


'Test-Tube Babies' Celebrate Silver Anniversary of Procedure

Hundreds of children born through in vitro fertilization gathered Saturday in Bourn, England, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the procedure that revolutionized fertility treatment.

Louise Brown, the first of more than 1 million test-tube babies and now a postal worker living in Bristol, marked her birthday with one of the two doctors who made it possible, the Associated Press reports.

The two doctors made medical history when they implanted a fertilized embryo in the uterus of Brown's mother, Lesley. Louise was born July 25, 1978; the Bourn Hall celebration of her 25th birthday came a day late.

Dr. Robert Edwards recalled meeting with Brown's parents in Oldham, northern England, and explaining to them the technique and its risks before she was conceived.

"What we did was help a lot of people,'' he said at a news conference. However, he noted that IVF still has frustrating limitations because only 20 percent of human embryos -- whether they're created naturally or outside the body -- implant in the uterus. He said he hoped to see fertility technologies improve further.


FDA Approves Growth Hormone Shots for Short Kids

The Food and Drug Administration has OK'd the use of growth hormone injections on children who are healthy but abnormally short and who hope to gain 1 to 3 inches of height.

The drug, called Humatrope, is only for the shortest 1.2 percent of children, which manufacturer Eli Lilly says includes 400,000 such children between the ages 7 to 15. The drug maker, however, predicts that only about 10 percent ultimately would receive growth hormone because of tight eligibility restrictions, and because many families won't want to endure up to six shots a week for years, Newsday reports.

Growth hormone has been used for 16 years to treat children who are extremely short because their bodies don't naturally produce the substance or because of a few other growth-stunting diseases. Some 200,000 children worldwide have taken it; the cost range is between $10,000 and $25,000 a year for the drug.

The FDA has long struggled to define just what constituted medically appropriate use of the drug without opening floodgates to children of normal height, the paper reports.

Last month, the agency's scientific advisers were persuaded by a New York teenager, who described being ostracized in elementary school when she couldn't reach the water fountain. Now 17, the girl had seven years of growth hormone shots that left her 5 feet 2 inches tall, 6 inches taller than her doctor predicted she'd ever be.

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