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Health Highlights: July 4, 2005

More Research Needed to Help Children With Chronic Pain Claim Disputed That Lotion Can Defend Against Anthrax Attack Internal Review Takes AIDS Agency to Task Cold Medicines to Get New Formula Chinese Supplement a Risk to Diabetics: FDA

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

More Research Needed to Help Children With Chronic Pain

Children and teenagers may suffer as much as pain as adults, but there is little scientific data as to how to treat them.

That's the conclusion of a study from the pain management unit at the University of Bath in England. In fact, recent studies have shown that as many as 15 percent of children in the United Kingdom -- about one in 50 -- suffers from headaches, abdominal and musculoskeletal pain. Another two percent have pain so severe that it interrupts their sleep, restricts physical activity and prevents them from attending school, the researchers add.

Yet, with this significant percentage of young people in chronic pain, there isn't enough evidence to guide doctors in providing treatment. "Many parents that we have spoken to were highly distressed by their inability to alleviate their child's pain..." said Christopher Eccleston, Director of the university's Pain Management Unit, in a news release.

The best doctors can do, Eccleston said, was to prescribe medication based on research on adults in pain. "Controlled trials are urgently needed for all conditions of childhood and adolescence that are characterized by chronic or recurrent pain," he concluded.

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Claim Disputed That Lotion Can Defend Against Anthrax Attack

Despite the initial backing of noted microbiologist at the University of Texas and a promotional video featuring the endorsement of a local congressman, a Dallas businessman's anti-anthrax attack lotion doesn't work, a Texas newspaper reports.

The Dallas Morning News has published a lengthy investigation into the lotion, made from grapefruit seeds and tree oil. It's called Bio-Germ and the anti-terrorist package contains the lotion, a nasal inhaler and a mask. It sells for $179 for a 16-oz. bottle.

According to the newspaper, the chief researcher, microbiologist Dr. John Heggers now admits he exaggerated the research. Heggers was rebuked by the branch of the University of Texas where he works. The lotion's original developer, Robert Heinman, told the Morning News that he wasn't aware that Bio-Germ was being sold and that the substance was still in the testing stage.

The congressman, U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, told the newspaper he was just doing a longtime friend a favor and didn't think recording his statement in his local congressional office was an endorsement. And Bio-Germ founder Allan Lord did not comment to the Morning News.

Bio-Germ has not been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and FDA official told the newspaper the company's Web site would have to be careful about the claims it made about protecting against an anthrax attack similar to the one that occurred in the autumn of 2001.

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Internal Review Takes AIDS Agency to Task

An internal review has painted a disturbing picture of the federal government's AIDS research agency, one where internal feuding, sexually explicit language and inappropriate conduct has hampered efforts to fight the disease in this country, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

The report confirms much of what has been alleged by whistle-blower Jonathan Fishbein concerning the agency's research division and its senior managers, the wire service added.

The situation has been "rife for too long," claimed the report, which was obtained by the AP.

Meanwhile, Fishbein was formally fired by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Friday, despite the objections of several members of Congress. He was originally hired in 2003 to improve the safety of AIDS research within the agency.

"Retaliation against an employee for reporting misconduct or voicing concerns is unacceptable, illegal and violates the Whistleblower Protection Act," Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) wrote in a letter to the NIH late last week, according to the AP.

NIH officials refused to comment on either the firing or any Congressional protest, citing personnel privacy.

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Cold Medicines to Get New Formula

The makers of over-the-counter cold medicines, bowing to pressure from government officials, are reformulating their products to prevent criminals from turning the key ingredient into illegal methamphetamine, the Associated Press reported Saturday.

"This is the direction we're moving," Elizabeth Assey, spokeswoman for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, told the AP.

Pseudoephedrine is often the main ingredient in these popular medications, but criminals can extract it and turn it into methamphetamine by boiling down the cold medicine, and adding toxic chemicals to what is left.

At least a dozen states have already restricted access to such medications in an effort to stop the illegal production of methamphetamine, with some success, but law enforcement officials have said changing the formulas would curb the problem even further.

So, Pfizer Inc., which makes Sudafed and other similar products, has announced it will put a different ingredient, phenylephrine, in up to half of those medicines by January. McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, Wyeth and Schering-Plough Inc. are considering similar pledges. And Boehringer-Ingelheim of Germany, the world's largest producer of phenylephrine, said it could boost production to the point where it could replace the entire U.S. supply of pseudoephedrine by 2006, the AP reported.

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Chinese Supplement a Risk to Diabetics: FDA

The FDA is warning consumers not to take a Chinese dietary supplement that contains a diabetes drug that could cause life-threatening reactions in certain people.

Liqiang 4 Dietary Supplement Capsules contain glyburide, a drug that is used to lower blood sugar, and is safe when used as labeled in FDA-approved medications. People who have low blood sugar or those with diabetes can receive dangerously high amounts of glyburide by consuming Liqiang 4. Consumers should immediately stop using these products and seek medical attention, especially if they are being treated with diabetes drugs or have symptoms of fatigue, excessive hunger, profuse sweating, or numbness of the extremities, the FDA said Friday.

The product is sold as part of a shrink-wrapped two bottle set. One of the 90 capsule bottles is labeled Liqiang 4 Dietary Supplement Capsules, the other bottle is promoted as a "bonus pack" of Liqiang 1. The FDA said it is evaluating Liquang 1 and other versions of this product to determine their composition and safety.

The product is manufactured by Liqiang Research Institute, China, and marketed throughout the United States in herbal stores and through mail order by Bugle International of Northridge, Calif., the agency said.

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