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Health Highlights: July 6  2005

Women Fear Breast Cancer, Heart Disease Most: Survey Report Cites Reaction to New Anti-Epilepsy Drug Meth is Biggest U.S. Drug Problem, Sheriffs Say Senate Panel Probes Johnson & Johnson Educational Grants Acupuncture Not Effective for Fibromyalgia: Study Eliminating Bird Flu from Asia Could Take 10 Years

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

Women Fear Breast Cancer, Heart Disease Most: Survey

Breast cancer remains the most-feared disease among American women, but the fear of heart disease is rising fast, a new survey finds.

Of more than 1,000 adult women in the United States surveyed, 22.1 percent said they most feared breast cancer -- a number virtually unchanged from a 2002 survey sponsored by the Society for Women's Health Research.

The fear among women of heart disease, on the other hand, rose to 9.7 percent from 5.3 percent, the society said. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women, killing 500,000 every year, the group said in a statement.

Some 9.3 percent of women said they most feared HIV and AIDS, down from 11.3 percent in 2002. Fear of AIDS was highest among black women and women under age 35, the society said.

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Report Cites Reaction to New Anti-Epilepsy Drug

A drug recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat epileptic seizures may be linked to a serious neurological complication if stopped abruptly, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) report in this month's Annals of Neurology.

They describe the case of an 80-year-old women enrolled in a clinical trial of Pfizer's Lyrica (pregabalin), who abruptly discontinued the medication after taking it for nearly a year and went on to develop neurological symptoms including headache, confusion and hallucinations. A statement by the Boston hospital says the study's authors suggest that all patients stopping antiepileptic drugs do so gradually to avoid similar problems.

Patients with epilepsy traditionally have been warned against suddenly stopping antiseizure medications, the statement says. And recently people have begun taking these drugs for other reasons, including the treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia, a painful condition that lingers after a bout with shingles. The woman at the center of the MGH report was enrolled in a clinical study of Lyrica to treat post-herpetic neuralgia.

MRI scans of her brain taken three weeks after the onset of symptoms showed an area of fluid buildup on her brain. Over subsequent weeks, symptoms gradually improved, but the woman feels that she has never fully recovered, the MGH statement said.

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Meth is Biggest U.S. Drug Problem, Sheriffs Say

The easily produced street drug methamphetamine ("meth") is the No. 1 drug problem facing local law authorities, a new survey of 500 U.S. sheriff's departments shows.

About 90 percent of survey participants said they had seen an increase in meth-related arrests in their jurisdictions over the past three years, the Associated Press reported. And more than half of those interviewed for the National Association of Counties poll said they considered meth the most serious problem facing their departments.

According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, methamphetamine can easily be manufactured in clandestine laboratories using store-bought materials and is the most prevalent synthetic drug manufactured in the United States. Nonetheless, the agency recently re-stated that marijuana remains the nation's most substantial drug problem, the wire service said. Federal estimates show about 15 million marijuana users, compared with 1 million that might use meth, the AP reported.

In additional to the burden on local law enforcement authorities, arrests on meth-related charges have swamped local agencies that deal with caring for children whose parents have become addicted, the wire service said.

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Senate Panel Probes Johnson & Johnson Educational Grants

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee launched an inquiry Tuesday into whether pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson used educational grants to promote the use of its now-withdrawn heartburn drug Propulsid in children.

The investigation will examine whether Johnson & Johnson promoted Propulsid during the 1990s, despite concerns that the drug might be unsafe for some children, The New York Times reported.

Johnson & Johnson withdrew the drug from the market in 2000 following 80 heart-related deaths and 341 injuries among people taking Propulsid, the newspaper said.

The Senate inquiry follows a June 10 story in the Times that said Johnson & Johnson gave grants to pediatric gastroenterology organizations that favored the use of Propulsid in children and helped fund a doctor's book that recommended the use of the drug in children.

The Senate committee sent a letter Tuesday to Johnson & Johnson, asking the company to send information and documents about who received the educational grants, as well as the amounts and purpose of the grants. The company was asked to respond by July 28, the Times reported.

Johnson & Johnson spokesman Jeffrey J. Leebaw said Tuesday that the company had not yet seen the letter from the senators and could not comment. But "Johnson & Johnson marketed Propulsid only for its approved indication," he said.

Last year, the company agreed to pay up to $90 million to settle lawsuits that claimed 300 people died and as many as 16,000 were injured from taking the drug, the Times reported.

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Acupuncture Not Effective for Fibromyalgia: Study

Acupuncture was no more effective than sham treatments for treating pain in people with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic pain in the head and torso, according to a U.S. study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The 12-week study included 100 fibromyalgia patients. Researchers compared conventional acupuncture to sham treatments -- simulated acupuncture that didn't actually pierce the skin; acupuncture for an unrelated condition; and needle insertion at points in the body that aren't used in acupuncture, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers concluded that using acupuncture in addition to other treatments being employed by fibromyalgia patients provided no more pain relief than the sham treatments.

Researcher Dr. Dedra Buchwald noted that acupuncturists generally customize treatments for each patient and often combine acupuncture with other forms of treatment -- something that can't be done in a clinical trial.

She told the AP that acupuncture "certainly works in acute pain control and it works in some conditions of chronic pain, so I don't think this is to say that acupuncture doesn't work at all."

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Eliminating Bird Flu from Asia Could Take 10 Years

It will take up to 10 years to rid Asia of the bird flu virus, which is entrenched in the region, United Nations officials say.

As part of that effort, more than $100 million will be spent over the next three years to improve detection and reporting of bird flu outbreaks, said Joseph Domenech, head of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, CBC News reported.

In Cambodia, a 20-year-old man died and 13 other people from an orphanage were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms after they ate cooked chicken. Blood samples from the patients will be tested for bird flu.

Bird flu appeared in Asia in late 2003. Since then, it has killed 39 people in Vietnam, 12 people in Thailand, and four people in Cambodia.

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