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Health Highlights: July 9, 2004

FDA Tightens Mad Cow Safeguards Whooping Cough Outbreak in Chicago Area EPA Seeks Huge Fine From DuPont Global Women's HIV Crisis Looms, U.N. Warns 4th Death Tied to Organ Donor With Rabies FDA Squelched Data on Cardiac Device, WSJ Reports

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

FDA Tightens Mad Cow Safeguards

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday tightened restrictions aimed at safeguarding food and other products from mad cow disease.

The FDA banned the use of high-risk cattle parts in certain meat-based products, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. The ban covers the brain, skull, eyes, and spinal cord from cattle 30 months of age or older, and tonsils and a portion of the small intestine from all cattle, regardless of age.

These parts of cattle are where the infectious agent that causes mad cow disease is most likely to be found, the FDA said in a news release.

According to the Associated Press, the rules are meant to coincide with similar restrictions put forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has banned such products in meat.

People who consume meat with these infectious agents -- misshapen proteins called prions -- can develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad cow disease.

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Whooping Cough Outbreak in Chicago Area

More than 100 people in the Chicago area have contracted whooping cough since March.

McHenry County has the most confirmed cases -- 83 -- and other cases of the highly contagious disease have been confirmed in Kane, Cook, and Lake Counties, the Associated Press reported.

There have been no reported deaths from whooping cough.

Eighty percent of the 107 cases have involved children between 10 and 15 years of age. Samples of the whooping cough strain have been sent for analysis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccines protecting against pertussis are given to young children.

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EPA Seeks Huge Fine From DuPont

Chemical company DuPont could face a multimillion-dollar fine over allegations that it failed to report potential health and environmental problems caused by a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, an ingredient used in making Teflon and other materials.

The U.S. Environmental Agency said DuPont's failure to report information about the chemical stretches over two decades. The agency is seeking a large penalty in order to send a message that this type of information about chemicals must be provided so that government officials can make accurate assessments about potential risks.

The EPA could seek a fine of hundreds of millions of dollars, the Washington Post reported. If so, that would be the largest penalty the EPA has assessed for toxic contamination, and the largest environmental penalty in U.S. history.

Industry studies have linked perfluorooctanoic acid to cancer and birth defects in animals. Ohio and West Virginia residents, along with an environmental group, are suing DuPont. They say the company contaminated soil and drinking water around its plant in Parkersburg, W. Va.

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Global Women's HIV Crisis Looms, U.N. Warns

Young women now make up 60 percent of 15-to-24-year-olds with HIV, the United Nations announced Friday in warning of a looming health crisis.

Since 1985, the percentage of adult women with HIV has jumped to 48 percent of the world's cases from 35 percent, according to information from the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) cited by the Associated Press.

The U.N. report says women are regarded as socially inferior in many parts of the world. That, combined with a tendency to be less financially independent and a fear of domestic violence, has stripped them of most power to demand safe sex, the report concludes.

About 77 percent of the world's HIV-positive women live in sub-Saharan Africa, UNIFEM says. Its report speculates that Asia could become the next epicenter, due to similarities like widespread poverty, low levels of education, and the second-class status of women, the AP reported.

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4th Death Tied to Organ Donor With Rabies

After assuring the public last week that all transplanted organs and tissues linked to three rabies deaths in organ recipients were accounted for, doctors at Baylor University Medical Center announced on Thursday a fourth death tied to the same rabies-infected donor, reports HealthDay.

The victim in this latest case, who officials described only as hailing from North Texas, apparently contracted rabies after receiving a piece of artery necessary for the successful completion of a liver transplant. The liver came from a healthy donor, but the artery came from the rabies-infected donor whose organs were connected to the other three deaths.

In a heated press conference, Baylor doctors tried to explain why, after assuring the public last week that the deaths linked to the organ donor would be held to three, a fourth case was identified early Thursday by investigators at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At Thursday's press conference, Baylor officials again assured the public that, at this point in time, all of the vessels and organs harvested from the rabies-infected donor have been destroyed, and there is no further danger to patients at Baylor or to the public at large.

It's not clear whether these deaths will trigger a change in donor-screening policies. Tests for rabies -- a disease that remains rare in the U.S. population -- take up to 24 hours to return results, the doctors pointed out, while transplants are of necessity often carried out within a few hours of the donor's death.

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FDA Squelched Data on Cardiac Device, WSJ Reports

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to withdraw a medical journal article that expressed concerns about a new cardiac device after the product's maker threatened both the agency and the journal with legal action, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The article, written in May 2004 by FDA researchers, focused on Medtronic Inc.'s AneuRx stent graft -- used to prevent arterial bulges, called aneurysms, from rupturing. The article suggested that over time, more invasive arterial surgery was a safer option, according to the Journal account.

Medtronic, based in Minneapolis, disputed the article's findings while claiming that the FDA used confidential data without permission, the Journal reported. According to the account, the company's lawyer also threatened the agency and the medical publication, the Journal of Vascular Surgery, with criminal and civil action if the article were published.

In June, the agency officially withdrew the article from publication, the newspaper reported. The FDA since issued a statement saying its decision "rested on substantial legal concerns" over the confidential information it had obtained about the device, and its legal obligation to protect that information, according to the newspaper.

For its part, Medtronic issued a statement saying it "has a proven and unequaled record" in releasing information about the product, which the statement said was a "safe and effective device," the newspaper reported.

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