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Health Highlights: June 10, 2005

FDA Approves 2nd Whooping Cough Vaccine West Nile Vaccine Shows Promise in Mice Texas Child, Denied Cancer Therapy, Taken from Parents Documents Reveal Drug Maker's Efforts to Save Heartburn Drug: Report Senators Plan to Block Vote on FDA Nominee Common Fungus May Help Fight Malaria

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

FDA Approves 2nd Whooping Cough Vaccine

The first adult booster shot for whooping cough has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency said Friday.

Aventis Pasteur's Adacel is the second whooping cough vaccine to be approved in little more than a month. In May, GlaxoSmithKline's Boostrix was sanctioned for use in adolescents ages 10 to 18, while Adacel has been approved for both adults and teens, the agency said.

Adacel combines a whooping cough inoculation with vaccines for tetanus and diphtheria. It contains the same components as an Aventis booster meant for infants, called Daptacel, though it has weaker forms of both the whooping cough and diphtheria germs, the FDA said.

Whooping cough, medically called pertussis, can be more severe in children and can be fatal. It produces coughs so strong that it can break a rib.

Older vaccines for pertussis have been known to wear off, allowing older people to transmit the bacterial illness to infants and very young children with weaker immune systems.

Side effects of Adacel include injection site pain and low-grade fever, which are common results from similar vaccines, the FDA said.


West Nile Vaccine Shows Promise in Mice

A vaccine produced from a human antibody of people who have had West Nile virus has prevented infections in mice, its maker said Friday.

Dutch company Crucell NV said it planned human clinical trials of the vaccine by year's end, the Associated Press reported.

The company said while it devised the vaccine to prevent West Nile infection among the elderly, the inoculation could also be used to treat an active case of West Nile, the wire service reported.

West Nile, which first arrived in the United States in 1999, killed 88 residents last year and infected 2,470, the company said. The elderly and young children are at higher risk of a severe form that progresses to encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can be fatal.


Texas Child, Denied Cancer Therapy, Taken from Parents

Texas child welfare authorities have seized a 12-year-old Corpus Christi cancer patient from her parents, who had refused on religious grounds to allow the girl to get radiation treatment, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Last week, authorities issued an Amber Alert to gain custody of Katie Wernecke after receiving an anonymous tip about alleged neglect, the AP said.

Michele and Edward Wernecke have asked a judge to bar radiation therapy for their daughter, saying they are members of the Church of God and oppose blood transfusions except from a family member. The judge could rule as early as Friday, the wire service said.

Katie has Hodgkin's disease, a cancer affecting the lymph nodes. Her parents say she's in remission and has already undergone chemotherapy.

Katie was found late last week with her mother at a family ranch. Her father was arrested on charges of interfering with child custody, and was released Monday after posting $50,000 bail. The Werneckes' three sons were placed in a foster home, the AP said.


Documents Reveal Drug Maker's Efforts to Save Drug: Report

Even as reports of heart injuries and deaths among people taking the heartburn drug Propulsid continued to mount, drug maker Johnson & Johnson kept defending the drug and promoting its use, according to The New York Times.

The newspaper's review of newly obtained corporate and government documents found that before mounting pressure finally forced Johnson & Johnson to pull Propulsid from the market in 2000, the company tried a number of ways to save the lucrative drug.

The documents reveal that the company failed to conduct safety studies urged by U.S. regulators and the company's own consultants that may have provided early warnings about the drug's dangers, the Times reported.

The documents also show that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn't disclose research done by Johnson & Johnson that questioned Propulsid's effectiveness against the digestive disorders it was used to treat. The FDA failed to release that information because the studies were considered trade secrets, the newspaper said.

Dozens of company-sponsored studies on Propulsid that might have made doctors reconsider prescribing the drug for their patients were never published, the documents reveal. They also show that Johnson & Johnson was able to delay and soften some government-proposed label changes for Propulsid, the Times reported.

Last year, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay up to $90 million to settle lawsuits claming that Propulsid was responsible for 300 deaths and as many as 16,000 injuries, the newspaper said.

Johnson & Johnson declined numerous requests to make executives available for comment on Friday's article, the Times said. In written responses, the firm defended the safety of Propulsid and said that the marketing of the pill was appropriate, the paper said.

The new details about Propulsid are timely in light of recent problems with the arthritis painkillers Bextra, Vioxx and Celebrex that have re-ignited criticism that the FDA is unable to properly monitor and regulate pharmaceuticals once they're on the market, the Times said.


Senators Plan to Block Vote on FDA Nominee

Three senators say they plan to block a vote by the full Senate on Dr. Lester M. Crawford's nomination to head the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Two senators -- Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington -- say they'll put a "hold" on the nomination, which would prevent a full Senate vote. They say they'll continue the hold until the FDA issues a long-delayed decision on over-the-counter sales of the morning-after birth control pill, The New York Times reported.

Another senator, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, plans to put a hold on the nomination because of the FDA's failure to require new labels for condoms warning that they do not fully protect against sexually transmitted diseases, the paper said.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to vote next Thursday on Crawford's nomination.


Common Fungus May Help Fight Malaria

A common fungus called Beauveria bassiana may provide a new weapon against malaria, says a British study in the journal Science.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Imperial College, London found that the fungus can prove fatal to mosquitoes that come into contact with surfaces sprayed with the fungus, BBC News reported.

Mosquitoes transmit malaria, which kills at least a million people a year.

The study found that 90 percent of mosquitoes died within 14 days of exposure with the fungus. "It seems this fungus is eating them up from the inside," Professor Andrew Read, of the University of Edinburgh, told BBC News.

Another member of the team noted there's no evidence that insects can develop resistance to fungi.

While the findings are promising, the researchers noted it may be difficult to ensure widespread use of the fungus. They said the method of making fungal sprays to protect crops from locusts may provide a model for anti-mosquito fungal sprays.

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