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Health Highlights: June 11, 2005

New Avian Flu Outbreaks in China Kill Migratory Birds Parents Drop Objection To Daughter's Cancer TreatmentU.S. Agriculture Secretary: We're Protected From Mad Cow Disease FDA Approves 2nd Whooping Cough Vaccine West Nile Vaccine Shows Promise in Mice Documents Reveal Drug Maker's Efforts to Save Heartburn Drug: Report

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

New Avian Flu Outbreaks in China Kill Migratory Birds

Health officials who have been monitoring the spread of the so-called avian flu in Asia have new cause for alarm, according to the New York Times

The newspaper reports that two new outbreaks of the disease that affects many bird species have been found in waterfowl that migrate. This indicates the flu virus is mutating, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said, because until recently, waterfowl such as geese had been resistant to the avian flu.

Scientists have already established that some strains of avian flu can kill humans. The latest WHO information has 54 human deaths reported, all from Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. But health officials are concerned that a potentially deadly form of the virus will be transmitted world-wide, and that's why the latest outbreaks among migratory geese have scientists concerned.

With the latest incidents, the Times reports, more than 13,000 geese were destroyed after about 500 had died of a flu strain known as H5N1 avian flu.


Parents Drop Objection To Daughter's Cancer Treatment

After learning that their daughter was no longer in remission after chemotherapy to treat Hodgkins disease, Katie Wernecke's parents have dropped their objection to followup treatment.

But Katie, who is celebrating her 13th birthday, will remain in state custody while undergoing more chemotherapy after being taken from her parents by Texas child welfare authorities Friday.

Her parents had refused on religious grounds to allow the girl to get radiation treatment, but now that they learned that medical analysis of her condition indicated the cancer may have returned, they no longer object to more chemotherapy, the Associated Press reports.

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

Michele and Edward Wernecke had 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. Hodgkin's disease is a cancer affecting the lymph nodes.

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.


U.S. Agriculture Secretary: We're Protected From Mad Cow Disease

Saying that he was going to "enjoy a good steak" and that his agency's firewall was working, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told a news conference late Friday that the possibility of another case of mad cow disease did not endanger the nation's beef supply.

Johanns emphasized that more tests were needed and that the animal didn't enter into the beef supply chain. The animal had been previously tested and cleared, the Associated Press reports, but additional testing offered the possibility that the it might have mad cow disease. Only one confirmed case of mad cow disease -- a fatal brain disorder -- has been found in the U.S., and that was in 2003 from an animal imported from Canada.

"We do not have a human health risk," Johanns said. "This animal did not enter the food chain. This animal never got near the food or feed chain." Further tests are being conducted to determine whether the cow had mad cow disease.

Its scientific name is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and mad cow's human variant condition,Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is just as deadly. More than 150 people in the United Kingdom died in the 1990s during a mad cow epidemic.


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.


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.


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