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Health Highlights: June 17, 2005

Guidant Recalls 38,000 Heart Defibrillators FDA Limits Access to Lung Cancer Drug People Over Age 50 Should Take Daily Aspirin: Study Boston and Boulder Lead U.S. in Marijuana Use Nepalese Porters Tops in Efficient Load Carrying Recalled Fishing Kits Have Poles With Lead Paint

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

Guidant Recalls 38,000 Heart Defibrillators

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Guidant Corp. are recalling 38,000 implantable cardiac defibrillators that may malfunction, the company announced Friday. Most of the devices have already been implanted, the Associated Press said.

Defibrillators shock an irregularly beating heart back into a normal rhythm. Guidant models recalled include the Prizm 2 DR, Contak Renewal, Contak Renewal 2, Ventak Prizm ADT, Vitality AVT, Renewal 3 AVT, and Renewal 4 AVT. The company said it has at least 45 reports of failure, resulting in at least two recent deaths, the AP reported.

The company has come under fire for failing to alert doctors to the potential problems, and for allegedly selling older models for months after redesigning the way they were made. Guidant told The New York Times that it continued to sell the older models because it believed the devices were reliable, HealthDay reported June 2.

Guidant advises anyone who received an affected model to see their doctors at least every three months, and to consult their doctor immediately if they've received a defibrillator shock, the AP said.


FDA Limits Access to Lung Cancer Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved new labeling for the last-chance lung cancer drug Iressa (gefitinib), saying that after Sept. 15 the medicine should be limited only to patients who are already benefitting from its use, the agency announced Friday.

The AstraZeneca drug, approved in May 2003 for people with non-small cell lung cancer, failed to significantly extend survival among participants in 1,692-patient clinical trials. Only about 10 percent of users responded to it, the FDA said, noting that later research indicated the drug seemed to work better in people with a specific gene mutation.

Since Iressa's approval, a newer medicine -- Genentech's Tarceva (erlotinib) -- in the same class of drugs was shown to improve overall survival, the FDA said.

Some 4,000 Americans are taking Iressa, the Associated Press reported. It was approved under an FDA program that lets promising therapies sell before researchers ultimately determine whether they improve patient survival, the AP said.


People Over Age 50 Should Take Daily Aspirin: Study

Daily, low-dose aspirin should be taken by people 50 years and older to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke, says an article in the British Medical Journal.

"The possibility that a simple, daily, inexpensive low-dose pill would achieve a reduction in vascular events, and might achieve reductions in cancer and dementia without the need for screening, deserves serious consideration," Peter Elwood, chairman of the Welsh Aspirin Group at Cardiff University in Penarth, Wales, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues concluded that by age 50, 80 percent of men and 50 percent of women reach a risk level for heart attack and stroke that requires daily aspirin. They said that between 90 percent and 95 percent of people could take low-dose aspirin without experiencing any problems, Bloomberg news reported.

The Welsh Aspirin Group was established by the Aspirin Foundation to promote the use of aspirin.

Colin Baigent of the Oxford Radcliffe Infirmary expressed concerns about the use of daily, low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke.

"A recommendation that aspirin be used for primary prevention of vascular disease in unselected people over a certain age could result in net harm, and we must have very good evidence to the contrary before instituting such a policy," Baigent wrote in the same issue of the journal.


Boston and Boulder Lead U.S. in Marijuana Use

Boston and Boulder, Colo., lead the United States in marijuana use, while northwestern Iowa and southern Texas have the lowest marijuana use rates, according to a new federal government report.

The report, which looked at the regional use of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and other legal and illegal substances, found that 5.1 percent of people in the United States reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days, the Associated Press reported.

In Boston, 12.2 percent of people reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days. The rate was 10.3 percent in Boulder County in Colorado.

The data came from 1999 to 2001 national surveys.

The report also said that 20 percent of people age 12 and older across the country reported one or more episodes of binge drinking in the previous month. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks in one setting.

The northeast and southeast regions of North Dakota had the highest levels of binge drinking, at 32 percent. Boston was near the top in this category, too, with a rate of 30 percent, the AP reported.


Nepalese Porters Tops in Efficient Load Carrying

Nepalese mountain porters are the most fit and efficient load carriers in the world, says a Belgian study published Friday in the journal Science.

These porters, who climb the Himalayan Mountains lugging loads that sometimes surpass their own body weight, possess a combination of physical ability and technique that far surpasses Western soldiers marching with backpacks, the study said.

In tests of eight Nepalese porters, the researchers found that the porters were able to carry up to 20 percent of their body weight at the same metabolic rate as if they were walking without any burden, the Times of London reported.

The porters' efficiency is likely the result of three factors, including physiology. The porters have a short, powerful stature and a high red blood cell count that's evolved from living at high altitude, the study said.

Carrying technique is also crucial. The porters use a strap that goes around the head and bears the majority of the load. The third important factor appears to be the regular rest breaks the porters take, the researchers said.


Recalled Fishing Kits Have Poles With Lead Paint

About 438,000 children's fishing kits are being recalled because the paint on the fishing rods contains lead, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Friday.

Lead is toxic if ingested by young children. The fishing kits, distributed by Shakespeare Fishing Tackle Division of Columbia, S.C., feature the cartoon characters the Tazmanian Devil, Tweety, Mucha Lucha and Spider-Man.

Other recalled fishing kits feature: Fishing Heroes, with a silver-colored badge; Kids Kits, sold with tackle boxes; and Shark and Dolphin Kits, which have reels in the shape of a shark or dolphin.

The kits have rods that are painted red and yellow. Kits with purple, blue and pink rods are not included in the recall.

The kits were sold in discount department, sporting goods and toy stores across the United States from August 2001 through June 2005. They cost between $9 and $13.

Consumers should take the poles away from children and contact Shakespeare Fishing Tackle for information on receiving a free replacement. Call the company toll-free at 1-866-466-0559 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday.

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