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Health Highlights: June 2, 2005

AIDS Epidemic Still Growing, U.N. Chief Says CDC Issues Lead Poisoning Guidelines Passive Smoke Could Raise Breast Cancer Risk Combining Diets May Be Best, Expert Notes Guidant Admits Continuing Flawed Defibrillator Sales Fourth Possible Brain Disease Case Emerges From MS Drug

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

AIDS Epidemic Still Growing, U.N. Chief Says

The AIDS epidemic continues "to outrun our efforts to contain it," United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a U.N. meeting in New York City on Thursday. At the high-level gathering on the epidemic, he pleaded for more money and efforts to combat the global scourge.

Many of the world's nations are at risk of falling short of targets that were to be met this year, Annan said. The goals -- primarily affecting young men and women ages 15 to 24 -- had been set at the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS that convened in 2001, CNN reported.

Here are key findings of a U.N. report released at Thursday's meeting:

  • While people with HIV/AIDS on antiviral therapy rose by nearly two-thirds by the second half of 2004, only 12 percent of people who needed the treatment in poor and developing countries were able to get it by the end of last year.
  • Many countries have yet to adopt legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.
  • There is a growing crisis of AIDS orphans and vulnerable children.
  • There is "an acute shortage of trained personnel" to deal with the burgeoning epidemic.

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CDC Issues Lead Poisoning Guidelines

While cases of lead poisoning among native American children have been on the decline, newly resettled refugee children haven't been so lucky, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday in issuing new lead poisoning guidelines.

The guidelines, issued to identify and treat immigrant children with elevated blood lead levels, recommend:

  • Blood testing for all refugee children ages six months to 16 years on entering the country.
  • Repeat testing for these children three-to-six months after they are placed in permanent homes.
  • Repeat testing if the siblings of these children test positive, regardless of the initial test results.

The agency said it would work with state and local governments to conduct educational and outreach programs designed to prevent lead poisoning, which can cause damage of the central nervous system, kidneys and reproductive system.

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Passive Smoke Could Raise Breast Cancer Risk

Long-term exposure to second-hand smoke appears to increase a premenopausal woman's risk of contracting breast cancer, according to a study released this week in the International Journal of Cancer.

A team led by Canadian government researcher Kenneth Johnson examined 20 published studies that had looked at the relationship. He found that long-term exposure to second-hand smoke was associated with a 27 percent increase in breast cancer risk among women who had never smoked.

Mutations caused by cigarette smoke have been detected in the breast fluid of non-lactating women, the researchers said, and nicotine has been found in greater concentrations in the breast fluid than in the blood of smokers.

Among women who once smoked but were not current smokers, the risk of breast cancer was 46 percent higher than those who hadn't ever smoked and weren't exposed to long-term passive smoke, the scientists said. Active smoking was associated with a 108 percent increase in breast cancer risk, they said.

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Combining Diets May Be Best, Expert Notes

Combining the best parts of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets may be the best way to lose extra pounds and keep them off, a leading expert told the European Congress on Obesity in a speech on Thursday.

Diets that exclude carbohydrates or certain fats may do more harm than good, Professor Arne Astrup of the Institute of Human Nutrition in Denmark told the meeting in Athens, Greece. He said while low-carb diets may initially lead to weight loss, they may have side effects including diarrhea and dehydration because they largely exclude needed fruits and vegetables, according to wire service accounts of the Athens meeting.

Astrup suggested an optimum diet derived 25 percent to 30 percent of calories from fat, 15 percent to 25 percent from lean meat and dairy products, and 45 percent to 55 percent from carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

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Guidant Admits Continuing Flawed Defibrillator Sales

Guidant Corporation continued to sell potentially flawed implantable heart defibrillators for months after it changed the way the devices were made and had started selling the new ones, The New York Times reported Thursday.

The revelation comes from information provided by Guidant to a Minnesota hospital. Last week, the company told doctors and patients that an electrical flaw in the device --the Ventak Prizm 2 DR Model 1861, also called the Prizm 2 DR -- had caused about two dozen of the devices to fail. Guidant said it fixed that flaw in mid-2002.

Guidant officials admitted to the Times that the company continued to sell its inventory of defibrillators made before the fixes because it believed that the devices were reliable.

In a statement, the company said it knew of 26 cases involving an older version of the defibrillator that short-circuited. One of those failures resulted in the death of a young man. Guidant made about 37,000 units before it corrected the potential electrical flaw in April 2002. About 24,000 people still have the older units, the Times reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating how Guidant handled the problem.

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Fourth Possible Brain Disease Case Emerges From MS Drug

A fourth person may have contracted a potentially deadly brain disease after taking the multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, the drug's maker has told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Biogen Idec Inc. and its partner in Tysabri, Elan Corp. of Ireland, stopped sales of the drug and halted clinical trials in February after one patient taking the drug died of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) and another patient taking the drug was believed to have the brain disease. A third case of PML in a patient taking Tysabri was identified in March, The Boston Globe reported.

If this fourth case is confirmed, the companies will have a difficult time convincing the FDA that Tysabri is safe, the newspaper reported. That would be bad news for multiple sclerosis patients who may have been hoping for the return on Tysabri, which had been effective in reducing debiliating MS relapses.

PML is a rare disease caused by a virus that damages the central nervous system. Within a few months, many people with PML are disabled or dead.

Tysabri received FDA approval last November. The approval was given after the FDA reviewed only a year of results from planned two-year trials. The FDA also shortened the approval process to six months from the date the companies submitted their application for Tysabri, the Globe reported.

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