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Health Highlights: June 22, 2005

Caffeine May Help Jocks Absorb Carbs: Study Government Should Negotiate With Drugmakers: Report Hospital Discounts Infection Risk From Mishandled Instruments FDA Warns Medtronic on Defibrillator Flaw Kansas Resident 1st Probable U.S. West Nile Case in 2005 Celebs, Kids Urge More Diabetes Research Funding

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

Caffeine May Help Jocks Absorb Carbs: Study

Caffeine can boost athletes' energy levels by raising the body's absorption of carbohydrates, British scientists concluded from new research.

Introducing caffeine into sports drinks raised the body's carb absorption by 26 percent, the scientists at the University of Birmingham found. They emphasized that the results don't necessarily prove that caffeine enhances performance, according to the Associated Press.

Study participants were given enough caffeine to equal four cups of coffee per hour, the researchers said. Future studies will test the effect of less caffeine, they added.

Caffeine, found in coffee and cola, was removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances last year. The agency, however, continues to monitor how it is used, the wire service said.


Government Should Negotiate With Drugmakers: Report

The Medicare prescription drug program and U.S. taxpayers would save significant amounts of money if Congress required government negotiation of prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, a new Congressional Budget Office study found.

The six federal programs that now negotiate prices pay about 50 percent less than the average wholesale price for prescription drugs, according to the CBO, an independent congressional watchdog. The Pentagon paid the lowest amount -- just 41 percent of the average wholesale price, according to a review of the CBO report by Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports.

In passing the Medicare drug benefit, Congress specifically prohibited federal negotiation of drug prices with manufacturers, a Consumers Union statement said. The Medicare drug benefit is scheduled to take effect in January at a projected cost of $72 billion per year, the statement added.

Congress has yet to consider recent legislation to require federal negotiation with the pharmaceutical firms, Consumers Union said.


Hospital Discounts Infection Risk From Mishandled Instruments

Thousands of surgical patients who were operated on with instruments accidentally washed in hydraulic fluid don't run a higher risk of infection, Duke University told them in a letter sent this week.

The letter from the school's hospital system said its conclusions were based on a risk study done by an outside consultant. But the letter to some 4,000 patients did not address additional patient fears that the mistake may have exposed them to autoimmune disorders, the Associated Press reported.

Duke recently acknowledged that for two months late last year, surgical instruments were washed in hydraulic fluid instead of infection-fighting soap. The error occurred after elevator workers drained hydraulic fluid in empty soap containers, but did not indicate so on the container labels.

The federal agency that oversees the Medicare program recently criticized the hospital system for not following up on medical staff complaints at the time that their surgical tools felt "slick," the wire service said.


FDA Warns Medtronic on Defibrillator Flaw

Medtronic has not completed required measures to deal with reported flaws in the Lifepak 12, one of the company's best-selling external defibrillators, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says in a warning letter made public Tuesday.

A previous problem reported in the Lifepak 12 involved the cable running from the main unit to the paddles that deliver jolts of electricity to patients whose hearts have stopped beating. The flaw resulted in a number of malfunctions reported to Medtronic and the FDA. In response to those reports, Medtronic began in spring of 2004 to supply customers with a replacement cable.

However, reports since then indicate that the replacements may also have broken connecting pins and other problems that prevent proper functioning of the unit, The New York Times reported.

In a letter dated June 9, the FDA took Medtronic to task on several counts. The agency said Medtronic has failed to provide adequate evidence that it fully investigated the initial problem in the Lifepak 12 and did not follow up as required on reports that the replacement cable was also flawed.

In the letter, the FDA gave Medtronic 15 days to reply and warned the company that it could face civil or criminal complaints if it does not address the FDA's concerns.

"We take the warning letter extremely seriously," Medtronic spokesman Rob Clark told The Times. "We are meeting with the FDA later this week. We're getting close to a resolution."

The Medtronic warning is the latest action against faulty defibrillators in recent weeks. Last week, the FDA and Guidant Corp. recalled 38,000 implantable cardiac defibrillators that may malfunction. Most of the devices have already been implanted.


Kansas Resident First Probable U.S. West Nile Case in 2005

A 51-year-old resident of Douglas County in Kansas is the first probable human case of West Nile virus in the United States this year.

The case was first reported last Thursday by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), the Associated Press reported. A KDHE spokesperson said lab tests have not yet confirmed that this is a case of West Nile virus, but the doctor who treated the person reported symptoms consistent with the virus.

So far this year, numerous other states have reported cases of West Nile virus in birds and horses.

In 2004, Kansas reported 37 confirmed cases of West Nile virus in humans and two deaths from the virus. Last year in the United States, there were 2,535 human cases and 98 deaths, the AP reported.

Most people infected with West Nile virus experience only mild symptoms or none at all. But other people infected with the virus may suffer severe headache, high fever, difficulty walking and talking, and coma.


Celebs, Kids Urge More Diabetes Research Funding

Actress Mary Tyler Moore and three-time Olympian swimmer Gary Hall, who both have type 1 diabetes, urged U.S. government lawmakers Tuesday to expand funding for research into the life-threatening disorder.

The celebrities also told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs that they support embryonic stem cell research, which may be able to provide a cure for the disease, the Washington Post reported.

That message to the lawmakers was supported by the presence and testimonials of 150 children who also have type 1 diabetes, including 11-year-old Stephanie Rothweiler of Falmouth, Maine.

Before she turned five, Stephanie's pancreas functioned normally and produced the insulin her body needed to get energy from food. Now, she risks blindness and kidney damage if her blood sugar goes too high and coma and death if her blood sugar drops too low, the Post reported.

"These days, all I hear is, 'Stephanie, what's your blood sugar?' " Stephanie told the committee. "My friends have learned what to do if I become unconscious."

Type 1 diabetes is caused when pancreatic cells that produce insulin are destroyed by an autoimmune attack.

The committee hearing and subsequent visits to congressional offices marked the end of the two-day Children's Congress, held by the Juvenile Diabetes Researc

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