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Health Highlights: June 27, 2004

Hemophilia Drug Shows Promise as Treatment for Stroke U.S. Tests for Possible Mad Cow Case Triple Therapy Controls Type 2 Diabetes Without Weight Gain U.S. Approves Wider Use of Rapid HIV Test Women Urged to Seek HIV Counseling and Testing

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

Hemophilia Drug Shows Promise as Treatment for Stroke

They're called hemorrhagic strokes, they are the most devastating type of stroke, and they strike 80,000 Americans annually. But in what researchers are calling the first possible treatment for this type of stroke that causes bleeding in the brain, a new study finds that a hemophilia drug sharply cuts the chances that victims will die or be severely disabled.

A worldwide study of 400 patients revealed that a single infusion of the drug, NovoSeven, given within three hours after onset of stroke cut by about one-third the risk of death or severe disability, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

If confirmed with additional research, the finding would mark only the second time that any treatment has been shown effective for any type of stroke. And it would be the first effective treatment for hemorrhagic stroke, the newspaper said.

"These results are beyond my wildest dreams," said Stephan A. Mayer, an associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, who led the study. "I thought this might work, but I had no idea it would work so well. I'm walking around in a state of shock. I'm very excited."

Mayer presented his findings at the World Stroke Congress in Vancouver, Canada.

The drug will require more testing before it is approved by U.S. health officials for use with stroke patients. Still, Mayer and other experts predicted it would likely become the standard stroke treatment and "transform care for what had essentially been tens of thousands of hopeless patients," the Post said.

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U.S. Tests for Possible Mad Cow Case

U.S. health officials said Saturday that it was safe to eat beef, even though preliminary testing indicated a possible second case of mad cow disease in the country, the Associated Press reported.

A preliminary screening test designed to give rapid results had indicated an animal had mad cow disease, which is also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). These preliminary tests can't confirm whether an animal is truly infected, the AP said.

Definitive tests are being done at the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. Results from those tests could take up to seven days, the news service quoted the department as saying. The Iowa lab diagnosed the nation's only confirmed case of BSE, in a Washington state Holstein, last December.

Until those definitive tests are complete, the Agriculture Department said it would not identify the animal, the state it came from or the slaughterhouse where it was killed, the AP said.

"The inconclusive result does not mean we have found another case of BSE in this country," said Dr. John Clifford, deputy administrator of the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "Inconclusive results are a normal part of most screening tests."

The department remains confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply, Clifford said. Meat from the animal did not enter the human food supply or livestock feed, he said. Keeping the carcass out of the supply chain is one of several federal safeguards against introduction of BSE into the food supply. These include rules that prohibit the use of the riskiest cattle parts, such as brains and spinal cords, according to the AP.

People who eat infected products can contract a rare but fatal disease similar to BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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Triple Therapy Controls Type 2 Diabetes Without Weight Gain

People with type 2 diabetes working to control their blood sugar levels often experience weight gain. But a new study reports that taking two drugs in combination with insulin can effectively regulate blood sugar without the weight gain.

The findings, by researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, appear in the July issue of Diabetes Care. It's the first study to analyze the safety and effectiveness of triple therapy using insulin, metformin and a drug in the thiazolidinedione family, the scientists said.

"We've shown spectacular control of blood sugar levels in the absence of weight gain, a common side effect of drug therapies for type 2 diabetes," said Dr. Philip Raskin, professor of internal medicine and senior author of the study. "And we can keep the blood sugar under control with relative ease. This is a step in the right direction for effectively treating type 2 diabetes."

Type 2 diabetics who use drug therapy typically take insulin and only one of the drugs. Those patients often reduce their blood sugar below the 7 percent limit suggested by the American Diabetes Association. But they also tend to gain weight and often have to increase their insulin doses, said Raskin.

In the new study, all 28 patients who used the triple therapy reduced their blood-sugar levels below 7 percent without increasing insulin.

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U.S. Approves Wider Use of Rapid HIV Test

An oral test that can determine within 20 minutes whether a person is infected with the virus that causes AIDS will gain wider use across the country, the Bush administration announced Friday.

The new rules will allow the test for HIV screenings in counseling centers, community health centers and doctors' offices. Previously, use of the OraQuick test was mainly limited to hospitals and large health clinics, according to the Associated Press.

"HIV testing has never been easier or more accessible than it is today," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said. Announcement of the widescale testing plan came in advance of National HIV Testing Day on Sunday.

The OraQuick test allows a technician to wipe a treated cotton swab along the gums, picking up not saliva but cells lining the mouth. Older HIV tests often took two weeks to provide results. It's hoped the new oral test will lead to more screening of high-risk people. And because it's needle-free, it should be safer for health-care workers, the AP said.

An estimated 850,000 to 950,000 Americans are infected with HIV, and 25 percent of them don't know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Women Urged to Seek HIV Counseling and Testing

With June 27 designated National HIV Testing Day, U.S. health officials are encouraging women to visit their health-care providers for HIV counseling, testing, and appropriate medical care should they test positive.

AIDS is the fifth leading killer of U.S. women aged 25 to 44, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 180,000 to 280,000 Americans are unaware they are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"Women need to be especially careful," said Sherry Marts, vice president for scientific affairs for the Society for Women's Health Research. "Women are more than twice as likely to contract HIV from an infected male sexual partner as males are likely to contract it from an infected female. This fact obviously reinforces the need to practice safer sex."

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