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Health Highlights: June 27, 2005

Canada Plans Limits on Drug Sales to U.S. New Medicare Drug Plan Won't Cover Anxiety Drugs Antidepressant Paxil Back on U.S. Market Tsunami Survivors May be at Risk for Lung Ailments New Program to Treat Children with AIDS in Developing Countries

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

Canada Plans Limits on Drug Sales to U.S.

Canada will announce plans this week to limit bulk sales of prescription drugs to the United States, Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper reported Monday.

As more and more Americans buy their medications from Canadian sources at cheaper prices, Canadian officials are worried about the possibility of domestic shortages, the newspaper said. A ban on bulk shipments could also thwart retaliation from U.S. drug companies that have threatened sanctions against Canadian sources that mail prescription drugs back to the United States.

Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh also will announce plans later this week to crack down on Canadian doctors who co-sign prescriptions for American customers, the newspaper reported.

In 2004, Americans bought an estimated $800 million worth of prescription drugs from Canadian sources -- largely via the Internet, the Globe and Mail said. The medicines from Canada are up to 80 percent cheaper than the American equivalents due to Canadian price controls.

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New Medicare Drug Plan Won't Cover Anxiety Drugs

A category of drugs called benzodiazepines -- commonly used to treat insomnia, anxiety and seizures -- will not be covered when the U.S. federal government's new Medicare prescription drug benefit comes into effect next year.

The new rules mean that elderly and disabled Medicare recipients who use such drugs, which include Xanax, Valium and Ativan, will have to find other coverage to pay for them or change to other medications, the Associated Press reported.

However, those options may be difficult for about 1.7 million low-income elderly people who take the drugs and will be automatically enrolled in the new drug plan. Those people will have to rely on the states to pick up the tab, the wire service reported.

"Stopping the therapy abruptly can lead to seizures and dangerous, life-threatening problems," Thomas Clark, policy director for the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, told the AP.

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Antidepressant Paxil Back on U.S. Market

GlaxoSmithKline's antidepressant Paxil has returned to American pharmacy shelves, four months after U.S. officials raided three factories and seized their inventories due to poor manufacturing standards, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Glaxo said it has fixed the problems at its Knoxville, Tenn., and Cidra, Puerto Rico, plants. In March, when the FDA seized the lots, it found that Paxil CR (controlled-release) tablets could be split apart, possibly affecting the medication's effectiveness. Federal regulators at the time said the problems didn't appear to pose a threat to patient health, but ordered that they be corrected, the wire service said.

Another drug that was seized from the same plants, the type 2 diabetes drug Avandamet, should return to the market within two weeks, the company told the AP. Some Avandamet tablets didn't have the correct dose of one of the active ingredients.

Solutions to the manufacturing problems were certified by an unidentified third party, the wire service reported.

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Tsunami Survivors May be at Risk for Lung Ailments

Some people who survived the deadly tsunami on Dec. 26 may be still be at risk for what's been dubbed "tsunami lung," caused by swallowing dirty water polluted with bacteria.

A report in the June 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine describes the case of a 17-year-old female from Banda Aceh in Indonesia. When the tsunami struck, the water dragged her about a half a mile from her home. Two weeks later, she was diagnosed with pneumonia.

A week after that diagnosis, the patient experienced weakness on the right side of her face and in the arm and leg on the same side of her body. Later, her right arm and leg went limp and she had trouble swallowing and could no longer talk.

Doctors aboard the U.S. Navy hospital ship the USNS Mercy gave the girl medication and drained yellow fluid from her chest. Without the treatment, it's almost certain she would have died of complications of her tsunami-related aspiration pneumonia, a U.S. Navy doctor told the Associated Press.

The journal report did not say how many other similar cases may have occurred in the wake of the tsunami disaster. However, in an accompanying commentary in the same issue, a doctor at a hospital in Bangkok noted 37 cases of lung infections among tsunami survivors.

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New Program to Treat Children with AIDS in Developing Countries

A $40-million program to treat AIDS-afflicted children in the developing world has been launched by the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

The initiative will included a "pediatric AIDS corps" that will post doctors to Africa in order to treat about 80,000 children with AIDS over the next five years, the Associated Press reported.

Under the program, as many as 250 pediatricians will be sent to Africa. As well as treating children, the pediatricians will train local health staff to treat children with AIDS.

Bristol-Myers also said it plans to lower the price of two pediatric formulations of its HIV drugs in the least developed countries.

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