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Health Highlights: June 30, 2005

'Mad Cow' Animal Raised in Texas: USDA Experts Recommend Flu Shots for Health Care Workers One-Third of Young People Surveyed Admit Driving While Impaired Senate OKs Human Pesticide Testing Limits Controversial Crohn's Disease Drug Does Well in Trials Canada Announces Intended Ban on Bulk Drug Exports

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

'Mad Cow' Animal Raised in Texas: USDA

The second-ever case of mad cow disease in the United States involves a cow that was born and raised in Texas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed.

USDA officials refused to identify the animal's owner or specify where the animal was reared, but the Houston Chronicle reported that the animal was first identified as a potential case of the brain-wasting disease at Champion Pet Foods, the dog food company based in Waco.

The cow was already dead when it arrived at the plant on Nov. 15, so no part of it was used to make dog food, Champion President Benjy Bauer said in a prepared statement.

"We followed our normal daily procedures and sent a sample from this cow to the USDA-approved laboratory at Texas A&M [University]," Bauer said, according to the Chronicle report.

After the first test on the animal came back "inconclusive" for the disease formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, USDA representatives took the carcass to the Texas Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at A&M, where it was incinerated.

USDA officials believe the animal was born 12 years ago, four years before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration imposed a ban on feeding livestock food containing mammalian protein.

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Experts Recommend Flu Shots for Health Care Workers

All health care workers in the United States should be vaccinated annually for influenza, two federal advisory committees recommended Thursday.

While annual immunization for health care workers against flu has been advised for years, the rates have hovered at a dismal 36 percent to 38 percent, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) said in a statement lauding the decisions by experts advising the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The non-profit foundation said more health workers haven't obtained the annual vaccine due to a lack of access, a misperception that flu isn't a serious illness, and a low awareness about the possibility of spreading the disease to patients. Flu causes an average of 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States, NFID said.

The foundation also applauded the experts' decision to recommend a booster shot against whooping cough (pertussis) for young adolescents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the booster is necessary even for children who already have been vaccinated for whooping cough, since the old vaccine is likely to be ineffective by the time they turn 11. Doing so would prevent tens of thousands of cases of the disease, the agency has said.

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One-Third of Young People Admit Driving Impaired

One in three 21- to 25-year-olds admit they have driven under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the past year, a new government survey finds.

Among all adult drivers over age 21, 16.6 percent said they drove drunk or under the influence of drugs, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Of those who said they had driven while impaired, 15.7 percent were under the influence of alcohol, 4.3 percent under illicit drugs, and 3.0 percent drove under the combined influence of both, SAMHSA said in a statement.

Older adults were less likely than younger ones to drive under the influence, the report said. While 33.8 percent of drivers 21-25 drove while impaired, 24.3 percent of those ages 26-34 said they had driven under the influence in the past year.

Adult male drivers who were impaired outweighed female impaired drivers 22 percent to 11.4 percent, the agency said.

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Senate OKs Human Pesticide Testing Limits

The U.S. Senate has voted to limit the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to conduct pesticide tests that involve people.

The chamber voted late Wednesday to place a one-year moratorium on government-sponsored human pesticide tests, and to give the EPA six months to develop new regulations on such testing, The New York Times reported. The Senate legislation must now be resolved with a measure passed earlier by the House of Representatives.

The congressional actions followed controversy directed at EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, who had been the agency's acting director. His confirmation hearings earlier this year were delayed until he ordered an end to a pesticide testing program in Florida that would have paid parents for allowing tests on their children, the Times reported.

The Clinton administration ended government-sponsored testing of pesticides on people in 1998, while the Bush administration has allowed some of them to proceed, the newspaper said. The EPA is preparing new rules that would, in some cases, allow testing involving pregnant women and young children, the Times said.

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Controversial Crohn's Disease Drug Does Well in Trials

A multiple sclerosis drug that's been suspended from sale in the United States has shown promise in an advanced trial for the digestive disorder Crohn's disease, its U.S. and Irish manufacturers said Thursday.

Tysabri went on sale late last year in the United States, but was withdrawn in February after being linked to a rare but deadly brain disease called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). One MS patient has died of PML, as has one person with Crohn's who was participating in clinical trials, the Associated Press reported.

The Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal this month have reported additional suspected cases of the disease, the wire service said. Tysabri's makers, Elan Corp. of Ireland, and the American drug firm Biogen, have declined comment on those reports.

The companies said Thursday that new trials involving 510 Crohn's sufferers had shown a reduction in symptoms within 12 weeks of treatment, the AP said. An Elan spokesman told the wire service that the results were being forwarded to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in hopes of encouraging a decision on the drug's return to the market.

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Canada Announces Intended Ban on Bulk Drug Exports

The Canadian government announced Wednesday that it would draft legislation to limit bulk exports of Canadian drugs.

The expected action, intended to assure that Canadian online pharmacy sales to the United States do not cause domestic shortages, appeared to fall far short of what the online industry feared might have forced it to leave Canada altogether, The New York Times reported.

"Canada cannot be the drugstore of the United States of America," Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh told reporters as he announced several vaguely defined proposed regulations, including one to limit the practice of Canadian doctors co-signing online prescriptions for unseen American patients.

"We have to make sure that we protect the safety and supply of the drugs for Canadians," Dosanjh said, "and also the safety of the consumers of these prescriptions."

He added that new regulations were needed because he expected the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would allow large imports of prescription drugs into the United States.

Online drug sales from Canada to the United States now exceed $800 million a year, about triple the total of five years ago, according to the Times.

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