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Health Highlights: May 16, 2005

U.S. Firefighter Deaths Show Many Had Heart Problems New Drug Fights Deadly Blood Disorder Screenings Catch More U.S. Workers on Amphetamines: Report Chiropractor in Botox Probe Gets License Back Retailers to Tighten Sales of Cold Meds

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

U.S. Firefighter Deaths Show Many Had Heart Problems

Seventy-five percent of American firefighters who died of heart attacks went to work with known or detectable heart conditions, says a new National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report that analyzed U.S. firefighter deaths from 1995 to 2004.

Heart attack is the leading cause of on-duty deaths among firefighters and is a major reason why firefighter fatalities have not declined in recent years, even though fewer firefighters are killed in burning structures, according to the report released Monday.

It found that an average of 97 U.S. firefighters died each year during the 1990s. Since 2000, that's increased to an average of 102 deaths a year, and does not include the hundreds who were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Over the 10 years studied in the NFPA report, 440 of the firefighters (43.7 percent) who died on the job suffered sudden cardiac death (heart attack or other heart-related sudden death).

The NFPA report examined medical information for 308 of those 440 firefighters and found that 134 had previously suffered a heart attack, undergone bypass, or angioplasty/stent placement. Most of them had known heart disease but were not on restricted duty. Ninety-seven had severe blockage of the heart's arteries but it wasn't clear if they knew about it prior to their deaths.

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New Drug Fights Deadly Blood Disorder

An experimental drug called Revlimid appears to offer the first effective treatment for many people with the deadly blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), U.S. researchers report.

In the study, researchers at the H Lee Moffitt Cancer Centre in Tampa, Fla., gave the drug to 115 MDS patients with the most common chromosome abnormality that causes the disease, in which the bone marrow does not make healthy, mature blood cells. After about six months of treatment with the drug, 66 percent of the patients no longer needed blood transfusions; after a year, 75 percent of them still didn't need transfusions, the Associated Press reported.

The study also found that signs of the genetic mutation that cause MDS disappeared in 51 patients and diminished in 81.

The findings were presented Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. The study was sponsored by Celgene Corp., which makes Revlimid.

It's not clear exactly how the drug works, but scientists know that it boosts the immune system, the AP reported.

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Screenings Catch More U.S. Workers on Amphetamines: Report

U.S. workplace drug testing is nabbing more employees using amphetamines, but the rate of drug use by workers seems to have slowed, says a report by Quest Diagnostics Inc., one of the largest drug screening companies in the United States.

The report's findings are based on the results of 7.2 million workplace drug tests conducted by Quest in 2004. It found that the number of workers who tested positive for amphetamines increased by 6 percent in 2004, the Associated Press reported.

In 2003, the number of workers who tested positive for amphetamines increased by 44 percent, compared to 17 percent in 2002 and 16 percent in 2001.

"The use of amphetamines among workers continued to grow (in 2004)," Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest's workplace testing business, told the AP. "However, amphetamine use among workers grew at a slower pace, when compared to previous year," Sample added.

Of the workers who tested positive for drugs in 2004, 55 percent had a positive test for marijuana, 15 percent for cocaine and 10 percent for amphetamines.

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Chiropractor in Botox Probe Gets License Back

The Florida Board of Chiropractic Medicine has ruled that the chiropractor who owned the clinic where four people were paralyzed by injections of raw botulism last November can start seeing patients again, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

Thomas Toia had been placed on supervised probation for three years and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine, but the latest ruling, which came Friday, allows him to regain his suspended license, the AP reported. Bach McComb, a doctor at Toia's clinic, injected himself, his girlfriend and two friends with powerful, unapproved research toxin, which was cheaper than federally approved Botox. All four were paralyzed for months.

The board found Toia hired questionable doctors, didn't monitor them and did little when the four people got sick in November. Toia told the board he didn't know the raw toxin had been ordered and administered, and he told the group to go to the emergency room when he learned of their condition, the AP reported.

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Retailers to Tighten Sales of Cold Meds

Several major retailers will move many over-the-counter cold medications from store shelves to pharmacy shelves in the next two months, as they work with law enforcement officials to curb the use of an illegal drug, the Washington Post reports.

In some cases, customers will have to show their driver's licenses and sign a log to buy medicines that contain pseudophedrine, a common decongestant, the Post reported. The stores involved include Target, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid and others.

"It will be a big change for consumers," Jody Cook, a spokeswoman for Rite Aid Corp., told the Post. The move will affect more than 100 products, including common brands such as Sudafed, Tylenol Cold and Claritin-D.

Pseudophedrine is needed to make the dangerous and addictive drug methamphetamine. Criminals are stealing over-the-counter medicines, or buying as much as they can, and using them to make the illicit drug, the Post reported.

"This problem is so severe in many parts of the country that our retailers are making sacrifices to help law enforcement in their efforts," Mary Ann Wagner, vice president of pharmacy regulatory affairs for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, told the Post.

Meth production and abuse has been a big problem in the Midwest and the West, where some states and counties have enacted or are considering regulations that restrict the sale of over-the-counter cold medications.

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