Health Highlights: May 19, 2004

Sharp Increase in Alzheimer's Predicted Among Hispanics Drug Aid for HIV Patients Varies State by State Britain Opens First Stem Cell Bank FDA Asked to Ban Harmful Fats from Food Manufacturer Orders Insulin Pumps Recalled China's SARS Outbreak Declared Under Control

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

Sharp Increase in Alzheimer's Predicted Among Hispanics

Alzheimer's disease and related dementias among Hispanics in the United States are expected to increase by more than 600 percent over the next four decades, says a new Alzheimer's Association report.

Currently, there are about 200,000 Hispanic with Alzheimer's. That number could jump to 1.3 million by mid-century.

"As the fastest growing population in the country and the group that will have the greatest life expectancy of all ethnic groups, Hispanics will experience a dramatic rise in their risk of Alzheimer's disease," Steven McConnell, the Alzheimer's Association senior vice president for public policy, said in a prepared statement.

The report says that life expectancy among Hispanics will increase to 87 by 2050. The risk of Alzheimer's, which almost always affects people in their 60s or older, increases with age.

The report also notes that Hispanics have a number of suspected or known risk factors for Alzheimer's. These include high rates of diabetes and blood vessel diseases, such as heart attacks and stroke.

Hispanics also tend to have less health insurance and get less medical care than non-Hispanics. That means it's less likely they'll get care for health problems that might lead to Alzheimer's.

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Drug Aid for HIV Patients Varies State by State

Depending on where they live, people with HIV or AIDS receive far different levels of government aid for prescription drugs, says a study released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and state AIDS directors.

For example, people in North Carolina who earn more than $11,000 a year don't qualify for the state's drug assistance program. People in New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Jersey can earn at least four times as much income and still qualify for state drug assistance.

The report also found that North Carolina and another 12 states have implemented measures to contain costs, such as reducing the number of drugs offered and capping program enrollment, the Associated Press reports.

Many people with little or no prescription drug coverage rely on AIDS drug assistance programs. Many who use the programs are poor and minorities. Last year, the plans served 136,000 people, a 10 percent increase over 2002.

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Britain Opens First Stem Cell Bank

The world's first national stem cell bank opened Wednesday in Britain.

The bank will store, characterize, and grow cells and distribute them to researchers around the world, the Associated Press reports.

"Stem cell research offers real promise for the treatment of currently incurable diseases. The bank will ensure that researchers can explore the enormous potential of this exciting science for the future benefit of patients," Professor Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, told the AP.

It's believed that stem cells, which can grow into many kinds of human tissue, may offer potential treatment for a wide variety of diseases.

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FDA Asked to Ban Harmful Fats from Food

A consumer group has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to order a ban on partially hydrogenated oils in foods, a major source of harmful trans fats.

Some 80 percent of the trans fats Americans consume come from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which the FDA has concluded are even more deadly that saturated fats, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The synthetic fats are created by treating vegetable oils with hydrogen gas, resulting in fats that are solid at room temperature and have a long shelf life.

But studies have shown that trans fats boost blood levels of LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, while decreasing levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol. In 2003, the National Institute of Medicine concluded that no level of trans fats in the diet could be considered safe, CSPI said in a statement.

The group said safer alternatives to the fats -- often found in pastries, crackers, cookies, and other snack foods -- are available. It estimates that 11,000 to 30,000 lives a year could be saved if the substances were banned.

The group believes the FDA's recent actions to require trans fat amounts on product labels are insufficient. The FDA concluded that the labeling change would save between 240 and 480 lives annually, CPSI said.

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Manufacturer Orders Insulin Pumps Recalled

Medtronic Inc. said it's recalling thousands of Quick Set Plus insulin infusion sets that may not administer the proper amount of insulin to diabetics, due to a faulty adhesive used to attach the product's tubing to the patient.

If the tubing slips during use, it can become bent or twisted, affecting the insulin flow, the company said in a statement. While the company is asking that the machines be returned as soon as possible, it is also recommending that people who must continue to use the machines monitor their blood glucose levels carefully and be prepared to treat themselves with insulin injections.

The recall applies to models MMT-359S6, MMT-359S9, MMT-359L6, and MMT-359L9. No other Medtronic devices are affected.

Users are urged to contact the company at 1-800-646-4633 to obtain a replacement.

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China's SARS Outbreak Declared Under Control

China's latest mini-outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has been contained, though its source is still under investigation, the World Health Organization said.

It has been more than three weeks since a new case was diagnosed, leading WHO officials to release a statement saying "the chain of human-to-human transmission appears to have been broken."

The nine cases in the recent outbreak all appear to have stemmed from two initial infections at Beijing's National Institute of Virology, which conducted SARS experiments. Two researchers at the institute contracted the disease in late March and early April, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

WHO said it's still investigating the security lapses that led to the initial infections. Up to now, it has "yet to identify a single infectious source or single procedural error at the Institute, and it is conceivable that an exact answer may never been determined," the group's statement read.

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