Health Highlights: Nov. 12, 2004

Ford, GM Plan to Make SUVs Safer Pain Doctor Stumbles Onto 'Orgasmatron' FDA Gathering Experts for Painkiller Risks Discussion Veterans Panel Urges More Research on Gulf War Ills In Some Cases, Too Many Avoiding Flu Shots

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

Ford, GM Plan to Make SUVs Safer

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. have announced plans to employ new technology that should prevent sports-utility vehicles (SUVs) from rolling over as often as they do.

The world's two largest automakers said they plan to roll out the technology, called electronic stability control, by the end of next year on 1.8 million vehicles, the Washington Post reported.

The companies readily adopted the technology after government and insurance industry tests showed huge safety increases, especially for SUVs that ride high and are more prone to rolling over during an accident, the newspaper reported.

The technology uses sensors to automatically hit the brakes or cut engine power to prevent loss of driver control. The Post reported that the sensors could reduce single-vehicle crashes by 41 percent, citing a study released last month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Nearly a third of all U.S. traffic accidents, and 60 percent of fatal accidents, are single-vehicle crashes, according to government statistics. Many of those crashes are rollovers involving SUVs or pickup trucks, the Post reported.

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Pain Doctor Stumbles Onto 'Orgasmatron'

Woody Allen may have been 31 years ahead of his time -- or 169 years behind, depending on which way you look at it.

In his 1973 film Sleeper, Allen wakes up from an operation to 200 years in the future. Among the strange devices in this new world is an "orgasmatron," a machine that delivers instant sexual pleasure.

Dr. Stuart Meloy, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist in Winston-Salem, N.C., may have stumbled onto an "orgasmatron" of his own, ABC News reports.

Meloy was putting an electrode into the spine of a female patient with chronic back pain when the woman reported a decrease in her pain and an unusual side effect: "She let out a moan and began hyperventilating," he told Good Morning America. "Once she caught her breath, she said, 'You're gonna have to teach my husband how to do that.' "

The device, called a spinal cord stimulator, is meant to treat stubborn pain. But now, "we're treating orgasmic dysfunction," Meloy said. In a small study on 11 women, many of whom never achieved orgasm, the success rate was 91 percent, he told the network.

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FDA Gathering Experts for Painkiller Risks Discussion

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it plans to convene a panel of experts in February to discuss the safety of painkillers in the same class as the now-withdrawn drug Vioxx.

The arthritis advisory committee should get a mound of paper to consider before the meeting, including unpublished studies and new results of long-term trials, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The prime question that an avalanche of test results may not completely answer, however, is whether other painkillers called cox-2 inhibitors may cause the increased risks of heart attack and stroke that led Merck & Co. to withdraw Vioxx in September.

Other cox-2 drugs include the Pfizer medications Celebrex and Bextra, which have been marketed as being kinder on the stomach than traditional painkillers.

However, a new study whose results were released at an American Heart Association meeting earlier this week found that Bextra users with heart disease had double the risk of heart attack and stroke as nonusers. Pfizer issued a statement dismissing the study's "unsubstantiated conclusions" that had not been independently reviewed, the AP said.

An author of that study who is a member of the panel told the Wall Street Journal that he was disinvited to the February meeting based on what he had said. An FDA official told the paper that it wasn't unusual for someone with a potential conflict to be asked not to participate.

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Veterans Panel Urges More Research on Gulf War Ills

A U.S. government panel is urging federal researchers to spend more time and money to study the mysterious collection of ills known as Gulf War syndrome.

The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness, departing from the stance taken by a similar Clinton administration panel, advises that up to $60 million be spent over the next four years to monitor the health of Gulf War veterans and their families, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The earlier panel attributed the serious of ailments to the intense physical and psychological stresses of wartime, the wire service said. But the newer panel's report, to be released by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, suggests that a "haphazard mix of studies" that continue to focus on stress as the source of the veterans' problems is not enough.

Principi's panel will report that newer research suggests the symptoms of chronic fatigue, loss of muscle control, diarrhea, migraines, and memory problems appear to be neurological, and may be linked to exposure to nerve agents and pesticides used during the war, the wire service said.

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In Some Cases, Too Many Avoiding Flu Shots

Long lines of senior citizens clamoring for flu shots are still common in many parts of the United States, prompted by the October shutdown of a major supplier plagued by contamination problems.

This is not the case in most of Minnesota, reports the New York Times. So many residents of the Gopher State say they've given up their shots to help people more at risk, in fact, that state health officials worry that not enough people are being inoculated.

At a clinic in Bloomington last week, only 259 people showed up for 800 shots, the newspaper reported. The attitude of most residents appeared to be summed up by an official at the Minnesota Department of Health, who told the newspaper, "People feel that they should defer for someone who needs it more."

The official said the department has begun advising residents that it still has 120,000 flu shots left, and that the most vulnerable may be putting themselves and others at risk if did without, the AP said.

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