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Health Highlights: Nov. 19, 2003

Bill Would Force Drug Testing on Kids Nurses Blame Hit TV Show for Shortage Prostate Cancer Deadlier for Blacks Canada Says 'No Deal' on Prescription Drugs Soldier May Have Died From Multiple Vaccines

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

Bill Would Force Drug Testing on Kids

Congress is aiming to revive the "pediatric rule," a Clinton-era mandate that would force drug companies to test their products on children before they are allowed to go on the market.

The Associated Press reports that a bill that would force the testing was passed Wednesday by the House of Representatives on a voice vote. The U.S. Senate already passed it.

In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration passed the "pediatric rule," saying it had the authority to require drug companies to test adult drugs on children if children are likely to receive them. But a court struck down that rule, finding that Congress needed to give the FDA such authority.

"Doctors were cutting adult pills in half, hoping they would work with children, often with life-threatening results," the AP quotes Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) as saying.

The carrot going along with the stick would let the companies keep patents on these drugs longer, according to the AP.

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Nurses Blame Hit TV Show for Shortage

Is ER partly responsible for America's nursing shortage? Many nurses think so.

The Center for Nursing Advocacy, a nonprofit group with many powerful executives from the nursing industry, has begun a big letter and e-mail campaign against the producers of the blockbuster NBC drama, according to the Washington Post. They charge that the program is perpetuating "long-standing misrepresentations that . . . are contributing to the nursing shortage," the paper reports.

The show routinely has doctors taking over responsibilities usually done by nurses, such as using defibrillators and dashing out of the hospital to tend to a patient. The group cited an episode in which a doctor fired all the nurses and replaced them with low-wage workers, which doesn't happen. And it says that a major character decided to give up her nursing career to go to medical school.

One unnamed executive involved with ER dismissed the allegations. "Wasn't there a nursing shortage before ER?" the Post quotes the executive as saying. "I mean, this is a television show, not a documentary."

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Prostate Cancer Deadlier for Blacks

White men have better survival rates than do blacks after being treated for localized prostate cancer, according to a new study.

The study, by researchers at the University of North Carolina, found the biggest differences between races among those who had surgery. It tracked 5,747 black men and 38,242 white men with clinically localized prostate cancer.

The team found that among those who had surgery, the median survival time for black patients was 10.8 years, 1.8 years less than the rate for white patients.

The difference in survival narrowed under other treatments. It was only 0.7 years lower among blacks than white among those who had radiation treatment, and one year lower among those who had non-aggressive, "watchful waiting" therapy.

The study appears in the Nov. 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Canada Says 'No Deal' on Prescription Drugs

The Canadian government appears to have rebuffed Washington's attempts to strike a deal to curb the flow of less expensive Canadian drugs to the United States.

Disputing U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims that Canadian drugs posed a danger to Americans who use them, Canadian officials spurned a request to clamp down on mail-order and Internet pharmacies that serve American prescription drug consumers, The New York Times reports.

Some 140 pharmacies in Canada export drugs to the United States, the newspaper estimates.

"Canada's safety record is second to none internationally," Canadian deputy health minister Diane Gorman told reporters after a meeting Tuesday with FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan. Gorman denied the FDA's contention that Canadian laws were being broken by Canadian pharmacies that cater to Americans.

Following the meeting, McClellan offered praise for the Canadian drug regulators, but said Ottawa's system was not designed to regulate large amounts of prescription drugs that are destined for American consumers.

McClellan said that while some of the Canadian storefronts "are legitimate, some of them are not. The problem is we don't have any regulatory authorities in place across our country that can tell the difference," the Associated Press quotes him as saying.

Meanwhile, an Oklahoma-based company that helps Americans buy Canadian drugs has asked a federal appeals court to reverse a judge's order that shut down its 85 storefronts.

In its motion filed Tuesday, Rx Depot said it wants to reopen its operations in 25 states until a court decides whether its practices are illegal, the AP reports. Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the company, which also operates as Rx Canada, was breaking U.S. laws.

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Soldier May Have Died From Multiple Vaccines

A 22-year-old Army reservist who died in April may have suffered a fatal reaction to a number of vaccines, a Pentagon health official concedes.

A month before her death, Specialist Rachel Lacy was given five shots to protect against anthrax, smallpox, hepatitis B, typhoid, measles, mumps and rubella, The New York Times reports.

She became sick with symptoms resembling a bad cold, which later mimicked an autoimmune disease, where a person's overactive immune defenses attack the body itself. She ultimately died from bleeding in her lungs, the newspaper says.

The Pentagon official, Col. John Grabstein of the Army surgeon general's office, said receiving that many shots isn't unusual, calling it "safe practice." He said Lacy had no health problems that would have excluded her from any of the vaccinations.

While Grabstein called Lacy's death "a rare and tragic case," he said the Pentagon's vaccination policies wouldn't change, the Times reports.

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