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Health Highlights: Oct. 8, 2003

Financial Incentive Eyed for Organ Donors Hypertension Drug OK'd for Post-Heart Attack Use Britain's First Tobacco-Death Trial Commences Florida Governor Files Brief in Life-Support Case U.N. Issues Dire Warning About AIDS and Young People Isolated Hospital Patients Face Higher Risks, Study Finds

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

Financial Incentive Eyed for Organ Donors

Congress and leading medical groups, faced with the grim prospect that 6,000 Americans die each year waiting for a new organ, are considering what was once off the table: financial incentives for organ donors.

Desperation is behind the move, according to a Boston Globe article.

Families of brain-dead donors would receive thousands of dollars in exchange for having them increase the donor supply, according to the Globe. Both the American Medical Association and the United Network for Organ Sharing endorse the idea of testing whether the incentive would work.

Also, a bill in Congress would change a section of the law forbidding payment for organs, the newspaper says. Past attempts have failed, but supporters think this one has a better shot. "The number of deaths is so much more glaring, now that people who were once against the idea now recognize that it might have merit," Dr. Thomas Peters, director of the Jacksonville Transplant Center in Florida, told the Globe.

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Hypertension Drug OK'd for Post-Heart Attack Use

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Pfizer's Inspra tablets to improve the chances for survival in heart attack patients at risk of developing congestive heart failure.

Among patients who had suffered an acute heart attack, Inspra reduced the risk of death by 15 percent in human trials, the FDA says. First approved in 2002 for people with high blood pressure, Inspra is the first in a class of drugs called aldosterone receptor blockers to be agency-sanctioned for congestive heart failure.

Heart failure occurs when the organ becomes too weak to effectively pump oxygenated blood through the body. More than one-third of the 515,000 people who survive a heart attack each year go on to develop heart failure, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. And half of the people who develop heart failure die within five years.

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Britain's First Tobacco-Death Trial Commences

Jurors heard testimony from beyond the grave Tuesday in the first British trial to allege that a major tobacco maker failed to warn about the dangers of smoking.

The Times of London reports that the jury was read testimony that Alfred McTear gave in 1993, a week before he died of lung cancer at age 48. His widow is suing Imperial Tobacco, one of the world's leading tobacco producers, for 500,000 pounds (about $831,000).

In it, he said he "fell for" the company's advertisements linking smoking to a glamorous lifestyle, according to the Times. "It was the man-about-town sort of thing. If you went for a drink, you always passed them round the company," the paper quotes him as saying. "[Smoking] was a thing to do with young men and young women. The advertising was always promises, promises, promises."

Lawyers for Imperial say that McTear was always careless with his health, and his widow admitted that an alcohol problem led him to be arrested several times.

Meanwhile, the London Observer reports that Imperial, in an unprecedented move, is arguing in the case that there is no conclusive evidence linking smoking to lung cancer. The British government accepted the evidence as far back as 1957, the Observer writes.

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Florida Governor Files Brief in Life-Support Case

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has intervened in the case of a brain-damaged woman who is being kept alive against the wishes of her husband, The New York Times reports.

Bush, the brother of President George Bush, has filed a friend-of-court brief after his attorney general reportedly refused to get involved in the case.

Michael Schiavo of Tampa has asked a hospital to discontinue a feeding tube for his incapacitated wife, Terri. Mrs. Schiavo, 39, suffered a heart attack in 1989 that robbed her brain of oxygen long enough to cause permanent brain damage and paralysis. Some doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state in which she lacks the ability to think or speak, the newspaper reports.

Mrs. Schiavo's parents and others representing right-to-life groups and organizations for the disabled want her kept alive. In his brief, Bush argued that Mrs. Schiavo should be tested to see if she can swallow food and water on her own, which Bush said would counter claims by her husband that Mrs. Schiavo didn't want to be kept alive by artificial means.

Mr. Schiavo's lawyer told the newspaper that Mrs. Schiavo has already failed such a test. A hearing in the case is set for Friday.

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U.N. Issues Dire Warning About AIDS and Young People

Somewhere in the world, a young person is infected with the AIDS-causing HIV virus every 14 seconds, according to a new report from the United Nations Population Fund.

Nearly half the world's population is under age 25, and some 6,000 people between the ages 15 and 24 are infected with HIV daily, the report says. In developing nations -- where 87 percent of people under 25 live -- the problem is compounded by poverty, illiteracy, and lack of basic services, according to an analysis of the report by BBC News Online.

Other findings from the report, titled "The State of World Population," include:

  • More than 13 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

  • About two-thirds of young people infected with HIV worldwide are female.

  • In many developing countries, most people don't know about the disease or how to prevent it. In Somalia, for instance, only 26 percent of females have ever heard of AIDS, and just 1 percent know how to protect themselves.

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Isolated Hospital Patients Face Higher Risks, Study Finds

Hospital patients isolated due to highly contagious infections like staph are more than twice as likely to experience falls, bedsores and other preventable problems, Harvard University researchers say.

At least some of these complications "are likely a result of the isolated patients being 'out of sight' and therefore 'out of mind,' " Dr. Henry Stelfox of Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital told the Associated Press.

Isolation usually involves putting the patient in a private room, limiting visitors and caregivers, and requiring hospital staff to wear protective clothing. This extra effort and staffers' fear of becoming infected themselves could be factors in limiting visits to isolated patients, Stelfox and fellow researchers report in the Oct. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In findings that also have implications for treating SARS, isolated patients are more likely to have their vital signs taken inaccurately and more likely to have days in which doctors and nurses do not update their charts, the researchers conclude.

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