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Health Highlights: Sept. 13, 2004

Hearings Begin on Antidepressant Use in Children FDA Approves Implanted Lens for Nearsightedness Feds Want Safer Power-Window Switches: Report Surgery on Conjoined Twins Halted Australian Patients Notified of Brain Disease Risk

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

Hearings Begin on Antidepressant Use in Children

Two U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panels opened hearings Monday on the controversial issue of prescribing antidepressants for children. Several speakers, including FDA epidemiologist Dr. Andrew Mosholder, reiterated their belief that certain drugs triggered suicidal thoughts and actions in pediatric patients, the Associated Press reported.

Mosholder said analyses of data confirmed "an association of suicidality with antidepressant drug treatment."

In 2001, an estimated 1,600 U.S. teenagers committed suicide, making it the third leading cause of death among 15-to-19-year-olds. And studies show that 20 percent of children will experience a period of intense depression by age 18.

The FDA has been trying to find a middle ground between warning pediatric patients about the "possible suicide risk of antidepressants and reassuring those patients that drug therapy can be an effective and safe remedy," The New York Times reported.

Last June, the FDA issued a public warning about the use of the antidepressant Paxil for children. In July, the FDA asked all antidepressant manufacturers to resubmit clinical trial data. Independent experts, working with Columbia University, were asked to review the research. This summer, that review reached conclusions that backed Mosholder's view, the AP said.

The relative risks of suicidal behavior or thoughts were highest among children taking Luvox, Effexor, and Paxil, and lower among those taking Celexa, Zoloft and Prozac, the news service said.

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FDA Approves Implanted Lens for Nearsightedness

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new plastic lens that is permanently implanted into the eye to correct moderate to severe nearsightedness.

Called an intraocular lens, it is similar to the type of lens implanted in the eye to restore vision following cataract surgery.

The lens is intended to reduce or eliminate nearsightedness in adults, and will offer people another alternative to glasses, contact lenses, and laser surgery, the FDA said. It is manufactured by Ophtec USA Inc., of Boca Raton, Fla.

Ophtec studied use of the lens, called the Artisan, in 662 patients with moderate-to-severe nearsightedness at 22 medical centers in the United States. After three years, 92 percent had 20/40 or better vision -- the standard vision needed to obtain a driver's license -- and 44 percent had 20/20 or better, the FDA said.

The lens is designed for use in in people with healthy eyes and stable vision. One potential problem raised by the Ophtec studies was the loss of endothelial cells in the corneas of patients who received the implants. The endothelium is a layer of cells that line the undersurface of the cornea and are essential to keeping the cornea clear. Three-year testing showed a loss of endothelial cells of 1.8 percent a year, the FDA said.

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Feds Want Safer Power-Window Switches: Report

The U.S. government is expected to require automakers to install safer power-window switches within four years, USA Today reported Monday.

The safer switches are more difficult for children to activate unintentionally. They've already been installed on virtually all foreign vehicles and in many U.S. cars and trucks, the newspaper said.

The consumer group Kids and Cars reported that at least 37 children have been killed after pressing window switches while leaning out the car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the automakers dispute those numbers, saying they are inflated, USA Today said.

The NHTSA is expected to issue the rule banning so-called rocker or toggle switches in favor of devices that are either pulled up to make the windows rise, or recessed so they can't be pushed by accident, the newspaper reported.

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Surgery on Conjoined Twins Halted

Surgery to separate conjoined twins at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Children's Center was halted midstream over the weekend when the condition of one twin worsened after she developed unspecified "metabolic complications," the hospital said.

The surgery on 1-year-old twins Lea and Tabea Block began Saturday afternoon and had been expected to take 24 to 48 hours. The twins are joined at the head.

The procedure was stopped Saturday evening when one of the twins' condition became unstable. The pair is being kept under anesthesia to allow their bodies to "rest and heal," the hospital said in a statement.

Doctors believe the twins are strong, and are confident that surgery can resume within a week, the statement added.

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Australian Patients Notified of Brain Disease Risk

A prominent hospital in Melbourne, Australia, has told more than 1,000 former brain and spinal patients that they may be at slight risk of a rare, fatal brain disease, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital sent letters to 1,056 former patients after confirming that a middle-aged man treated recently had died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The disease isn't caused by viruses, bacteria, or other organisms that readily die from sterilization, and therefore could have been transmitted to other patients via contaminated instruments, the newspaper reported.

Although doctors said the likelihood of the disease being transmitted this way was remote, it was letting former patients know as a precaution. The man was treated twice at the hospital in 2003, but autopsy tests confirmed CJD only last week, the Morning Herald said.

The hospital emphasized that the form of CJD detected was not the variant that's closely related to mad cow disease, the newspaper said. The institution planned to dispose of its entire supply of 15,000 neurosurgical instruments as a precaution, the Morning Herald reported.

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