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Health Highlights: Sept. 24, 2003

Panel Urges FDA Nod for Novel Alzheimer's Drug U.S. Sued Over Allowing Health Claims in Food Less Activity in America's Beds Now's the Time to Get a Flu Shot Celebrity Worship Can Go Too Far, Experts Say

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

Panel Urges FDA Nod for Novel Alzheimer's Drug

A Food and Drug Administration committee voted Wednesday to recommend the agency's approval of revolutionary drug to treat Alzheimer's disease.

If the FDA follows the panel's recommendation, which it usually does, memantine could become the nation's first treatment for late-stage Alzheimer's. It works on a different brain chemical than other Alzheimer's drugs, giving doctors the new option of prescribing a combination of medications.

Experts emphasize that the drug isn't a cure -- it merely slows the disease's progression. A six-month study of people with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's found those given memantine worsened at half the pace of those given a non-medicinal placebo, the Associated Press reports.

The Alzheimer's Association lauded the recommendation. "Today's action could provide additional and alternative strategies to intervene with the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease," William Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs for the association, said in a statement.

The medication's effects were measured by how well patients could perform basic tasks like getting dressed and bathing themselves.

Memantine has been sold in Germany for 20 years to treat various forms of dementia with only mild side effects, the AP says. Full FDA approval could come by year's end.

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U.S. Sued Over Allowing Health Claims in Food

Two consumer groups have taken the Food and Drug Administration to court to challenge the agency's relaxed policy of allowing food manufacturers to make health claims.

The groups, Public Citizen and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, allege that the FDA is permitting the claims based on "weak or inconclusive evidence."

Before 1990, health claims were allowed only for drugs, not for food. But the FDA allowed such boasts only if the companies first sought permission and if the claim was backed by "significant scientific agreement," according to a news release by the groups.

In July, the FDA relaxed that rule and allowed claims to be made on lesser evidence. The move is "a dereliction of duty," according to the release. Further, the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says that the public "will not be able to rely on food labels to provide accurate and non-misleading information about the health benefits of foods."

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Less Activity in America's Beds

A survey finds that American lovers say that they had sex much less often this year than last, and that they lag behind other parts of the world.

The New York Post reports that Americans engage in sexual activity an average of 118 times a year. That's 20 fewer times than last year, the newspaper says.

Worldwide, the average was 127 times a year, according to the survey. Hungary took the top spot, averaging 152 yearly encounters. Swedes helped bring up the rear, having sex an average of 108 times a year.

Let the record show that the survey was commissioned by the makers of Durex condoms, who have a vested interest in getting Americans and Swedes more active in bed.

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Now's the Time to Get a Flu Shot

Make no mistake, the flu can kill. And with flu season just around the corner, now is the time to be vaccinated, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The vaccine will be made available nationwide beginning next week, and this season there's plenty of it to go around, the agency says. It warns that people at highest risk of the flu include those 50 and older, children ages 6 months to 23 months, and people of any age with chronic conditions of the heart or lungs, diabetes and kidney diseases.

Flu kills some 36,000 Americans each year and results in 114,000 hospitalizations. Health officials worry that mild flu seasons the past two years might lead to public complacency. "Even relatively mild flu seasons cause thousands of vaccine-preventable deaths, says CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding.

For many people who can't stand shots, there's another option this year. In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a nasal spray vaccine called FluMist. But at an average of $46 a dose, it's more than twice the cost of a flu shot, the Associated Press reports. And because it's made from a weakened live virus, it could pose more of a danger to those in high-risk groups.

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Celebrity Worship Can Go Too Far, Experts Say

If the cancellation of Ben and Jen's wedding has you fretting over their future, you're not alone.

Psychologists have identified a condition they call "celebrity worship syndrome," defined as an unhealthy interest in the lives of the rich and famous, reports ABC News. About one-third of us have the condition to some degree, experts say.

A team of researchers led by James Houran, a psychologist with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, evaluated more than 600 people in the United States and Britain. The researchers devised a celebrity worship scale, ranging from those with a healthy casual interest to those with a pathological obsession.

The condition probably has existed as long as there have been famous people, the researchers say, but has been exacerbated by the recent explosion of TV shows and magazines that glorify worship of celebrities, especially those in Hollywood.

Just ask William Bastone, founder and editor of the investigative Web site thesmokinggun.com. "Any magazine editor will tell you, Colin Farrell still sells better than Colin Powell," he tells ABC.

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