Health Highlights: Oct. 19, 2006

Meningitis Shot Boosts Risk for Paralyzing ConditionMost U.S. Doctors Counsel Teens About STDsWal-Mart to Expand Drug Program to 14 States: ReportReport Lists World's 10 Most Polluted CitiesLilly Manipulated Sepsis Guidelines to Boost Drug's Sales: Doctors

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

Meningitis Shot Boosts Risk for Paralyzing Condition

A new meningitis vaccine may slightly raise the risk for a paralyzing condition in young people who receive it, but experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there's an even greater risk of meningitis for individuals who go without the shot.

The condition in question, called Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), is characterized by increasing weakness in the legs. According to a report released Thursday in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the total added risk for GBS was 1.25 cases for every 1 million doses of the new vaccine, called Menactra.

Drug maker Sanofi Pasteur said it had already tested the vaccine on 10,000 people so far and found no cases of GBS. Menactra was first approved by the U.S. government in January of 2005, and the CDC soon recommended routine vaccination for students entering high school and college.

Between March 2005 and September 2006, 17 people, most of them teenagers, developed GBS within 6 weeks of receiving a Menactra shot. But experts say a certain number of those cases would have occurred naturally. Meningitis is much more prevalent than GBS, they added, so an unvaccinated youth has about 10 times the risk of getting the illness than a vaccinated youth does of contracting GBS.

In related news, a study published in the same journal finds that more than half of U.S. states report that they've reached the Healthy People 2010 goal of more than 95 percent coverage for each of the vaccines recommended for children starting kindergarten. The remaining states are making progress to achieve that goal, CDC researchers say.


Most U.S. Doctors Counsel Teens About STDs

The majority of American doctors provide sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention advice/counseling to their adolescent patients, finds a study in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a journal of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study of 3,000 doctors found that 90 percent reported that they usually or always recommend condoms for STD prevention, 76 percent recommend monogamy/limiting sex partners, and 54 percent recommend abstinence.

Among doctors who mostly see adolescents in their practice (at least 75 percent of their patients are under age 18), 93 percent said they provide STD prevention counseling and more than 50 percent said they specifically discuss human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to cervical cancer and is the most common STD among people younger than 25.

Most of the doctors agreed that consistent condom use, limiting sex partners, monogamy, and abstinence are effective methods of preventing HPV, but less than 25 percent of the doctors believed adolescent patients would adhere to such methods for the long term.


Wal-Mart to Expand Drug Program to 14 States: Report

Wal-Mart plans to expand a program that offers $4 prescriptions for some generic drugs to 14 more states, two weeks after introducing the offering in Florida, the Associated Press reported.

The nation's largest retailer said it will host news conferences Thursday with company executives and elected officials in the following states: Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Vermont, the AP said.

Wal-Mart described the initial program as an effort to save working Americans money on health care. Critics dismissed it as a publicity stunt to lure in shoppers and grab a larger share of the drug business. The company has also been the target of union-backed criticism of its worker benefits.

The Florida plan covers a month's supply of 314 prescriptions, consisting of 143 drugs in a variety of dosages and solid or liquid forms. Health-care experts said any price competition is welcome, but noted that generics are less of a concern to consumers than higher-priced brand-name drugs that are still under patent, the AP said.


Report Lists World's 10 Most Polluted Cities

Cancer, lung infections, and shortened life expectancy are among the threats facing people who live in the world's 10 most polluted cities, says a report released Wednesday by the Blacksmith Institute, an international environmental research group.

"Living in a town with serious pollution is like living under a death sentence. If the damage does not come from immediate poisonings, then cancers, lung infections, mental retardation, are likely outcomes," the report said.

It was compiled over seven years by a team of environmental and health experts, the Associated Press reported.

The 10 most polluted cities are: Dzherzhinsk, Norilsk and Rudnaya Pristan in Russia; Linfen, China; Haina, Dominican Republic; Ranipet, India; Mayluu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan; La Oroya, Peru; Chernobyl, Ukraine; and Kabwe, Zambia.

The report said most of the pollution in these cities comes from unregulated coal and lead mines or unrefined nuclear weapons manufacturing plants, the AP reported.

In some cases, solutions could be as simple as removing contaminated soil and reducing dust levels, said David Hanrahan, chief of global operations at the Blacksmith Institute.


Lilly Manipulated Sepsis Guidelines to Boost Drug's Sales: Doctors

Three U.S. government doctors say that drug maker Eli Lilly manipulated treatment guidelines for sepsis patients to promote the use of its drug Xigris instead of older, less expensive and equally effective treatments.

Sepsis is a potentially fatal blood infection.

In a letter published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the three doctors -- all senior investigators in the critical care department of the U.S. National Institutes of Health -- charged that when Lilly financed a task force called "Values, Ethics and Rationing in Critical Care," it implicitly criticized doctors for "rationing" Xigris due to its high cost, The New York Times reported.

The doctors noted that, in fact, evidence from clinical trials offers little support for prescribing Xigris under any circumstances.

In order to promote the use of Xigris, Lilly used "marketing strategies masquerading as evidence-based medicine," the doctors wrote.

In a statement, Lilly said it behaved properly and disclosed its role in funding a task force of scientists and doctors that developed treatment guidelines for sepsis, the Times reported.

Xigris was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2001 but sales have fallen short of expectations in the United States and around the world. Currently, fewer than 150 patients a day receive the drug in the United States. It costs about $8,000 for a four-day course of treatment.


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