Health Highlights: June 5, 2007

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

Atlanta Man's Third TB Test Negative

Andrew Speaker's third-consecutive sputum smear test for tuberculosis has come back negative, confirming results from his previous tests, officials at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, Colo., said Tuesday.

A person who tests positive is considered infectious, while three consecutive negative sputum smears may be considered non-infectious in most settings. Despite Speaker's third negative test, hospital officials said they haven't determined when the 31-year-old Atlanta lawyer will be allowed to leave his isolation room for exercise and fresh air.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Atlanta Man's Third TB Test Negative
    • Nigeria Sues Pfizer Over Drug Trials
    • Ritalin User Higher Among Children of Divorced Parents: Study
    • Ecstasy Use Affects Verbal Memory
    • Medicare Cuts Will Reduce Access to Doctors: AMA

In related news, a U.S. Senate committee wants to know why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn't use one of its emergency jets to bring Speaker home from Europe after it was discovered that he had dangerous drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Instead, Speaker took a public flight from Rome to North America, triggering a trans-Atlantic health scare, ABC News reported. Speaker said he was not told that a private CDC plane was an option.

The Senate committee will hold hearings into the matter on Wednesday.

The CDC has three private jets available for emergencies. The jets, which cost taxpayers $7 million a year, were used nine times in the last year. Until Congress started asking questions, one of the jets was used regularly for political travel by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, ABC News reported.

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Nigeria Sues Pfizer Over Drug Trials

The government of Nigeria is suing Pfizer, charging that the world's largest pharmaceutical company conducted improper trials of the anti-meningitis drug Trovan in children.

The Nigerian government wants $7 billion in damages for the families of children who allegedly died or suffered serious side effects after being given the experimental antibiotic, BBC News reported. A few years ago, the Nigerian state of Kano filed a separate lawsuit against Pfizer seeking $2.7 billion in damages. That suit is still working its way through the legal system.

Pfizer tested Trovan in children during a meningitis outbreak in Kano in 1996. About 200 children died and others suffered mental and physical problems. In its lawsuit, the Nigerian government says Trovan caused the deaths and injuries and that the children were injected with the drug without approval from the country's regulatory agencies, BBC News reported.

Pfizer has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and says the trials were conducted with the full knowledge of the Nigerian government, according to Nigerian and international law.

In the United States, Trovan is approved to treat adults, but not children.

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Ritalin User Higher Among Children of Divorced Parents: Study

Children of divorced parents are nearly twice as likely as other children to be prescribed Ritalin, says a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Ritalin is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Researchers found that 6.1 percent of 633 Canadian children of divorced parents were prescribed Ritalin, compared with 3.3 percent of 4,151 children whose parents were still married, the Canadian Press reported.

Study author Lisa Strohschein of the University of Alberta said there may be a number of reasons why Ritalin use is higher among children of divorced parents.

The stress of divorce may aggravate a child's existing ADHD-related behavioral problems to the point where a doctor decides that Ritalin may be helpful. In other cases, children of divorced parents may channel their anger, anxiety and sadness into behavior that's mislabeled as ADHD-like.

In some situations, Strohschein said, parents and doctors may give Ritalin to children in anticipation of behavioral problems that may be caused by the stress of divorce, the CP reported.

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Ecstasy Use Affects Verbal Memory

The popular club drug ecstasy may damage areas of the brain involved with verbal memory, says a study by Dutch researchers.

They found that ecstasy users scored significantly lower than non-users on a test of verbal memory. The test involved memorizing a series of 15 words and repeating them immediately and again 20 minutes later, The Scotsman reported.

The study appears in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

It's believed that ecstasy affects cells in the brain that produce the chemical serotonin, a nerve message transmitter involved with learning and memory, The Scotsman reported.

"Our data indicates that low doses of ecstasy are associated with decreased verbal memory function, which is suggestive for ecstasy-induced neurotoxicity," the study authors wrote. "Further research on the long-term effects of ecstasy, as well as on the possibility of additive effects of ecstasy use on aging of the brain, is needed."

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Medicare Cuts Will Reduce Access to Doctors: AMA Poll

Next year's planned 10 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians will limit seniors' access to doctors, according to a survey of 9,000 doctors released Monday by the American Medical Association.

"The AMA is deeply concerned by the alarming news that 60 percent of America's physicians will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they will be able to care for next year when Medicare cuts physician payments," AMA Board Chair Dr. Cecil B. Wilson said in a prepared statement.

The AMA wants Congress to stop the payment cut and, instead, increase payments by 1.7 percent in 2008 to keep pace with doctors' cost increases.

Next year's 10 percent cut would be the first in a series of payment reductions. Over nine years, total cuts will amount to about 40 percent, while the cost of caring for patients will increase by about 20 percent, the AMA said.

The survey found that 77 percent of physicians said they'll be forced to limit the number of Medicare patients as a result of the cuts.

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