Health Highlights: Feb. 19, 2008

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

Health Care Costs Threaten Retirement Lifestyle: U.S. Study

Skyrocketing health care costs are a major reason why many American baby boomers and Generation Xers won't be able to maintain their standard of living when they retire, according to a study released Tuesday by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Currently, the U.S. government estimates costs for Medicare premiums, co-payments and other cost-sharing to be about $3,800 a year for a single person and $7,600 for a couple. Another $500 per person is needed to pay for dental care, eye glasses, hearing aids and other items that aren't covered by Medicare, the Associated Press reported.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Health Care Costs Threaten Retirement Lifestyle: U.S. Study
    • Drug Prevents Contrast Agent-Related Kidney Damage
    • Cinderella Cars, Spider-Man Water Bottles Recalled
    • Nexavar Lung Cancer Trial Halted
    • Sperm Defects Pass to Offspring
    • Recalled Beef Poses Minimal Health Risk: Experts

Based on those costs, most baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1974) would have to have about $102,000 per person ($206,000 per couple) set aside just for health care expenses when they retire.

Currently, the median total retirement savings balance for American households approaching retirement is about $60,000, said the center's report. When all costs, including health expenses, are factored in, about 61 percent of baby boomers and Gen Xers are "at risk" of being unable to maintain their standard of living when they retire, the AP reported.

-----

Drug Prevents Contrast Agent-Related Kidney Damage

Taking the drug N-acetylcysteine can prevent kidney damage that can be caused by contrast dyes used in medical imaging tests such as CT scans and angiograms, say University of Michigan Health System researchers who reviewed 41 studies that ranked drugs on their ability to protect the kidneys, CBC News reported.

About one in four high-risk patients (those with diabetes or heart failure) and as many as one in 10 people with normal kidney function can suffer kidney damage when they receive an iodine-containing contrast agent while undergoing CT scans, according to background information in the article.

The review authors found that N-acetylcysteine was the only drug able to prevent kidney damage caused by contrast agents, CBC News reported.

The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

"Our goal is to improve the safety and quality of these common tests by studying drugs that reduce the risk of kidney failure," senior author Ruth Carlos, associate professor of radiology, said in a prepared statement.

-----

Cinderella Cars, Spider-Man Water Bottles Recalled

A burn hazard has prompted the recall of about 64,000 Cinderella 12-volt electric, ride-on toy cars made in China by Dumar International USA, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Wires under the hood and in the battery compartment under the seat can short-circuit and pose a burn hazard to a child riding in the car. So far, the company has received 40 reports of overheating incidents, including several where smoke leaked from under the seat where the battery is located, and one report of flames shooting out from under the toy car's hood. There have been no reports of injuries.

The toy cars were sold at Wal-Mart stores nationwide from August 2005 to February 2006. For more information, contact the company at 866-424-0500.

Also on Tuesday, about 6,600 Spider-Man water bottles made in China by Fast Forward LLS were recalled because screws under the lid can come loose and fall into the cup, posing a choking hazard, the AP reported.

There have been three reports of screws coming loose on the bottles, but no reports of injuries. The water bottles were sold at Sears stores nationwide between July and August 2007. For more information, phone 877-244-4433.

-----

Nexavar Lung Cancer Trial Halted

A trial on the use of the Nexavar cancer drug in patients with non-small cell lung cancer has been halted because the drug didn't help patients live longer than with standard chemotherapy, Bayer AG of Germany and California-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced Tuesday.

Nexavar, marketed as a treatment for kidney and liver cancer, was in the last of three stages of trials required for approval as a lung cancer treatment. But an independent committee that monitors clinical trials advised Bayer and Onyx that the drug wouldn't meet the main goal of this latest trial, called ESCAPE, Bloomberg news reported.

Nexavar is designed to block proteins on tumor cells in order to prevent them from proliferating and to cut off the blood supply to tumors, without harming healthy tissue.

Bayer and Onyx researchers and other scientists are looking into the use of Nexavar alone or with other treatments in a number of other cancers, including metastatic melanoma, breast cancer and as an adjuvant therapy for kidney cancer and liver cancer, Bloomberg reported.

-----

Sperm Defects Pass to Offspring

Genetic defects in sperm caused by exposure to environmental toxins can be passed down through generations, says a University of Idaho study.

Researchers exposed embryonic male rats to a hormone-disrupting fungicide called vinclozolin and found that the chemical altered genes in the sperm, including some associated with human prostate cancer, BBC News reported.

The rats exposed to the fungicide showed evidence of prostate damage, infertility and kidney problems. The genetic defects in sperm continued through four generations of the rats' descendents.

The researchers acknowledged that the embryonic rats were exposed to extremely high levels of the fungicide, but said that their work shows toxin-related defects in sperm can be passed down through many generations, BBC News reported.

The study was presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Heavy smoking and drinking may cause sperm damage and this study shows that men should be aware that they could pass that damage along to their heirs, experts told BBC News.

-----

Recalled Beef Poses Minimal Health Risk: Experts

The meat involved in the massive U.S. beef recall announced Sunday carries minimal health risks, food safety experts told the Associated Press.

California-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. was ordered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recall 143 million pounds of beef, the largest such recall in U.S. history. The recall was prompted by undercover video that showed workers using forklifts and chains to push or drag immobile cows across the slaughterhouse floor.

But the violations in the video have more to do with inhumane animal handling and slaughter than with potential beef contamination, according to the USDA and the American Meat Institute.

The USDA did note it had evidence that Westland didn't routinely contact its veterinarian when cows that had passed a health inspection later became unable to walk, the AP reported.

So far, there have been no reports of illnesses linked to the recalled beef, dating to Feb. 1, 2006.

USDA officials had estimated that about 37 million pounds of the recalled beef went to school programs, but they believe most of the meat has already been eaten.