Health Highlights: March 10, 2008

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

U.S. Drinking Water Contains Wide Variety of Pharmaceuticals

A broad range of prescription and over-the-counter drugs are present in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, according to an Associated Press investigation that raises questions about the potential impact on human health.

The investigation included reviews of scientific studies and federal drinking water databases, visits to environmental study sites and water treatment plants, and interviews with hundreds of experts and officials.

Among the findings:

      • U.S. Drinking Water Contains Wide Variety of Pharmaceuticals
      • Gene Variant Linked to Gout
      • Probiotic Treatment May Benefit Kidney Stone Sufferers
      • Are Mothers 'Hard-Wired' to Protect Their Babies?
      • Texas Closes Three Shellfish Beds After Detecting Red Tide Organism

  • Pharmaceutical drugs have been detected in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas.
  • Testing in Philadelphia revealed 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water.
  • A sex hormone was found in San Francisco's drinking water.
  • A metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing drug carbamazepine was found in the drinking water of 850,000 people in northern New Jersey.
  • A portion of the drinking water supplied to 18.5 million people in Southern California contained anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications.
  • Six pharmaceuticals were detected in the drinking water for Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas.
  • When people take a medication, the body doesn't use all of it. The excess is flushed out with other wastes and ends up in wastewater treatment plants, which discharge treated water into rivers, lakes or reservoirs, the AP said.

    The concentrations of pharmaceuticals found in drinking water were extremely low and the exact risks to human health from long-term exposure aren't fully understood, the AP reported. However, recent research has shown that such drugs cause alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.


    Gene Variant Linked to Gout

    A gene variant that may increase a person's risk of gout has been identified by Scottish researchers, who said their finding may lead to improved treatments for the painful joint condition, BBC News reported.

    In healthy people, uric acid is removed by the kidneys and passed out of the body in urine. Gout occurs when there's a buildup of uric acid in the blood, forming crystals in the joints, resulting in inflammation, stiffness and pain. Diet is believed to play a major role in the development of gout. However, many people whose eating habits would seem to put them at risk for gout don't develop the disease.

    This new study, by researchers at the MRC Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, may help explain why. The researchers found that a variant of the SLC2A gene appears to make it more difficult for the body to remove excess uric acid from the blood, BBC News reported.

    The SLC2A gene plays an important role in determining the efficiency of uric acid transport across the membranes of the kidney, the researchers explained. Depending on the form of the gene they inherit, some people will have a higher or lower risk of gout.

    The researchers said it may be possible to develop new drugs that target SLC2A, and the protein it controls, in order to better treat gout, BBC News reported. The findings may also lead to improved diagnosis of the condition.

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