Health Highlights: April 10, 2008

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

Organ-Rejection Drugs Linked to Nervous System Disorder: FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it is reviewing data involving a link between two drugs used to prevent organ rejection after transplant and a rare central nervous system disorder called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML).

Use of CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil) and Myfortic (mycophenolic acid) may lead to the sometimes fatal disorder, the FDA said. PML usually affects people with weakened immune systems.

Roche, the maker of CellCept, has provided the agency with data showing that PML can be a rare side effect, and the company is recommending that an advisory be added to the drug's label. The FDA said it also has asked the maker of Myfortic, Novartis, to provide any PML data associated with the drug's use.

    • Organ-Rejection Drugs Linked to Nervous System Disorder: FDA
    • Suicide Leading Cause of Violent Death in U.S.
    • U.S. Postpartum Depression Rates Vary
    • Chocolate-Covered Almonds and Peanuts Recalled
    • U.S. Wastes $1.2 Trillion in Health-Care Spending Each Year: Report
    • Global Study Examines Osteoporosis Management
    • Intestinal Nerves May Play Role in Blood Sugar Control

PML's symptoms may include vision changes, loss of coordination, memory loss, difficulty speaking or understanding others, and leg weakness.

The FDA said during the ongoing review, patients shouldn't change the way they use either medication.

In October, the agency warned that CellCept could cause birth defects and miscarriages, and could also weaken the effectiveness of certain birth control drugs.


Suicide Leading Cause of Violent Death in U.S.

In 2005, violent deaths claimed the lives of 15,962 people in 16 states, according to data collected by the National Violent Death Reporting System. The study was included in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The majority (56.1 percent) of these deaths were suicides, followed by homicides and deaths involving legal intervention (29.6 percent), deaths of undetermined intent (13.3 percent), and unintentional firearm deaths (0.7 percent).

The study also found that intimate partner violence and relationship problems, mental health problems, and drug and alcohol use at the time of death were common precipitating factors. In nearly 87 percent of cases where homicide was followed by the suicide of a suspect, a personal crisis occurred in the two weeks prior to the incident.

Former or current military personal accounted for 20 percent of all suicides.

Each year in the United States, about 50,000 people (137 per day) suffer a violent death. Programs to enhance social problem-solving and coping skills, and skills for dealing with stressful life events, may help reduce violence, the study authors said.


U.S. Postpartum Depression Rates Vary

The prevalence of postpartum depression in 17 U.S. states in 2004-2005 ranged from 11.7 percent in Maine to 20.4 percent in New Mexico, a new study concludes.

It also found that younger women, women with less education, and women who received Medicaid benefits for their deliveries were more likely than other women to report postpartum depression. State and local health departments should assess the effectiveness of targeting mental health services to these mothers, the study authors said.

In addition, the prevalence of postpartum depression was higher among women who were physically abused before or during pregnancy, ranging from 30.8 percent in Minnesota to 52.7 percent in South Carolina.

Postpartum depression is an important and widespread public health issue and health care providers should screen women for the condition through the first year after they've had a baby, the researchers said.

The study appears in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Chocolate-Covered Almonds and Peanuts Recalled

Five-ounce bags of chocolate-covered almonds and chocolate double-dipped peanuts have been recalled by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. The bags of almonds may contain peanuts and the bags of peanuts may contain almonds, posing the risk of life-threatening allergic reactions for certain people.

The products, sold at Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores in 41 states, were packaged in a clear bag with a red and white diamond pattern on the label. No illnesses or allergic reactions have been reported to date, and there is no health risk for people who aren't allergic to peanuts or almonds. No other candies or packaged food items are included in the recall, according to a news release on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site.

The problem was caused by a temporary breakdown in the supplier's labeling and packaging process, Cracker Barrel officials said.

Consumers with the recalled products can return them to any Cracker Barrel store for a full refund. For more information, call the company at 800-333-9566.


U.S. Wastes $1.2 Trillion in Health-Care Spending Each Year: Report

As much as $1.2 trillion of the $2.2 trillion spent on health care each year in the United States is wasted on excess health spending and inefficiency, according to an analysis released Thursday by PricewaterhouseCooper's Health Research Institute.

The biggest area of wasteful spending identified in the analysis is defensive medicine, such as redundant, inappropriate or unnecessary tests and procedures. That's followed by inefficient health-care administration and the cost of care spent on conditions such as obesity, which is considered preventable by lifestyle changes.

The analysis authors classified health system inefficiencies into three categories: consumer behavior; operational inefficiencies; and clinical overuse, misuse or under-use. Behavioral issues such as patient non-adherence to medical advice and prescriptions, alcohol abuse, smoking and obesity fall into all three categories.

The analysis, which included a review of more than 35 industry reports and interviews with health industry representatives, was included in a report presented Thursday at a meeting of health-industry leaders in Washington, D.C.


Global Study Examines Osteoporosis Management

A landmark, multi-national osteoporosis management study that will include nearly 60,000 women aged 55 and older was announced Thursday. The aim of the Global Longitudinal Registry of Osteoporosis in Women (GLOW) is to learn more about how to improve the standard of care for postmenopausal women at risk of osteoporosis.

The study includes women from 17 cities in 10 countries on three continents.

"We know that there are patients at high risk for osteoporosis, sometimes already having suffered a broken bone, who aren't getting diagnosed and treated. We have to figure out why not," Dr. Robert Lindsay, GLOW executive committee co-chair and chief of internal medicine at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, N.Y., said in a prepared statement.

"Globally we have an aging female population that wants to maintain independence and vitality. We can help by finding the key to improving diagnosis and treatment of this debilitating disease," Lindsay said.

"We want to understand regional differences in physician and patient behavior and how that impacts patient outcomes. Hopefully, armed with that knowledge, we will be able to recommend best practices and improve the management of osteoporosis worldwide," Professor Pierre Delmas, GLOW executive committee co-chair and professor of medicine and rheumatology at the Universite Claude Bernard in Lyon, France, said in a prepared statement.


Intestinal Nerves May Play Role in Blood Sugar Control

Canadian researchers have found that the intestines play a major role in controlling blood sugar levels, a discovery that could help in efforts to create safer and more effective diabetes medications, the Toronto Star reported.

The University Health Network team's tests on rats revealed that a set of nerves in the intestines is intimately involved in controlling blood glucose levels. This cluster of nerves senses the presence of food and signals the brain to halt the liver's glucose production. But the researchers found that a high-fat diet can switch off this signaling system, the Star reported.

"The cure for diabetes is to lower blood glucose levels... and this will be an innovative and effective approach to do that," said study senior author Tony Lam, the Star reported.

He noted that the gut can access drugs directly, instead of having to rely on blood for drug delivery. This finding about the role of intestines in controlling blood sugar levels could make it easier to create drugs to correct blood sugar problems.

The study was published in the journal Nature.