Health Highlights: Nov. 12, 2008

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

No Clear Link Between Bone Drugs, Abnormal Heart Rhythm: FDA

There is no scientific proof of a link between drugs to fight the bone-thinning condition osteoporosis and the heart-rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine found increased risk of atrial fibrillation in women who took the Novartis drug Reclast or the Merck drug Fosamax, the Dow Jones news service reported.

    • No Clear Link Between Bone Drugs, Abnormal Heart Rhythm: FDA
    • Gas-Relief Drops for Babies Recalled
    • C. Difficile Infections Common in Hospitals
    • Las Vegas Leads Country in Suicides

Weighing in at that time, the FDA noted that studies of Reclast found that the once-yearly injection might be associated with atrial fibrillation.

But on Wednesday, the agency cited "no clear association" between the bone-strengthening drugs, which belong to a class called bisphosphonates, and an abnormal heartbeat.

"After our review based on the data available at this time, health-care professionals should not alter their prescribing patterns for bisphosphonates, and patients should not stop taking their bisphosphonate medication," Dow Jones reported, citing a statement posted on the agency's Web site.

The FDA reviewed studies involving a combined 38,000 patients who took bisphosphonates or a placebo, noting that most of the individual studies had two or fewer cases of atrial fibrillation, Dow Jones reported.

The agency said it would conduct additional studies of a possible link between the drugs and abnormal heartbeat, and would continue to monitor people who take the drugs for any signs of the condition.


Gas-Relief Drops for Babies Recalled

Some 12,000 bottles of Mylicon Gas Relief Dye-Free Eye Drops, designed to relieve gas in infants, are being recalled, because the contents may be contaminated with metal pieces, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The 1-ounce plastic bottles, sold over-the-counter by Johnson & Johnson-Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals, were distributed to stores and pharmacies after Oct. 5.

The recall applies to lots SMF007 and SMF008. The lot number is printed on the bottom of the product box and on the lower-left of each bottle's sticker.

The recall doesn't apply to other Mylicon gas-relief products.

For more information about disposing of the drops and getting a refund, contact the company at 800-222-9435.


C. Difficile Infections Common in Hospitals

The potentially deadly stomach bug Clostridium difficile is 6.5 to 20 times more common in U.S. hospitals than previously thought, according to researchers who surveyed 650 hospitals across the country.

They estimated that more than 7,100 hospital patients are infected with the germ on any given day, and that about 13 of every 1,000 patients have the bacteria, which is resistant to some antibiotics and is a recurring problem in hospitals and nursing homes, the Associated Press reported.

C. difficile bacteria are found in the colon and can cause intestinal problems that can be fatal, particularly to the elderly. About 70 percent of the 1,443 infected patients identified in the study were older than 60.

Researchers from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology presented their findings Tuesday at a medical conference in Florida.

"This study shows that C. difficile infection is an escalating issue in our nation's health-care facilities," lead investigator Dr. William Jarvis said in a news release, the AP reported.

He and his colleagues recommended that hospitals and nursing homes boost cleaning efforts, including the use of bleach, and quickly isolate patients who have C. difficile infections.


Las Vegas Leads Country in Suicides

Residents of Las Vegas and visitors to the gambling mecca have a much higher suicide risk than people anywhere else in the United States, according to a study by researchers at Temple and Harvard universities.

The researchers analyzed patterns of suicide in Las Vegas over a 30-year period and found that: residents of the city are more likely to commit suicide than other Americans; visitors to Las Vegas have an even higher suicide risk than residents; and people who visit Las Vegas are twice as likely to commit suicide than visitors to other cities, United Press International reported.

The study was published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

While more research is needed to pinpoint the reasons for the increased risk of suicide in Las Vegas, researcher Matt Wray of Temple said one cause could be "gambler's despair," which occurs when a visitor bets his house, loses and decides to commit suicide, UPI reported.

Among other possibilities, according to the study:

  • People predisposed to suicide disproportionately choose Las Vegas to reside in or visit.
  • There may be a "contagion" effect where people emulate the suicides of others.
  • Las Vegas may act as a suicide magnet.

In addition, the city's rapid growth "may amplify social isolation, fragmentation and low social cohesion, all of which have long been identified as correlates of suicide," Wray said.