Health Highlights: May 5, 2009

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

No Higher Premiums for Women: Health Insurers

American health insurers say they'll stop charging women higher premiums, a move seen as part of the industry's attempts to prevent creation of a government insurance plan that would compete against them.

Currently, many American women are charged more than men in the individual market, but that shouldn't be done any more if all Americans are required to get health coverage, say officials from America's Health Insurance Plans, the Associated Press reported.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • No Higher Premiums for Women: Health Insurers
    • Patient Stable After First U.S. Double Hand Transplant
    • Once-Weekly Diabetes Drug Submitted for FDA Approval
    • Zinc/Copper Supplements May Not Curb Diarrhea: Study
    • Secondhand Smoke Lowers Kids' Antioxidant Levels: Study
    • Ranbaxy Announces U.S. Recall of Antibiotic

The insurance industry's latest concession offer was announced as Congress convened a round-table discussion on covering the uninsured as part of its efforts to overhaul the nation's $2.5 trillion health care system.

Previously, the insurance industry offered to stop charging sick people higher premiums, the AP reported.

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Patient Stable After First U.S. Double Hand Transplant

A 57-year-old Georgia man is recovering after undergoing the United States' first double hand transplant.

Jeff Kepner was stable after a day of surgery that ended Monday night, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center spokeswoman told the Associated Press.

Kepner lost his hands and feet to a bacterial infection. He's a native of Lancaster, Pa., who now lives in Augusta, Ga.

Eight double hand transplants have been performed in other countries, the AP reported. Last month, French surgeons performed the world's first simultaneous partial face and double hand transplant.

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Once-Weekly Diabetes Drug Submitted for FDA Approval

The once-weekly injectable diabetes drug exenatide LAR has been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval, Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Tuesday.

The drug is an extended version of the twice-daily injectable drug Byetta, the Associated Press reported.

Another new diabetes drug, Novo Nordisk's once-daily injection liraglutide, is currently under FDA review.

Both exenatide LAR and liraglutide are in a class of treatments called GLP-1 analogues, which help increase insulin production.

Last year, the FDA issued new safety guidelines for diabetes treatments after concerns were raised about heightened heart attack risk associated with GlaxoSmithKline's Avandia, the AP reported.

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Zinc/Copper Supplements May Not Curb Diarrhea: Study

Even thought they're widely used, zinc and copper supplements may not be an effective way to treat diarrhea, suggest Indian researchers who studied 808 children.

The zinc and copper supplements were no more effective at treating diarrhea in the children than a placebo pill, found the team from the Lata Medical Research Foundation, BBC News reported.

"The expected beneficial effects of zinc supplementation for acute diarrhea were not observed," said lead researcher Dr. Archana Patel. "Therapeutic zinc or zinc and copper supplementation may not have a universal beneficial impact on the duration of acute diarrhea in children."

The findings of this study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, shouldn't discourage the use of these supplements, said Dr. Olivier Fontaine, a diarrhea expert at the World Health Organization.

"Evidence on the efficacy of zinc in the management of diarrhea comes from the results of many clinical trials conducted in hospitals and communities throughout the world over the last 15 to 20 years," Fontaine said, BBC News reported. "Therefore one single negative study cannot dismiss these accumulated evidences that were well reviewed in a couple of meta-analyses."

Diarrhea causes about 4 percent of deaths worldwide.

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Secondhand Smoke Lowers Kids' Antioxidant Levels: Study

Exposure to secondhand smoke appears to lower children's levels of antioxidants, which are believed to help prevent cell damage, says a U.S. study.

Researchers looked at more than 2,000 children, ages 6 to 18 years, and found an association between secondhand smoke exposure and lower levels of antioxidants, United Press International reported.

The higher the children's blood levels of cotinine -- a byproduct of metabolizing tobacco smoke -- the lower their levels of antioxidants. The study was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, in Baltimore.

"We don't know enough yet to say that this group of children need supplements to make up for the antioxidants they're losing, but it's always wise to feed children an abundance of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants and other healthy nutrients," Dr. Karen Wilson, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, said in a news release, UPI reported.

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Ranbaxy Announces U.S. Recall of Antibiotic

A U.S.-wide recall of an antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections has been announced by India-based drug maker Ranbaxy. The recall of 100-milligram capsules of nitrofurantoin was prompted by manufacturing problems.

"Certain lots of the products were determined to not be in conformity with the approved laboratory specifications," said a statement released by Ranbaxy, which gave no details about the problems, Agence France Presse reported.

"To the best of Ranbaxy's knowledge, the recalled product is unlikely to produce any serious adverse health effects," the company said, but added that there was "a remote possibility that the non-conforming product may increase the incidence" of nausea and vomiting.

Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned imports of more than 30 generic drugs produced by Ranbaxy because of manufacturing problems, AFP reported. Earlier this year, the FDA accused Ranbaxy of falsifying data and test results in approved and pending drug applications.

In 2007, Ranbaxy recalled 73 million tablets of the epilepsy drug gabapentin after it was discovered that impurities in the drug exceeded permissible limits.

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