Health Highlights: April 26, 2007

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

Congress Should Limit TV Violence: FCC

The U.S. Congress should legislate limits on TV violence in order to better protect children since voluntary parental controls aren't working, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in a report released Wednesday.

The FCC said this kind of regulation is needed because research shows that extended exposure to TV violence can lead to more aggressive behavior in kids, The Washington Post reported.

V-chip blocking technology is only partially effective in screening violent content, said the FCC, which produced the report at the request of 39 lawmakers. The report will be used as a basis to draft legislation, said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

    • Congress Should Limit TV Violence: FCC
    • Roche Slows Tamiflu Output
    • Many Spanish Couples Donate Surplus Embryos for Stem Cell Reseach
    • System Assesses Death Risk for Bariatric Surgery Patients
    • Imported Eye Products Contain Lead, NYC Warns
    • Texas Governor's HPV Vaccine Order Rejected
    • Pull Shrek Exercise Ads for Children, Group Says

"Clearly, steps should be taken to protect children from excessively violent programming. Some might say such action is long overdue," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a prepared statement.

Giving the government the power to determine what's acceptable for TV concerns some groups, however.

"The job of policing TV for children is one for parents, not the government," Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberty Union's legislative office in Washington, D.C., told the Post. "The government isn't capable of making distinctions about what's violent or gratuitous."


Roche Slows Tamiflu Output

Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG is slowing production of Tamiflu because its ability to make the flu drug is outpacing demand, the Associated Press reported.

The World Health Organization recommends Tamifu as a first-line treatment for people infected with bird flu. It's also used to treat seasonal flu.

In its announcement Thursday, Roche said it could increase Tamiflu production at any time to deal with an increased threat of a flu pandemic, the AP reported.

Governments worldwide have been stockpiling the drug in order to be prepared in case the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus mutates into a strain that's easily transmitted between humans and sparks a pandemic.

Orders from governments amount to about 215 million courses of Tamiflu, but Roche and its partners can now produce more than 400 million courses of the drug a year, the AP reported.


Many Spanish Couples Donate Surplus Embryos for Stem Cell Reseach

Many Spanish couples who undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) donate surplus embryos for stem cell research, according to research published online Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The study by the Spanish Stem Cell Bank found that nearly 50 percent of couples who were interviewed at least three years after undergoing IVF decided to donate their surplus, stored embryos for research.

The reason for this high donation rate is a result of clear information given to couples by a legal advisor and embryologist during an interview process, the study authors said.

While Spain's stem cell research environment is fairly open and Spaniards have traditionally been supportive of organ and tissue donation, the authors said they believe the results of the stem cell study can be generalized to other countries.

"We are convinced that if this type of personal interview and survey were carried out in the U.S.A., at least 50 percent of the couples would be willing to donate their spare embryos for stem cell research," Pablo Menendez, director of the Spanish Stem Cell Bank, said in a prepared statement.


System Assesses Death Risk for Bariatric Surgery Patients

A simple five-factor scoring system can help doctors predict the risk of dying among patients being considered for gastric bypass surgery.

The system takes into account a patient's weight, age, gender, blood pressure, and the risk of developing a blood clot in the lungs, and then ranks patients as having a low, medium or high risk of dying from the weight-loss surgery.

The scoring system, first proposed last year by Duke University Medical Center surgeons, was tested in study of more than 4,400 patients. It found that patients in the high-risk group were six times more likely to die than those in the low-risk group, while medium-risk patients were three times more likely to die than low-risk patients.

The study was to be presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Surgical Association.

"This represents the first validated scoring system for assessing risk for patients considering bariatric surgery," Duke surgeon Eric DeMaria, who developed the system, said in a prepared statement.

About 170,000 Americans had gastric bypass surgery in 2005, according to the American Society for Bariatric Surgery.


Imported Eye Products Contain Lead, NYC Warns

The New York City Health Department warned Thursday that certain imported cosmetic eye products contain dangerously high levels of lead that can damage the brain and nervous system.

The products -- called kohl, kajal, and surma -- are imported from Asia, Africa and the Mideast and have been sold at neighborhood stores throughout the city. In recent months, the health department has investigated five lead poisoning cases among children and pregnant women who used the products.

Health department officials have ordered stores to remove the products, which are banned by the Food and Drug Administration and have been imported illegally.

Consumers who have bought and used these products are advised to: immediately stop using the products; keep the products away from children; call a doctor to request a blood-lead test.


Texas Governor's HPV Vaccine Order Rejected

Texas Governor Rick Perry's order requiring sixth-grade girls to get the human papillomavirus virus (HPV) vaccine was rejected Wednesday by Texas lawmakers, who sent the governor a bill that would block, for at least four years, officials from requiring girls to get the vaccine.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer.

After Perry issued his executive order in February, prominent legislators vowed to overturn the order because they said the vaccine was too new to force on Texas families, the Associated Press reported. The order was to have taken effect in September 2008.

Perry has 10 days to sign or veto the bill passed by the legislature. Even if he does veto it, lawmakers have the two-thirds majority vote in both chambers needed to override the veto.

The vaccine, which protects against four HPV strains, was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26.

To date, about 20 states have introduced bills to require girls to get the vaccine, the AP reported. Critics charge that making the vaccine mandatory promotes promiscuity and infringes on parents' rights.


Pull Shrek Exercise Ads for Children, Group Says

The animated character Shrek should no longer be used in U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS) public service TV commercials that encourage children to get more exercise, says the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

The Harvard University-based child advocacy group said the animated green ogre is no longer an appropriate spokesperson for healthier lifestyles for youngsters. That's because promotions tied to the May 18 release of the Shrek the Third film also include a number of high-calorie or high-sugar foods, USA Today reported.

"The food industry and the government can't have it both ways. Either (Shrek's) a pitchman for junk food or a spokesman for health and well-being. Those are mutually exclusive roles," said Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

In the public service ads, which started airing in February, Shrek encourages children to: "Get up and play an hour a day." The ads are popular with children and it would be a mistake to drop them, said Penelope Royall, a deputy assistant secretary for health at HHS.

However, the ads will not air from early next month until 30 days after the end of the new film's run "because we're not in the business of promoting movies," HHS spokesman Bill Hall told USA Today.