Health Highlights: May 3, 2007

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

U.S. Senate Passes Imported Drug Amendment

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 63-28 in favor of an amendment that proposes changing federal law to permit imports of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries where medicines cost less than they do in the United States.

Supporters of the move say they hope that wider access to less expensive foreign drugs will drive down drug prices in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

"The fact is, we are paying the highest prices for brand-name prescription drugs in the world and that's not fair. Let's make the global economy work for everybody," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who sponsored the amendment to legislation related to the Food and Drug Administration.

    • U.S. Senate Passes Imported Drug Amendment
    • Don't Rely on Masks During Flu Pandemic: CDC
    • FDA Launches New Consumer Web Page, E-Newsletter
    • Link Between Depression and First-Time Alcohol/Drug Use
    • Diabetic Men More Likely to Have Sperm Damage: Study
    • Canada Confirms New Mad Cow Case

While the idea has wide popular support, the White House and U.S. drug industry oppose imports of foreign drugs. President Bush has said he'll veto the final FDA legislation if it includes such a provision, the AP reported.


Don't Rely on Masks During Flu Pandemic: CDC

Face masks may not offer much protection if a flu pandemic strikes but it may still be wise to wear them in certain situations, according to preliminary flu pandemic guidelines released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Avoiding all exposure to germs causing the pandemic is the best way to protect yourself. But, if that's not possible, wearing a simple surgical mask may help if:

  • You're healthy and have to go into a crowded place.
  • You're sick and are going to be in close contact with healthy people.
  • You live with a person who's sick and therefore may be in the early stages of infection, but that person has to go out in public.

At a news conference, CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding emphasized that masks don't replace basic precautions such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who have respiratory infections, the Associated Press reported.

"We are concerned people with think the mask is the magic bullet. It can have a role in personal protection but they are not the only thing," Gerberding said.

Major prevention measures recommended by the CDC include avoiding crowds and steering clear of people who are sick, unless you must care for someone, the AP reported.


FDA Launches New Consumer Web Page, E-Newsletter

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has introduced two new initiatives to enhance its online consumer health information -- a new Web page, "Consumer Health Information for You and Your Family," and a free monthly e-newsletter, "FDA Consumer Health Information."

The Web page will offer information about important public health developments clearly and accurately in easy-to-read language, the FDA said. The page also provides links to information about FDA-regulated products such as food, human and animal drugs, medical devices, and vaccines.

The e-newsletter replaces the FDA's print magazine and is expected to reach far more people. Subscribers to the e-newsletter will receive notice of product approvals, safety warnings and other health news, the agency said.

The new Web page can be found at


Link Between Depression and First-Time Alcohol/Drug Use

There's a link between depression in children aged 12 to 17 and their first use of alcohol or drugs, says a study released Thursday by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The study of 2005 data found that children who experienced depression within the previous year were twice as likely to have used alcohol or drugs than youths who did not have depression.

Overall in 2005, 2.2 million young people ages 12 to 17 experienced major depression within the past year, the study said. The overall rate of depression in this age group was 8.8 percent, but the rate increased with age, from 4.3 percent among those age 12 to 11.9 percent among those age 17.

The rate of depression among girls was 13.3 percent, compared with 4.5 percent for boys. Rates were similar among different racial and ethnic groups, the study found.

In 2005, about 2.7 million children tried alcohol for the first time, and about 1.5 million tried drugs for the first time, the study said.

"As National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, May 8, approaches, it's important to remember that depression is real and painful for youths. Recognizing depression early and helping youths receive appropriate help may prevent substance abuse," Terry Cline, SAMHSA administrator, said in a prepared statement.


Diabetic Men More Likely to Have Sperm Damage: Study

Diabetes appears to harm sperm and may decrease a man's fertility, says a British study in the journal Human Reproduction.

Researchers analyzed sperm samples from 56 men and found that 52 percent of men with diabetes had fragmented sperm DNA, compared with 32 percent of men without the disease, BBC News reported.

The diabetic men also had higher rates of DNA deletions in the mitochondria, which produce energy for cells. Defective sperm DNA can cause male infertility, pregnancy failure and miscarriage, BBC News reported.

The study also found that the diabetic men had significantly lower-than-normal semen volume, but showed no differences in sperm concentration, structure or movement.

While it's not clear whether diabetes actually affects male fertility, the researchers said their findings are troubling given rapidly rising rates of diabetes. They recommended further research, BBC News reported.


Canada Confirms New Mad Cow Case

Canadian officials have confirmed the 10th case of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- BSE) in that country since 2003, CBC News reported.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Wednesday that the latest case was found in a 5 1/2-year-old dairy cow in British Columbia. The agency said it has the cow's carcass and no part of the animal entered the human or animal feed systems.

Officials said the cow's age, combined with the average incubation period of BSE, indicates that the animal was exposed to small amounts of infected material and that the exposure occurred during the animal's first year of life, CBC News reported.

The agency is trying to determine how the cow was infected and is tracing other cows from the same herd.