Health Highlights: May 3, 2008

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

Deadly Children's Virus in China Shows Signs of Spreading

A virus that has killed 22 children in one city alone and spread to thousands of China's youngest residents has prompted that country's health ministry to issue a nationwide alert calling for increased efforts to keep the disease from spreading, the Associated Press reports.

The city of Fuyang in central China was described by health officials as having a "relatively large" outbreak of Enterovirus 71 (EV-71), a type of hand, foot and mouth disease, the wire service reported. In addition to the 22 deaths, 3,321 cases of the virus had been reported as of last Thursday, and almost 1,000 people remained hospitalized, the A.P. said.

    • Deadly Children's Virus in China Shows Signs of Spreading
    • Medical Society to Review Lyme Disease Antibiotic Treatment Guidelines
    • FDA Cautious About Expanding Use of Painkiller Fentora
    • FDA Panel to Assess Abuse-Resistant OxyContin
    • In Vitro Fertilization Doesn't Affect Menopause: Study
    • Children's Storage Bins Recalled for Lead Hazard

There are signs the disease is spreading, according to the wire service, with at least one other death attributed to EV-71 in another province. The disease strikes children, usually under age 10, and while affecting the feet and mouth, is not related to foot and mouth disease found in animals.

Symptoms include fever, mouth sores and rash. EV-71 is spread by direct contact with discharges from the nose and throat.

Keeping in mind the expected large influx of people from other countries for the 2008 Olympics in August, the Chinese government said preventing the spread of EV-71 was necessary "to guarantee the smooth staging of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics and to practically preserve social stability," the A.P. reported.


Medical Society to Review Lyme Disease Antibiotic Treatment Guidelines

It took the Connecticut attorney general's office to negotiate an agreement, but a national professional medical group has agreed to review guidelines that currently regard long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease to be untested, uncertain and probably unnecessary.

The reason this is important, the Associated Press reports, is that most health insurers will pay only for short-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease, ironically named after Lyme, Conn., where it was first identified in 1975.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America has agreed to review its guidelines after Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's office conducted an antitrust investigation that found some of the 14 experts who approved the 2006 guidelines for short-term only antibiotic treatment were paid as consultants or had stock in drug companies associated with Lyme disease treatment, the wire service reported.

The professional society agreed to review its Lyme disease guidelines, its president told the A.P., because doctors would comprise the review panel. "We are confident that our guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease represent the best advice that medicine currently has to offer ... and we look forward to the opportunity to put to rest any questions about them," Dr. Donald Poretz, told the wire service.

Lyme disease is caused by the bite of a tick, usually a deer tick, and is diagnosed by the appearance of a round rash and causes joint aches and fever. These symptoms can last for months or even years.

Most professional medical groups say short-term (30 days) heavy antibiotic treatment can treat Lyme, but many victims maintain the drugs are needed for a much longer period of time to make the condition manageable.

Connecticut continues to lead the nation with most reported Lyme disease cases each year, the A.P. reports. About 20,000 cases are reported nationally.


FDA Cautious About Expanding Use of Painkiller Fentora

Granting wider approval for the powerful cancer painkiller Fentora could lead to potentially fatal misuse of the drug, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is considering whether to approve the drug to treat pain in non-cancer patients.

An FDA advisory panel will meet Tuesday to discuss the issue and make a recommendation to the agency, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA's cautious attitude is reflected in a review of the suggested new use. Granting approval for wider use of Fentora could encourage "abuse and misuse, and increase the incidence of accidental exposures which ... could potentially have devastating effects," the agency noted.

Fentora was approved by the FDA in 2006 for treatment of cancer pain in adults who are already taking opioid drugs, which include morphine, codeine and Fentora, the AP reported. But the drug has frequently been used outside those guidelines, resulting in harmful side effects and death in some cases. Drug maker Cephalon has reported five deaths due to improper use of Fentora, the news service said.


FDA Panel to Assess Abuse-Resistant OxyContin

A new version of the painkiller OxyContin, designed to be harder to abuse, will be evaluated Monday by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel to determine if the reformulated version should be allowed on the market before long-term studies determine if it actually reduces abuse.

The new version has a plastic-like coating that makes it harder to crush and turns it into a gooey mess if someone tries to inject it, according to drug maker Purdue Pharma LP, the Associated Press reported.

After OxyContin was introduced in 1996, abusers quickly found they could get a heroin-like high if they snorted or injected crushed tablets.

In a letter to the advisory panel, Dr. Bob Rappaport, the FDA's chief of painkilling drugs, wrote that "there is no perfect formulation that can resist all forms of tampering." If approved, the label on the new version of OxyContin "would have to be carefully crafted so as to avoid the publication of a road map describing how to defeat these changes," he said.

An abuse-resistant gelatin-like form of the drug is being developed by two other companies, Pain Therapeutics Inc. and King Pharmaceuticals, the AP reported.


In Vitro Fertilization Doesn't Affect Menopause: Study

Women who have in vitro fertilization (IVF) don't experience early menopause or more severe menopause symptoms, says a British study that's one of the first to examine the long-term effects of the fertility treatment.

The study included about 200 women, average age just over 50, who were among the first to undergo IVF in the 1980s. The age at which they started menopause was comparable with the national average and there was no increase in menopausal symptoms associated with the number of IVF treatments, BBC News reported.

The findings were published online in the journal Reproductive Bio Medicine.

Doctors long ago dismissed fears that stimulating the ovaries to generate eggs required for IVF treatment may speed up the ovaries' decline. This study provides needed clinical evidence, the researchers said.

The study findings weren't surprising, but it "nonetheless is a very helpful study indeed," Laurence Shaw, spokesman for the British Fertility Society, told BBC News.

"This is a question patients often ask -- and it's very useful to finally have a scientific study to point to which offers them reassurance that IVF will not affect the timing or severity of the menopause," Shaw said.


Children's Storage Bins Recalled for Lead Hazard

About 84,000 children's storage bins sold at Lowe's stores across the United States are being recalled because they could contain excessive levels of lead, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The bins are wooden with scalloped edges and were sold in pastel green or pink. Item number 226782 (pastel green bin) and item number 226781 (pink bin) is located on the bottom of the bin. They were sold from March 2007 through February 2008 for about $6.

Consumers should take the bins away from children and return the bins to any Lowe's store for a full refund, the CPSC said.

The bins were made in Taiwan and imported by LG Sourcing Inc., of North Wilkesboro, N.C.