Health Highlights: August 3, 2008

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

One Reason U.S. Obesity Keeps Rising: We're Eating More Food

Here's a big reason why the American individual has packed on more pounds in recent years -- the rationale that it has taken more food to make people heavier is true.

The New York Times reports that the amount of food an American ate in 2006 was almost 2 pounds more than was ingested in 1970.

Citing U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, the newspaper says that in 1970 the average amount of food each American ate weekly was 16.4 pounds. By 2006, that amount had increased to 18.2 pounds a week.

    • One Reason U.S. Obesity Keeps Rising: We're Eating More Food
    • Waterborne Parasite Causing Illness and One Possible Death in North Texas
    • Reintroduced MS Drug Cited in Two New Deadly Infections
    • Possible Anthrax Suspect Commits Suicide
    • FDA Rejects Anesthesia Recovery Drug
    • U.S. Senate Passes Bill Banning Lead from Children's Products

What constituted the increase? According to the Times, it was unfortunately those substances that can make people fatter: oils, shortening, cheeses and about an additional quarter pound of meat each week.

And while not making a direct cause-and-effect relationship, the Times cites obesity rate increases among United States residents from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: In 1980, 15 percent of adults between ages 20 and 74 were classified as obese. By 2007, that figure was 25.6, according to the CDC.


Waterborne Parasite Causing Illness and One Possible Death in North Texas

Outbreaks of a nasty parasite infection in public swimming places in Dallas and Fort Worth have local health officials increasing the chlorine content in many pools in order to control the outbreak.

According to the Dallas Morning News, 123 cases of cryptosporidiosis (also known as Crypto), an infection caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium have been reported in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area since June. The death of a six-year-old girl is being investigated to see if she was a Crypto victim, the newspaper reports.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cryptosporidiosis is the most common waterborne illness in the United States. It is spread through contact with fecal matter, and the parasite can live in the human intestine for long periods of time. Symptoms include cramping, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Dallas-area health officials have recommended that people with compromised immune systems not swim in public pools, the Morning news reports. And, says the newspaper, many municipalities are "hyperchlorinating" their public swimming facilities in an attempt to deter Cryto's spread.


Reintroduced MS Drug Cited in Two New Deadly Infections

Two new instances of a dangerous brain infection have been reported among users of Tysabri, a multiple sclerosis drug that was reintroduced two years ago after being pulled from the market because of the same adverse effect.

While the two new cases occurred in Europe, they raised international concern about Tysabri and its connection with the viral brain condition called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). The new cases were confirmed this week, according to the Bloomberg news service, which cited a statement from one of the drug's makers, Massachusetts-based Biogen Idec Inc.

Biogen and co-maker Elan Corp, based in Ireland, voluntarily withdrew Tysabri in February 2005 after three users contracted PML and two of them died. The drug was reintroduced in July 2006.

A Biogen spokeswoman told Bloomberg that additional cases had been anticipated and that pulling the drug again was "not under consideration."

Some 31,800 people were taking Tysabri at the end of June, and the companies had hoped to have 100,000 users by 2010, the news service said. The drug also has been approved in the United States to treat an inflammatory bowel disorder called Crohn's disease.

Of the two new cases of PML, one is recovering at home and the other has been hospitalized, Bloomberg said.

"These incidents of PML are unfortunate and disappointing, and we hope for the best possible outcomes for these individuals and their families," the National Multiple Sclerosis Society said in a news release. "However, their occurrence is within range of the predicted frequency of cases, estimated by a published report and by the FDA, of approximately one in 1,000 people taking the drug."

The society said Tysabri users and their doctors should monitor closely for signs of PML, which could include "worsening neurological symptoms such as any changes in thinking, eyesight, balance, strength and other symptoms."


Possible Anthrax Suspect Commits Suicide

A senior U.S. government biodefense researcher who may have been linked to a series of anthrax deaths in 2001 committed suicide earlier this week. Bruce E. Ivins, 62, worked at the biodefense laboratories in Fort Detrick, Md. for the past 33 years.

Ivins did not play a role in the anthrax deaths of at least five people and had fully cooperated with investigators, his lawyer told The New York Times.

"The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people, as has already been seen in this investigation," said Paul Kemp. "In Dr. Ivin's case, it led to his untimely death."

Ivins was regarded as a legitimate suspect and agents were nearing a possible arrest, a federal law enforcement official told the Times.

A few weeks ago, the Justice Department agreed to pay $4.6 million to settle a lawsuit by Steven J. Hatfill, another biodefense researcher at the same facility, who also had been investigated in connection with the anthrax case.


FDA Rejects Anesthesia Recovery Drug

In a surprise decision, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it won't approve the drug sugammadex, designed to help patients recover from anesthesia. The agency said it had concerns about allergic reactions seen in some patients who took the drug, the Associated Press reported.

Thursday's decision was unexpected because an FDA panel of outside experts had recommended approval of the drug. The FDA isn't required to follow the advice of its expert panels, but generally does.

In a statement released Friday, drug maker Schering-Plough Corp. said it would work with the FDA to address concerns about sugammadex.

On Tuesday, European Union regulators approved the injectable drug, which will be marketed under the name Bridion, the AP reported.


U.S. Senate Passes Bill Banning Lead from Children's Products

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill that bans lead from children's toys and other products. The measure also bans, either permanently or pending further study, children's goods that contain chemicals called phthalates, which are widely used to make plastic products softer and more flexible.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 89-3. On Wednesday, the House passed the measure 424-1. The Bush Administration has objected to certain parts of the bill but a White House spokeswoman said President Bush would sign it, the Associated Press reported.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act would permit only tiny levels of lead in products for children 12 or younger, giving the U.S. the most stringent lead standards in the world.

Last year, lead paint was a major factor in the recall of 45 million toys and other children's items, the AP reported. Many of those items came from China.