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Health Highlights: Jan. 3, 2008

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

    Hospitalizations for Reflux Disease Up 103 Percent in 7 Years

    Hospitalizations for treating GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and related disorders jumped 103 percent between 1998 and 2005, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality announced Thursday in its latest News and Numbers publication.

    GERD occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, triggering bouts of extreme chronic heartburn. Left untreated, it can cause bleeding of the esophagus, trouble swallowing, and a precancerous condition called Barrett's esophagus, the agency said.

    The AHRQ survey also found:

    • Admissions for severe GERD-related symptoms, including anemia, vomiting, and weight loss, rose 39 percent over the seven-year span.
    • Hospitalizations for less serious symptoms, including hoarseness, chronic cough, bloating, or belching, rose 43 percent over the period.
    • Hospitalizations for GERD in children ages 2 to 17 soared 84 percent during the seven years, and rose 42 percent for infants under age 2 during the same time span.


    New Test Detects 12 Respiratory Viruses

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it has approved a new diagnostic test that detects 12 respiratory viruses, including strains of flu that have triggered epidemics.

    The xTAG Respiratory Viral Panel is the first test to detect and differentiate between influenza A subtypes H1 and H3, among the most severe types of epidemic flu in people. The test also is the first to detect human metapneumovirus (hMPV), which the agency said was first identified in 2001.

    The test analyzes and replicates viral genetic material found in secretions taken from the back of the throat. It's the first diagnostic that allows several of these tests to be processed using the same sample, the FDA said.

    The test also detects forms of influenza B, which is less severe than influenza A; parainfluenza 1, 2, and 3, which are leading factors in croop and the common cold; rhinovirus, another frequent cause of colds; and adenovirus, a common cause of respiratory tract infections.

    The test is manufactured by Luminex Molecular Diagnostics, based in Toronto.


    Antibiotic Class Triggers Tendon Ruptures, Group Testifies

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ignored "long-standing evidence" that fluoroquinolone antibiotics can cause tendon ruptures, the consumer group Public Citizen testified Thursday in federal court.

    In a statement, the group said it sued the FDA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The group wants the agency to honor a petition filed 16 months ago asking the FDA to put a so-called "black box" warning on fluoroquinolone antibiotics, including Cipro and Levaquin. Such a warning, considered the agency's most serious labeling advisory, would alert doctors and patients of the risk of serious tendon injury, Public Citizen said.

    From November 1997 through December 2005, the group said, the FDA received 262 reports of tendon ruptures among fluoroquinolone users. Most involved ruptures of the Achilles tendon. The group also cited hundreds of additional cases of tendonitis and other tendon disorders.

    "While the FDA sits idly by and ignores the problem, more people will suffer serious tendon ruptures that could have been prevented," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "The current warning is buried in a long list of possible adverse reactions and is far too easy to miss," he added.


    Drug Makers Spend More on Marketing Than Research: Study

    The pharmaceutical industry spends almost twice as much to market the drugs it produces than it does to research and develop them, a new study finds.

    US drug companies spent $57.5 billion to promote drugs in 2004, versus $31.5 billion for industrial research and development, Canadian researchers wrote in this week's edition of the journal PLoS Medicine, published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS).

    York University researchers Marc-Andre Gagnon and Joel Lexchin analyzed data from two market research firms to compile the total amount spent on marketing activities, while the authors cited statistics from the U.S. National Science Foundation for the amount spent on research and development, the journal explained in a statement.

    Included in the amount spent on marketing and promotion were free samples, visits from drug representatives, direct-to-consumer advertising, and email and direct mail promotions.

    "The authors believe that their figure of $57.5 billion is likely to be an underestimate," the statement said. Their tally does not include ghostwriting of articles in medical journals by drug companies, nor off-label promotion of drugs, the PLoS added.


    Smoking Rate Falls Among New York City Teens

    Cigarette smoking declined by 20 percent among teens in New York City between 2005 and 2007, city Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said Wednesday, citing new survey results.

    The city's teen smoking rate dropped from 17.6 percent in 2001 to 8.5 percent in 2007, Frieden said in a statement that was also signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. The national teen smoking rate is 23 percent, they said.

    The officials attributed the decline to stepped up enforcement of laws barring cigarette sales to minors, a cigarette tax increase, introduction of a smoke-free workplace law, and anti-smoking advertising on television and in city subways. They predicted that the smoking drop would prevent "at least 8,000 premature deaths."

    New York City teen girls once had significantly higher smoking rates than boys, but that difference was wiped out in 2007. The smoking rate fell for teen boys to 8.3 percent from 10.5 percent, and for teen girls to 8.6 percent from 12 percent.

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