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Health Highlights: Jan. 8, 2008

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

    Doctors Implant New Generation Pacemaker to Prevent Fainting

    In what they say is a world-first, doctors in Great Britain implanted a new generation pacemaker designed to help people who suffer regular fainting incidents. The doctors at St. Mary's Hospital in London implanted the Biotronik Cylos 990 pacemaker in a 65-year-old man, BBC News reported.

    The device detects subtle, early changes that indicate an impending fainting episode and then takes action to prevent it.

    Pacemakers are a well-established therapy in a small group of people who experience a dramatic drop in heart rate before a fainting episode. However, pacemakers haven't been all that effective in a larger group of patients who don't have a marked drop in heart rate before regular fainting spells, BBC News reported.

    This new pacemaker is designed to help those patients. It monitors the heart's right ventricle, the chamber into which blood returns after it's circulated through the body. If the pacemaker detects that the right ventricle has become unusually small -- a indication of an impending fainting episode -- it takes action to prevent it, the news service said.

    The doctors said it will be six months to a year before they know whether the pacemaker has been fully successful in preventing fainting episodes, BBC News reported.


    Children's Trailer Bikes Recalled Due to Fall Hazard

    About 7,000 children's trailer bicycles have been recalled in the United States because the coupler that connects the trailer bike to an adult's bicycle has welds that can fail, resulting in a fall hazard to children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Tuesday.

    The recalled trailer bicycles, made in China and distributed in the United States by Pacific Cycle Inc. of Madison, Wisc., include the InStep Pathfinder, the Schwinn Run About, and the Mongoose Alley Cat, model numbers 12-PF250, 13-SC250, 13-SC350 and M5101. The company has received one report of the coupler failing, resulting in a fall and cuts to the rider.

    The trailer bicycles were sold nationwide from January 2007 through August 2007, for between $80 and $120. Consumers with these trailer bicycles should immediately stop using them, the CPSC said.

    For information about returning the trailer bikes and getting a refund, consumers can call Pacific Cycle toll-free at 877-564-2261.


    Less-Qualified Health Workers Can Help Fight AIDS: WHO

    In developing nations with severe shortages of doctors and nurses, less-qualified health workers should be allowed greater responsibilities in providing care for HIV/AIDS patients, the World Health Organization recommended Tuesday.

    Doing so would improve patient access to treatment, the WHO said. It noted that at least 57 countries, mostly in Africa, coping with large HIV/AIDS outbreaks face severe shortages of health workers, Agence France-Presse reported.

    "Doctors and nurses are essential but countries cannot afford to wait years while they complete their training," said Anders Nordstrom, the WHO's assistant director of health systems.

    "Task shifting not only addresses the two interlinked emergencies of the health worker crisis and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but also offers long-term potential for strengthening health systems in a way that is consistent with the current renaissance in primary health-care services," said Nordstrom, AFP reported.


    Recalled Meat May Be Tainted With E. Coli Bacteria

    About 13,150 pounds of ground beef products and various cuts of steaks have been recalled by Detroit-based Mark's Quality Meats Inc. because the meat may be contaminated with potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

    The meat was produced on Dec. 20, 21, 24 or 26, 2007, and distributed to restaurants in the metropolitan Detroit area. The meat was not sold in retail stores. Anyone who ate these types of meat products in Detroit-area restaurants and is experiencing an illness should contact a doctor immediately. So far, there have been no reports of illnesses related to the recalled meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said.

    The contamination problem was discovered after Mark's Quality Meats submitted a product sample that tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 in tests conducted by a third-party laboratory.

    This potentially lethal type of E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. The very young, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to food-borne illness, the USDA said.


    Congress Investigates Lipitor Ads Featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik

    A U.S. House of Representatives investigation into celebrity endorsements of prescription drugs is zeroing in on Pfizer's TV and print ads for the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor that feature Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, Fox News reported.

    Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said they're concerned about the ads.

    In a statement released Monday, Dingell said Jarvik does not have a license to practice or prescribe medicine in the United States, but appears to be giving medical advice in the ads, Fox News reported. This means that consumers could be misled into taking Lipitor by someone who isn't qualified to give such advice, Dingell said in the statement.

    He and Stupak sent a letter to Pfizer CEO Jeffrey B. Kindler requesting that the drug company provide the House subcommittee with records relating to Jarvik's relationship with Pfizer, connection with Lipitor, and his medical qualifications. The letter, dated Jan. 7, also asks for communications and financial records, Fox News said.


    Red Wine Compound Helps Lower Diabetics' Blood Sugar: Study

    A formulation of resveratrol, a substance found in red wine, helped lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, according to early stage clinical trial results released Monday by Sirtis Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

    The company, which is working on commercializing resveratrol and related drugs to treat a number of health problems, released the results at an investor conference in San Francisco, the Wall Street Journal reported.

    The study included 67 diabetics who received daily doses of resveratrol and 31 diabetics who received a placebo. After 28 days, patients taking resveratrol showed improved scores on an oral glucose-tolerance test, which measures the body's ability to break down and use sugar. Patients taking the placebo showed no improvement.

    The study also found that resveratrol appeared to lower baseline levels of glucose in the blood, but the results weren't clinically significant, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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