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Health Highlights: Jan. 7, 2008

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

    Osteoporosis Drugs Can Cause Severe Musculoskeletal Pain: FDA

    Anti-osteoporosis drugs called bisphosphonates may cause severe and sometimes incapacitating bone, joint, and/or muscle (musculoskeletal) pain, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors and patients Monday.

    The risk of severe musculoskeletal pain is outlined in the prescribing information for all bisphosphonates, but the association between the drugs and this kind of pain may be overlooked by doctors, resulting in delayed diagnosis, prolonged pain/impairment, and the need to use painkilling medications, the FDA said.

    Severe musculoskeletal pain may occur within days, months, or years after a patient begins taking bisphosphonates. The risk factors for, and the incidence of, severe musculoskeletal pain associated with bisphosphonates are unknown. Some patients experience complete relief after they stop taking a bisphosphonate, while others report slow or incomplete resolution of symptoms.

    Doctors should consider whether a bisphosphonate may be responsible for patient complaints of severe musculoskeletal pain. In such cases, doctors should think about temporary or permanent discontinuation of the drug, the FDA said.


    Study May Offer New Hope for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

    The central nervous system can reorganize itself to redirect brain messages around spinal cord damage and control limb movement, a University of California, Los Angeles study with mice found.

    The research, published in the journal Nature Medicine, suggests it may one day be possible to reroute the nervous system to help patients with serious spinal cord injury regain the ability to move their legs, reported The Daily Telegraph in the U.K.

    "Imagine the long nerve fibers that run between the cells in the brain and lower spinal cord as major freeways," said study leader Professor Michael Sofroniew. "When there's a traffic accident on the motorway, what to drivers do? They take shorter surface streets. These detours aren't as fast or direct, but still allow drivers to reach their destination."

    He and his colleagues saw something similar in their research with mice.

    "When spinal cord damage blocked direct signals from the brain, under certain conditions the messages were able to make detours around the injury. The message would follow a series of shorter connections to deliver the brain's command to move the legs," Sofroniew told the Telegraph.


    Study Reveals How Bird Flu Viruses Infect People

    New information about how influenza viruses carried by birds can infect people has been discovered by U.S. scientists. The finding may aid in the development of a vaccine to protect against the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus and other types of influenza, Agence France-Presse reported.

    The study, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Ram Sasisekharan, found that the shape of sugar receptors in human lung cells play a major role in the ability of flu viruses in birds to infect people. In humans, these receptors come in two shapes -- umbrella and cone. Flu viruses must attach to the umbrella-shaped receptors in order to infect humans.

    The study, funded by the National Institute for General Medical Sciences, appears in the journal Nature.

    "This work enables researchers to look at flu viruses in an entirely new way," said institute director Jeremy Berg. The finding will enable rapid identification of influenza strains that may develop the ability to infect humans, AFP reported.

    "Now that we know what we are looking for, this could help us not only monitor the bird flu virus, but it can aid in the development of potentially improved therapeutic interventions for both avian and seasonal flu," Sasisekharan said.


    Male Circumcision Doesn't Lessen Sexual Satisfaction: Study

    Male circumcision does not lessen sexual satisfaction or performance and there should be no reservations about using male circumcision as a way of fighting HIV, says a U.S. study in the journal BJU International.

    Some studies suggest that male circumcision can reduce HIV infection rates by as much as 50 percent, BBC News reported. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

    The Johns Hopkins University study included nearly 5,000 Ugandan men -- half of them circumcised -- who were asked to rate their sexual performance and satisfaction. There was little difference between circumcised and uncircumcised men, the study found.

    Previous studies on circumcision and sexual satisfaction produced mixed results, but the Hopkins team said the number of men and other factors make their study the most reliable to date, BBC News reported.

    "Our study clearly shows that being circumcised did not have an adverse effect on the men who underwent the procedure when we compared them with men who had not yet received surgery," said study leader Professor Ronald Gray.

    "Other studies already show that being able to reassure men that the procedure won't affect sexual satisfaction or performance makes them much more likely to be circumcised," Gray said.


    Placebo Scores Better Than Anti-Psychotic Drugs in Aggressive Outburst Study

    People with low IQs subject to aggressive outbursts don't benefit from two of the most widely-used anti-psychotic drugs, according to British researchers.

    The New York Times reports that a study following 86 adults with low IQs in England, Wales and Australia found that placebos were just as effective -- and possibly more so -- as Haldol and Risperdal, two of the most popular drugs used against schizophrenia and other behavioral conditions.

    These drugs had been used in recent years, the Times reports, as calming agents for people who exhibit threatening behavior and children with attention deficit difficulties, among others.

    The researchers found that after a month of treatment, 79 percent of study subjects taking pills with no medicinal value had a reduction in aggressive behavior, while 65 percent of those taking the antipsychotic drugs experienced the same effect, the newspaper reported.

    The study, published Jan. 3 in the Lancet, may cause a review of how Haldol and Risperdal are prescribed in the United Kingdom, the newspaper says.

    Dr. Peter J. Tyrer, a professor of psychiatry at Imperial College London who led the study team, told the Times he believed part of the dramatic results may have been that the research subjects usually receive so little notice that their behavior was in response to all the attention.

    "They're neglected, they tend to be pushed into the background, and this extra attention has a much bigger effect on them that it would on a person of more normal intelligence level," Tyrer is quoted as saying.


    15,000 Toy Wagons Recalled for Too Much Lead

    Even the classic toy red wagon isn't immune from the recent spate of Chinese-made product recalls over the amount of lead contained in the toys' paint.

    Some 15,000 red wagons imported by Tricam Industries of Eden Prairie, Minn., violate the federal lead paint standard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in announcing the wagons' recall. No injuries have been reported.


    The recall involves model MH1250. The wagons were sold at Tractor Supply Co. stores across the United States from September 2002 through November 2007 for about $30.

    The wagon should be taken away from children immediately. Contact Tricam Industries at 800-867-6763 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday for instructions on how to return the wagon and obtain a refund.

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