Preemptive Use of HIV Therapy May Prevent Virus Transmission

Photo Courtesy - Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images(WALTHAM, Mass.) -- Antiretroviral drugs given as treatment of HIV/AIDS could prevent HIV infection if taken before exposure to the virus, according to a new study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study offered the first indication of an oral method to prevent the spread of HIV among those at high risk.

"We've known for some time that correct and consistent condom use is the best way to prevent transmission," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an arm of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, which partly funded the study. "We have had frustration all along in behavior modification programs -- getting people to use condoms, getting people to reduce the number of sexual partners."

Surpisingly, study participants who used the new oral method, called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, reported a higher compliance with other HIV prevention methods such as condom use, and also reported a decrease in the number of sexual partners, Fauci said.

The study, called iPrEx, which began in June 2007, followed 2,499 men and transgendered women from six countries, including the U.S., who engaged in sexual intercourse with other men and were categorized as high risk for HIV infection.  Participants were randomized to either receive a combination antiretroviral drug commonly known as Truvada or a placebo.

Participants assigned to Truvada who reported taking the pills about half of the time they were prescribed had about a 50 percent lower risk of HIV infection.  Those who reported taking the medication about 90 percent of the time had a 73 percent lower risk of infection.

Although the study was limited to one type of high-risk group, other PrEP studies are looking at other groups at risk for transmission, including heterosexual couples and intravenous drug users. Researchers also plan to conduct a follow up study to iPrEx beginning 2011.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


AHA: Deaths Caused by Congenital Heart Defects Continue to Decline

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(DALLAS) -- Congenital heart defects were the underlying cause of 27,960 deaths in the U.S., based on data from death certificates.

But new research findings say the U.S. death rate from congenital heart defects dropped 24 percent from 1999 to 2006, according to a report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers in the study found it difficult to determine the reason for the decline, but suspect the advancements in technology and better medical care for infants and children with heart defects may play a role.

The report stated that most deaths (48 percent) caused by congenital heart defects were among infants and children.  As more children survive into adulthood with these heart defects, they are often switching from pediatric cardiologists to adult specialists.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Defibrillators Can Be Recycled after Resterilizaton, Researchers Say

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Researchers have recently discovered that implantable cardioverter defibrillators can be removed from patients no longer needing them and reimplanted into other patients, provided that they have sufficient battery life, according to MedPage Today.

A recent test resulted in a 35-percent success rate in the procedure, reported Dr. Behzad Pavri of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia at an American Heart Association meeting.

To date, infectious complications from the procedure, which requires that patient data be erased from the devices before sterilization and repackaging, have not been reported. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


States Battle with Federal Government on Health Care

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At a time when Medicaid enrollment is on a steady rise and the economy remains weak, health care has also unearthed old tensions between states and the federal government that lie at the heart of the health care debate.

The expansion of the Medicaid program under the new health care law, and additional measures like the requirement that every American must carry health insurance and states must set up health insurance exchanges -- where the uninsured would be able to shop for coverage and compare rates -- have aroused rebellion from states.

Twenty states have filed a joint lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services, challenging the constitutionality of the provision that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014.

The feud over health care between states and Washington is not new. It has existed since the program was created in 1965, but the current partisan climate in which political jockeying is on the rise just further exacerbates that tension.

"This is not exactly a new issue when states feel fiscally pressed," said Gail Wilensky, an economist and a senior fellow at Project Hope, an international health education foundation.

Medicaid has been particularly hard hit by the budget crisis and the weak economy. Spending on Medicaid rose an average of 8.8 percent this year, the highest rate of growth in eight years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The federal stimulus program gave some relief to states, providing roughly $87 billion in October 2008.

Under the new health care law, the federal government will provide funding to expand Medicaid to Americans whose incomes are at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty line.

But that has done little to appease states, many of which say the new law will increase their costs in the long-term even though it expands coverage to more citizens.

The blame game is likely to continue in an issue that is growing increasingly complex, experts say.

"There's not an easy villain," said William Roper, dean of the school of public health at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We as Americans want people to be covered by health insurance and get health services that they need, but we have a much greater appetite for public services than we have an appetite for the taxes that pay for them and that has produced over years -- and more recently over the last few years -- a gigantic budget deficit."

"The greater challenge for states right now is how can we give people everything and stay solvent and do what the federal government wants," said Sreedhar Potarazu, an ophthalmologist and chief executive of Vital Spring Technologies. "States are on the verge of going over the cliff and health care is the last straw."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Synthetic Marijuana: New 'Legal' Drug with Scary Consequences

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Young people across the country are getting a new high from a powerful substance that isn't sold by drug dealers and is perfectly legal -- synthetic marijuana. Also known as K2 or Spice, synthetic marijuana is available in states across the country, and it has the Drug Enforcement Administration deeply troubled.

Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of common herbs sprayed with synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana. A disclaimer on the packages stating that it is not for human consumption allows the substance to remain on store shelves.

In 12 states, its sale has been banned by legislatures.

In the past year, there have been over 500 cases of adverse reactions to synthetic marijuana across the country, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The number has risen exponentially, with the organization only citing 6 reported incidents from the year before.

"You're basically playing Russian roulette with these chemicals," said Gary Boggs, a special agent with the DEA. "Hallucination, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure...these chemicals appear to bind to certain parts of the brain, so the potential for long-term effects are very deadly."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


New Ad 'Demands' Mercury-Free Flu Vaccine

Photo Courtesy- Getty Images(HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.) -- If you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, the vaccine safety organization SafeMinds has a message for you.

A new video campaign, running with other previews in movie theaters around nine cities nationwide beginning the day after Thanksgiving, will urge viewers -- especially pregnant mothers and children -- to "demand" your doctor give you a mercury-free flu vaccine this year.

The video features Lyn Redwood, executive director of SafeMinds, who warns that many flu vaccines contain mercury, suggested by the organization to be a potential toxin linked to neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.

"Don't take the risk. Demand mercury-free flu shots," Redwood says in the video.

The public service announcement is one of the largest campaigns launched by SafeMinds yet.  The group estimates it will be viewed by more than half a million moviegoers.  But the message has many experts bracing for another turn on the vaccine-safety merry-go-round.

"I don't look at it as a PSA but as a PDA -- a public disservice announcement," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Multi-dose vials of flu vaccines, which contain about ten flu shots in one vial, are the most common type of vaccine manufactured for public use.  Thimerosal, a compound that contains mercury, is used to preserve the vaccine.  However, vials that contain only a single dose of the flu shot, along with the nasal spray vaccine, are manufactured without thimerosal.  Those, according to SafeMinds, are the type of vaccines consumers should demand.

But many manufacturers don't make enough, and many local pharmacies and doctors' offices may not carry single-dose vaccines.  Some experts say they fear that consumers who will have to request and wait for the special order if providers will place them, may choose not to get vaccinated at all.

But according to SafeMinds executive director Redwood, the more people ask for thimerosal-free vaccines, the more likely doctors will keep them in stock.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Infants' ER Visits Have Dropped Since Removal of Cough, Cold Meds

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The decision to pull cough and cold medicines for young children off store shelves in 2007 has led to a drop in emergency room visits for reactions to the drugs, according to a new study.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention examined ER visits in children younger than two at more than 60 hospitals and found that runs to emergency rooms in relation to cough and cold medicines have been cut by more than half since they were removed from store shelves.

The study also found that although visits for cold medicine overdose dropped, they are still occurring, mostly by young kids who swallow the medicine without their parents' supervision.

Manufacturers voluntarily removed cough and cold medicines for children under two three years ago after pediatricians complained they didn't work and posed a risk of accidental overdose.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Cholesterol Drug May Reduce Heart Attack Risk in Kidney Patients

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J.) -- A new study suggests Merck's cholesterol drug Vytorin, which is a combination of Zetia and Zocor, or simvastatin, may reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular problems in kidney patients.

The drug was compared with a placebo and in the trial reduced first major incidence of stroke or heart attack by what experts call a statistically significant 16.1 percent.

The New Jersey-based company says because of the Study of Heart and Renal Protection, or "Sharp" investigation, it will seek regulatory approval for use of the drug in this way.  Vytorin is now on the market as a "bad cholesterol" reducing medication.

The Oxford University research involved more than 9,000 patients who had advanced to chronic or end-stage kidney disease, and many were on dialysis.  Kidney patients have an increased risk of heart failure or stroke.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Hope for Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers

Image Courtesy - Getty Images(BEIJING) -- Researchers at China's Peking University may have found new hope for people who suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Experiments have shown that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from umbilical cord blood can suppress inflammation.  The research, described in BioMed Central's open access journal, Arthritis Research and Therapy, has been done in vitro and on animals.

Experts say there is very little known about MSCs but they are believed to exert profound immunosuppression.  That could mean they are very beneficial for those with autoimmune diseases such as RA.

Researchers at Peking University took immune cells from RA patients and found that the umbilical MSCs were able to suppress the cells' growth, invasive behavior and inflammatory responses.  The doctors say because RA places such a burden on health care systems nationwide and causes so much pain for patients, a dramatic new treatment could mean major improvements in dealing with the disease.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


New Blood Pressure Treatment Shows Promise

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- A new treatment for high blood pressure may be emerging and it doesn't involve a row of pill bottles on your kitchen counter.

Doctors at the American Heart Association conference in Chicago are looking at the treatment, which uses radio waves to target nerves that raise blood pressure. The waves damage the nerves, which leads to permanent relaxation of the arteries involved. Those nerves are located near the kidneys and are accessed through a tube fed through the groin.

A small study, involving about 100 patients, found the procedure led to a 33-point drop in the top number of the blood pressure reading.  That's considered much better than the 10-point or less reduction common with pills.

Cardiologist Elliot Antman said even if the procedure doesn't always work as well as the study suggests, it is still a "dramatic new option" for people at risk of heart attacks, strokes and death, who are not being helped by drugs.

It was approved two years ago overseas but further study is needed before U.S. approval could be granted.  That study is scheduled to begin next year.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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