Health Highlights: June 2, 2011
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
New Strain of E. Coli May Have Triggered Outbreak: WHO
The E. coli bacteria outbreak in Europe that has killed 18 people and made hundreds more ill appears to be a new, unusually severe strain, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
"This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before," Hilde Kruse, an expert on food safety at the WHO, told the Associated Press. She said it has "various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing" than the numerous E. coli strains that people normally live with in their bodies.
As of Thursday morning, the bacteria had infected more than 1,500 people, mostly German residents or people who had traveled recently to Germany, setting off widespread panic throughout Europe. Almost one-third of the patients suffered a severe and potentially fatal kidney complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome.
The source of the outbreak remains a mystery, but German health officials have advised consumers to avoid eating cucumbers, lettuce or raw tomatoes.
Early research suggests that the new lethal strain evolved from two different E. coli bacteria with aggressive genes. "There's a lot of mobility in the microbial world," Kruse told the AP, explaining it's not unusual for bacterial strains from humans and animals to mutate.
Unlike other E. coli outbreaks, this seems to hit adults harder than children and the elderly.
Clot Risk Spurs FDA Review of Birth Control Pills
U.S. regulators will assess the safety of Bayer birth control pills as a result of two new studies suggesting they pose a higher-than-expected risk of serious blood clots.
Expressing concerns about the hormone drospirenone -- found in Bayer's Yaz, Yasmin, Beyaz and Safyral products -- the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Tuesday it has commissioned an 800,000-person study to review the risks . Drospirenone is a type of progestin used in combination with another female hormone, estrogen.
Women taking the drospirenone-containing birth control pills had a two to three times greater risk of blood clots compared with women taking pills containing a different type of progestin, according to the studies published in BMJ, the FDA said. Because other studies have had conflicting results, the agency said it wants to conduct its own review. It expects to have the results this summer.
All birth control pills carry some clotting risk. Symptoms include leg or chest pain or sudden shortness of breath. Women with concerns should talk to their doctor, the FDA said.
In Europe last week, regulators announced they would update the contraceptives' prescribing information to include the new findings.
Bayer's analysis of the overall body of available scientific evidence continues to support its current assessment about the safety of its oral contraceptives, Bayer said in a statement, according to Boomberg News.
Hospitals Facing More Drug Shortages
Medication shortages in the United States tripled over the past five years, reaching a high of 211 last year and delaying or altering treatment for illnesses such as cancer, infertility and heart attack, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
"It's just a matter of time now before we call for a drug that we need to save a patient's life and we find out there isn't any," Dr. Eric Lavonas of the American College of Emergency Physicians told the AP.
The problem is getting worse, experts said. In the first three months of this year, 89 shortages occurred, with injectable medications used in emergency rooms, cancer treatment and intensive care units most often in short supply, according to the University of Utah's Drug Information Service, which tracks drug availability for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Causes of the shortage include difficulty importing raw materials, increased demand, and recalls of contaminated products. Also, fewer pharmaceutical companies make the cheaper, older generic drugs, especially the injectable ones, leaving fewer drug makers available to fill any gaps, Valerie Jensen, who heads the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's shortage office, told the AP.
A shortage of a sedative used for executions has been widely publicized, but other drugs in short supply include: injectable nutrients needed by some premature babies and critically ill patients; thiotepa, used for bone marrow transplantation; norepinephrine injections for septic shock; the cystic fibrosis drug acetylcysteine; injections for certain types of cardiac arrest; and leuprolide hormone injections used to treat infertility, the news service said.