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Website Provides Needed Support for Those Suffering from Mouth, Throat, and Other Cancers of the Head and Neck

As reported on the Medical News Today website, the Mouth Cancer Foundation is a charity dedicated to supporting people with mouth, throat and other head and neck cancer.

Newsiferno.com believes this is a worthy mission and so we would like to assist in disseminating the information concerning this vital service to those facing the crisis of cancer.

The goal of the Foundation is to help relieve sickness and promote and protect good health among those suffering or at risk of mouth, throat, and other head and neck cancer by collating and disseminating relevant information and by the providing support to patients, care givers, and health professionals.  

The Mouth Cancer Foundation’s website (http://www.mouthcancerfoundation.org) presently gets over 45,000 visits from over 29,900 sites. In May it received over 1.35 million hits.

The Mouth Cancer Foundation’s website is the UK’s premier website for head and neck cancer with easy access to free information on mouth cancers for patients, care givers, and health professionals. It also offers an online support group at http://chat.mouthcancerfoundation.org

Federal Prosecutors Investigating Home Depotís Handling of Hazardous Waste

Home Depot, Inc., the largest home improvement store chain in the U.S., has apparently gotten the attention of the Justice Department with respect to its handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste, according to news releases in BusinessWeek.com and The Associated Press/Atlanta.

In a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Atlanta-based retailer with 1,955 stores in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada revealed that federal prosecutors in California have issued a grand jury subpoena for company documents and information concerning the issue of hazardous waste.

The filing played down the possible impact of the inquiry stating that it did “not expect that these investigations will have a material adverse effect of the company’s operating results or financial condition.”

Except for a brief statement by the company that the probe has to do with its environmental practices, further details have not been disclosed either by Home Depot or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, which declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.    

Home Depot has stated that it is “cooperating fully” with the authorities and that its “corporate-wide compliance program” includes adherence “to all environmental-related laws and regulations.”

Evidence that Police Stun Guns Can Kill Mounts As Chicago Medical Examiner Rules Death Was Caused by Taser

A non-lethal weapon becomes a problem when it starts killing people. Many experts and critics of the Taser stun gun believe that time has long since passed.  

For example, using a number of sources, The Arizona Republic has compiled a list of 140 cases in the United States and Canada since 1999 where a death followed the use of a Taser stun gun. http://www.azcentral.com/specials/taser/#

The sources used included autopsy reports, computer searches, police reports, media accounts, and Taser International’s own records. To date, the research indicates that medical examiners have cited the Taser to some extent in 18 deaths. In four cases it was a cause of death, in 10 it was a contributing factor, and in four it could not be ruled out as a cause of death.  

This, however, seems to be just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to Taser International’s mounting problems with respect to its approximately 100,000 stun guns now being used by some 7,000 U.S. law-enforcement agencies.

Despite the company’s spirited defense of its product, Taser International’s stock has continued to fall from $33.45 in December 2004 to $9.72 on Friday, a decline of over 70%.

From the very beginning, many experts questioned the safety of the 50,000 volt “non-lethal” weapon. A lack of adequate testing and independent medical evidence supporting the company’s bold marketing claims have been cited by such diverse critics as Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a consulting electrical engineer as reasons for removing the stun guns from the market until more extensive testing is done especially with respect to how the device affects pregnant women, people on drugs, or those with heart conditions.

Even the International Association of Chiefs of Police have suggested that further testing is needed. The organization advocates using the device only to subdue violent suspects; not to use it on handcuffed persons unless they are “overly assaultive;” to use it the least number of times; and to seek medical attention for anyone who has been shocked.

In addition, all types of Taser-related lawsuits abound. Personal injury and death claims have been commenced in a number of states. In March of this year, Mesa, Arizona, settled a claim by a 43-year-old man who fell out of a tree after being shocked twice with a Taser by a city police officer. The City paid $2.2 million to the man who became a quadriplegic and another $200,000 to the hospital where he was treated.

A class-action lawsuit was commenced only last week in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the city of Dolton, Illinois, on behalf of police departments across the country for being misled about the safety of the Taser and for leaving the police with weapons that are too dangerous to use on the street.

The law firm representing the city of Dolton claims to have already been retained by other police departments in four states. Paul Geller, an attorney from that firm, states that the law suit would be dropped if Taser would agree to take back the stun guns.

The potential for huge personal injury and death claims have left many municipalities rethinking their purchase of Tasers. Some police forces like those in Birmingham and Lucas County (Ohio) have either stopped issuing the weapons or have pulled them of the street altogether. Other cities like Chicago have backed off making additional purchases.

The mayor of Birmingham ordered police to stop using Tasers after the death of an inmate who had been shocked with a Taser several hours before he died.

The mayor of Dolton, which suspended their use, calls his city’s purchase of Tasers “a mistake” because “they need far more testing.” He went on to say that losing the money his city paid for the Tasers was far less than the financial risk posed by even one wrongful-death lawsuit.

On January 6, 2005 Taser officials disclosed that federal authorities had launched an inquiry into claims made by the company with respect to its safety studies. The Securities and Exchange Commission was also probing an end-of-year sale which appeared to inflate sales in order to meet annual projections.  

In May, The Arizona Republic also reported that “Taser International was deeply involved in a Department of Defense study that company officials touted to police departments and investors as ‘independent’ proof of the stun gun’s safety…This information is surfacing at a time when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Arizona attorney general are pursuing inquiries into safety claims that the Scottsdale firm has made.”

On July 17, the Associated Press reported a Texas man died after being shocked between three and six times with a Taser by an off-duty police officer who was acting as a security guard. The man’s wife said she was suing Taser International because her husband “didn’t deserve the death penalty.” It appears the men had done little more than trespass on private property and confront the officer who had chased him.

The report went on to state: “In the past nine months, at least six people in Texas including three in Fort Worth  have died after authorities shocked them with a Taser gun.”

On Wednesday of this past week, a prisoner being held in a Queens, New York, police station died after being shocked with a Taser.    

Finally, only yesterday, several news sources reported that the Cook County (Chicago, Illinois) Medical Examiner had ruled the February 10 death of an agitated 54-year-old man was caused by being shocked excessively with a Taser.

The finding indicated that the 57-second shock was sufficient, in and of itself, to have killed the man. Why such a long shock (ten times the usual amount) was administered has not been explained.

Although the Chicago police force will continue to use the Tasers they already have, an order for additional units was suspended.

Taser has vigorously defended its stun guns in every situation where it has been linked to an injury or death. The company continues to maintain that Tasers are non-lethal and that all of the reports regarding deaths and injuries associated with the device are baseless and can be explained       
away on the basis of other causes.

A recent training bulletin issued by Taser, however, advised police that “repeated, prolonged, and/or continuous exposures to the Taser may cause strong muscle contractions that may impair breathing and respiration, particularly when the probes are placed across the chest or diaphragm.”    

While Taser International’s position can be understood in terms of corporate self-preservation, it appears as if its stun gun is little more than a cat that is rapidly running out of lives. Only so many deaths and injuries can be explained away as coincidences or attempts to sully the name of a good product. 

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Sportcraft Ltd. Announce Recall of 12,000 Treadmills for Fall Risk

The CPSC, in cooperation with and Sportcraft Ltd. of Mt. Olive, New Jersey, has announced the recall of 12,000 Tredex 6.0, TX 440 and TX 550 Treadmills manufactured in China and Taiwan.  Consumers should stop using the recalled products immediately.

The treadmill can unexpectedly accelerate and cause users to fall and sustain injuries.
Sportcraft has received 110 reports of unexpected acceleration, 14 of which resulted in minor injuries, including sprains and bruises.

This recall includes Sportcraft Tredex 6.0, TX 440 and TX 550 treadmills. These 155- to 170-pound motorized treadmills are gray in color and can be folded upright for storage.

The name “Sportcraft” and product identification of “Tredex 6.0”, “TX 440” or “TX 550” are printed on the control console of the treadmill.

The treadmills were sold at discount department and other retail stores nationwide from December 2002 through April 2005 for between $350 and $600.

Consumers should stop using the recalled treadmills immediately and contact Sportcraft to receive a free repair kit.

For additional information, contact Sportcraft at (800) 526-0244 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at www.sportcraft.com.

Death Toll Continues to Rise from Mysterious Outbreak of Pig-Borne Disease in China

Only three days ago the first news came out of China that a mysterious flu-like illness had stricken some 58 farmers and killed 17 in the southwestern part of the country. The symptoms exhibited b the victims included high fever, fatigue, nausea, hemorrhaging, and vomiting followed by coma and bruises under the skin.

Only 2 of the original 58 affected had recovered while 12 remained in critical and 27 in stable condition. Medical experts had not seen any evidence that the illness was spreading or signs of an epidemic.

The cause of the illness was a mystery although it seemed clear that all of the cases were associated with the butchering of sick pigs or sheep. Because of this factor, health officials suspected some type of bacterial infection is involved. One possibility being considered was that the illness may be caused by streptococcus suis (S suis), a bacteria typically spread by pigs.

Soon, however, the number of deaths jumped to 24 and then to 31, while the number of confirmed cases of the illness climbed to 152. There are now 27 people in critical condition. Only seven patients have been released.

While it still appears that the disease is confined to those who handled or touched sick or dead pigs, and may very well be S suis as originally suspected, health officials and infectious disease experts are puzzled by the size of the outbreak.

In the past, S suis outbreaks in humans have been very small. In addition, only people who had contact with infected animals and had open wounds seemed to have been affected. People who ate the pork have not gotten sick.

The size of the outbreak may mean that the S suis bacterium may have mutated into a more virulent form. The number of victims, however, may indicate that another cause is involved.  Between 1968, when the first recorded cases occurred in Denmark, and now, only about 200 cases of S suis had been reported.

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture is reporting that a vaccine should be available and rushed to the affected area within a week.  At present, China’s Health Minister has told the media that the “epidemic is…under control.” No human-to-human transmissions have been reported.

Burn Risk Prompts the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and The Holmes Group to Expand Recall of Slow Cookers to 2.6 Million Units

The CPSC, in cooperation with The Holmes Group of Milford, Massachusetts, has announced the recall of approximately 2.6 million Rival® Slow Cookers manufactured in China. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately.

The handles on the base of the slow cookers can break, posing a risk of burns from hot contents spilling onto consumers. These Rival® Slow Cookers, sold from January 1999 through May 2002, were previously recalled for the same hazard. The recall has now been expanded to include all units manufactured before September 2004.
CPSC has received a total of 126 reports of handles breaking, including 33 reports of consumers who reported burn injuries from the hot contents of these slow cookers.

The recall includes Rival® Crock-Pot® slow cookers with model numbers 3040, 3735, 5025, 5070, and 5445. The model number is printed on the UL label located on the bottom of the base.

The recalled Rival® slow cooker has a removable ceramic bowl that sits inside of a metal base. The Rival® logo is printed on the front of the unit above the control knob. The bases are round or oval shaped and were sold in various colors and designs.

A date code is stamped on the side of one prong of the power plug. The first two digits represent the week of manufacture and the last two digits represent the year of manufacture. Any plug with a date code from 0199 (1st week of 1999) to 3504 (35th week of 2004) is included in this recall or the previous recall.

The recalled items were sold at Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, and additional discount department stores nationwide from January 1999 through May 2005 for between $15 and $40.

Consumers should immediately stop using the product and contact The Holmes Group to receive instructions on receiving a replacement base.

For additional information visit The Holmes Group’s Web site at www.rivalrecall.com or call (800) 299-1284 anytime.

Merck Suffers Another Vioxx-Related Blow as New Jersey Judge Certifies Class-Action to Recover Billions of Dollars Under Consumer Fraud Act

Just when Merck & Co. officials (and shareholders) thought the company’s Vioxx-related problems could not get worse; they got worse.

A New Jersey state court has ruled that a massive nationwide class-action may proceed under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The plaintiffs will be health plans that paid pharmacies or reimbursed their members for Vioxx prescriptions.

The allegation is that the health plans would not have covered Vioxx prescriptions had Merck not withheld data concerning the increased risk of heart-related problems associated with the drug which ultimately led to its being abruptly withdrawn from the market in September 2004.

Moreover, Vioxx cost many times as much as older medications which were shown to be equally effective. Even the original claim that Vioxx (and the other Cox-2 inhibitors) was gentler on the stomach than existing painkillers proved to be of minimal validity. Thus, the health plans could just as easily have required members to take the far less expensive and safer alternative medications.

Under New Jersey law the damages could be in the billions of dollars since the attorneys for the union health plan will automatically represent all third-parties nationwide (except for government agencies) who may have been harmed by Merck’s conduct and treble (triple) damages are possible under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

 Merck has taken the position that the lawsuit is not a proper one for class-action certification since each prescription must be considered separately and because consumer protection laws vary widely from state to state. The company plans a vigorous defense.

Presently, the federal government is discussing a possible settlement of a similar claim against Merck on behalf of a number of agencies. If those talks fall through, however, the government has indicated it, too, may sue Merck for the cost of Vioxx reimbursement to its employees.

U.N. Classifies Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) as ìCarcinogenicî

A newsinferno.com Special Report on HRT

After years of research, analysis, and debate, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.N.’s cancer research agency, has reclassified HRT from “possibly carcinogenic” to “carcinogenic.”

The panel of 21 scientists concluded that the evidence from several recent studies was consistent and reliable enough to link HRT to breast cancer thereby fully justifying the reclassification. The normal risk of a woman (not on HRT) developing breast cancer is slightly more than 14%. Long-term use of HRT raises that risk to almost 17%.

The panel also concluded that HRT slightly increases the risk of endometrial cancer when progestin is taken fewer than 10 times per month.

While most experts agree with these conclusions and see no real departure from what was already generally accepted with respect to HRT, the panels finding that a common form of birth control pill was linked to a slightly increased risk of certain cancers was met with skepticism by many doctors.  

HRT has been a long-standing and widely accepted treatment for women experiencing some of the more uncomfortable effects of menopause. In the past few years, however, this popular therapy has come under fire as a result of evidence linking HRT to many serious health risks.

A number of studies suggest that women undergoing HRT are exposing themselves to long-term harm that far outweighs the severity of the symptoms being treated.

For some women, HRT might consist of an estrogen-only treatment while others are given a combination of estrogen and progestin. This latter option is slightly less common but is still a popular solution to menopausal discomfort. Both types of HRT are used by an estimated 13.5 million women in the United States alone.

HRT has been around since the early 1940s when women began taking high doses of estrogen to counteract many of the temporary, but recurring, discomforts of menopause. In the 1970s, however, it was discovered that this particular form of estrogen therapy created an unacceptably high risk of uterine cancer. This prompted the trend by doctors to prescribe progestin along with significantly lower doses of estrogen.

Recent studies now show that there are too many health risks associated with HRT to justify its being used automatically as a “cookie cutter” treatment of choice or as if it were a woman’s only available option.
Women should consult their physicians to discover whether HRT would be a benefit or a detriment given their own particular circumstances. While HRT undoubtedly alleviates a number of menopausal symptoms in many women, for some, the cost of that immediate relief may include unwanted long-term effects.

Prempro and Premarin:

Prempro and Premarin are the two major HRT drugs. Both are manufactured by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Prempro is a combination estrogen-progestin treatment and Premarin is an estrogen-only treatment. There are approximately 6 million women taking Prempro and 11 million women taking Premarin. In 2003, the two drugs had combined sales of $2.1 billion.

Although Premarin, the first HRT drug, was introduced in 1942 for the purpose of alleviating symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, a study in the Journal of American Medical Association (“JAMA”) has linked it to ovarian cancer.

Prempro, on the other hand, has been linked to various serious side effects including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, blood clots, pulmonary embolisms, lupus, heart attack, and breast cancer.

Women taking Prempro have a 29% higher risk of heart attack, a 41% higher risk of stroke, and a 26% higher risk of breast cancer. Those figures alone should prompt women to consult their physicians regarding alternative treatments or methods of treatment. This is especially so for women who experience only minor symptoms of menopause such as vaginal dryness for which respond to alternative treatments such as creams and vitamin E.

The most important thing stressed by researchers and medical professionals alike is that Prempro, Premarin and other HRT drugs should be taken in the smallest dosages (that produce effective results) for the shortest duration as possible.
In addition, women who are only experiencing minor symptoms of menopause might want to forego HRT therapy altogether.
Finally, even women seeking relief from more severe symptoms should do their own benefit/risk analysis by asking questions, reading available reports, and keeping in mind the potential risks associated with HRT.
Harmful Effects of HRT:

As Prempro and Premarin are the two major existing HRT drugs, the following information is primarily related to the usage of one or the other. However, other drugs and treatments may have the same harmful effects.

Dementia:

HRT medications can double the risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, especially in women over 65. Short rather than long-term use is recommended in order to avoid this unwanted side-effect.

This information was first made public in an issue of the Journal of American Medicine released in May of 2003. The Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, which was funded by Wyeth, analyzed data from about 4,500 women, aged 65, who had not been diagnosed with dementia before the study.

During the five-year study, each woman took Prempro daily. The results found that of the 61 women who developed dementia, 40 (66%) had been given the hormones while only 21 (34%) had taken the placebo.

Another study published at the same time revealed that, in addition to the increased risk of dementia, HRT may have harmful effects on the general cognitive function of older women leading to mild memory loss amongst other things.

While these increased risks are numerically small, they do represent a significant increase in the percentage involved. (Obviously, 19 additional cases of dementia in 4,500 participants [40 to 19] is a small “number” but it does represent almost a 50% differential [66% to 34%]).

Thus, this particular increased risk should be taken seriously and a physician should be consulted by any woman planning to begin HRT or already undergoing HRT and experiencing any symptom of this side-effect.

Heart Attack:

Combination therapy consisting of estrogen and progestin, such as Prempro, has now been linked to an increased heart attack risk of up to 81% in the first year of treatment.

One possibility for this newly discovered heart attack risk is that HRT might cause more rapid clotting and therefore, a woman with one or more narrowed blood vessels would be at risk if there was a sudden clotting of the blood in those constricted areas.

While it was previously believed that combination estrogen-progestin drugs could actually prevent heart attack, a recent study found that hormones do not slow the clogging of arteries. In fact, all women who take hormones appear to be at a higher risk for heart attack.

The Women’s Health Initiative (“WHI”), a federally sponsored organization, conducted a study to determine the risks associated with HRT. (The study was actually abruptly aborted in 2002 as too many women were being put in harm’s way and experiencing a variety of severe side-effects such as heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer.)

Of the 16,608 women who participated in the study, there were 190 incidents of heart attack and 39 fatalities among the group given Prempro. The placebo group had 148 heart attacks and 34 fatalities.

Again, the numerical increase in the risk does not seem so great. However, the overall percentage increase in the heart attack risk is about 30% which is significant enough to be taken into account when making the decision about HRT.

Many experts believe the discovery of this increased heart attack risk should prompt doctors to be more careful about whom they are placing on HRT therapy. Healthy, middle-aged women are the ideal candidates for drugs like Prempro as they are not usually at an increased risk for heart attack before beginning treatment.

Women who are already at greater risk, including those with high cholesterol or those with a personal or family history of cardiac problems are not good candidates for HRT. It should be remembered, however, that the increased risk applies to all women.

Breast Cancer:

Estrogen-progestin pills such as Prempro are now being linked to an aggressive form of breast cancer. The WHI study was responsible for discovering crucial information regarding this dangerous risk.

Of the 16,608 women in the study ranging from ages 50-79, breast cancer developed in 245 women who used estrogen-progestin pills and 185 women in the placebo group.

Collectively, the women on hormones had larger tumors which began to spread to nearby tissue and distant parts of the body in about 25% of hormone users with cancer as opposed to only 16% of the women with cancer in the placebo group. Tumors may also grow at a faster rate in women taking hormones.

A similar longitudinal study conducted in Britain concluded that women who were receiving HRT had a greater risk of developing breast cancer in comparison to women not receiving therapy. The study involved 1 million women between the ages of 50 and 64.

Those who took the hormones demonstrated a 66% greater risk of developing breast cancer and a 22% greater risk of dying from it within 6 years. Women who took estrogen alone had only a 30% increased risk of developing breast cancer leading some experts to conclude that the original (estrogen only) option is a safer one despite the fact that it, too, has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.

The researchers determined that, over a decade, HRT would be responsible for 10,000 extra cases of breast cancer in England and an extra 100,000 cases in the United States among menopausal women ages 50-64.

Yet another study conducted in Sweden concluded that women who were receiving HRT were more prone to new and recurring cancer. This study was also stopped due to the unacceptably dangerous risks posed to the 345 women participating in the study.

Perhaps the most dangerous risk regarding HRT and breast cancer is the newfound risk of inaccurate and abnormal mammograms.

Out of the estimated 3 million women on HRT in the United States, about 120,000, or 4%, could experience abnormal mammograms related to the HRT.

Combined HRT, such as Prempro, causes the breast tissue to increase in density thereby making it more difficult to obtain a clear and accurate mammogram. In cases where there is a delay in detecting the cancer treatment, options are more limited and the prognosis is less favorable.

In an editorial from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Peter H. Gann and Monica Morrow summed up this disturbing finding by stating: “The ability of combined hormone therapy to decrease mammographic sensitivity creates an almost unique situation in which an agent increases the risk of developing a disease while simultaneously delaying its detection.”

Note: Ovarian and uterine cancers have also been linked to HRT even though it was previously thought that hormones would help to prevent the onset of such cancers.

Herbal Remedies:

Some women who are skeptical of the pharmaceutical solutions to menopausal symptoms have sought alternate treatments such as herbal remedies. But some herbal hormonal treatments may also increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer for women, especially those with a history or a family history of these cancers.

Herbs such as clover, motherwort, palmetto, and rhodiola can actually have such a powerful estrogenic effect that, just like other HRT treatments, they can cause estrogen-related cancers. Extracts of maca root, cramp bark, and tumeric root can also be harmful if taken in large amounts.

Warnings and Labels:

Due to the mounting evidence suggesting that HRT is not the best option for menopausal women, the FDA and other health advisory groups have issued several warnings and label requirements in order to keep the public informed about the recent developments relating to Prempro, Premarin, and any other estrogen or estrogen-progestin drugs.

In response to the results of various studies, there has been a significant decrease in the number of women taking and asking for conventional HRT treatments.

•    1/09/03: The FDA approved new labels for Wyeth which included an updated warning that explains the increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and breast cancer. The new label emphasizes that the drugs do not prevent heart disease. In addition, doctors were advised to prescribe the lowest dose possible for the shortest amount of time. The FDA’s actions also apply to any product containing estrogen alone or a combination of estrogen-progestin.

•    2/03/03: The head of the American Cancer Society released a statement to the effect that it is “unwise” for women with a history of breast cancer to undergo HRT.

•    1/09/04: The Canadian Cancer Society urged women to avoid estrogen-progestin therapy since it causes an increased risk of breast cancer, especially when used over an extended period of time. They advised women not to take the drug(s) unless they are suffering severe menopausal symptoms and have not responded to any other form of treatment.

•    2/10/04: The FDA proposed that manufacturers of hormone replacement drugs change their warning labels once again to include warnings for dementia and abnormal mammograms. The new labels should also list the approved usages of the drugs and instruct doctors to pursue alternatives with their patients.

•    The number of Australian women using HRT declined rapidly after new information regarding health risks was made public.

•    A 71 year-old woman, along with 15 other women, from Houston, Texas, sued Wyeth claiming that Premarin caused her to develop breast cancer. The suit alleges that, despite the fact that Wyeth knew, or should have known, that Premarin was responsible for the development of estrogen-related cancers; it continues to market the product as a “fountain-of-youth” drug.

•    Ten Ohio women filed a lawsuit in May 2004 against several major pharmaceutical companies three with offices in Cincinnati saying the hormone therapy drugs manufactured by the companies caused their breast cancer and, in one case, a debilitating stroke.

•    July 29, 2005: U.N. cancer agency reclassifies HRT as a carcinogen.

 Conclusion:

In the past few years there has been extensive evidence to suggest that HRT is not the safest option for women over 50 experiencing unpleasant menopausal symptoms. Studies have shown that there are undeniable health risks for women who take estrogen or a combination estrogen-progestin drug on either a short or long-term basis.

Some doctors, however, argue that there is still not enough persuasive evidence from which to conclude what negative effects are linked to short-term use. Nonetheless, there is ample proof to strongly suggest that HRT is a risky treatment for the woes of menopause and that its use should be carefully considered on a case by case basis.

Those women already on HRT should carefully monitor their health and be on the lookout for any possible condition which may be associated with the drugs they are taking. In either situation, women should discuss the pros and cons of HRT with a qualified doctor especially in light of complicating health factors, personal and family medical history, and dosage size and treatment duration.

Presently, there are not many alternatives to HRT with respect to the more severe symptoms of menopause.

In February, 2004, the FDA approved a product manufactured by Solvay Pharmaceuticals called EstroGel. EstroGel is an estrogen gel which is absorbed through the skin of the arm. There are now a few other similar alternatives such as hormones in the form of lotions and skin patches.

Although the FDA has approved these products, it is not certain if these alternatives are any safer than pills.

Perhaps the revelation which most convincingly demonstrates the serious nature of the risks associated with HRT is the early termination of the studies discussed above.

It is a sobering thought indeed that studies to determine the dangers associated with a drug were stopped in mid-course because of the extreme risks posed to the participants in the study itself.

Despite controversial evidence and mounting concerns, HRT is still being used by millions of menopausal women worldwide. The drugs have not been taken off the market and may still be legally prescribed to any woman seeking relief from problems associated with menopause.

Even the U.N. cancer agency said that women should not automatically stop using HRT; a conclusion agreed with by many experts and practicing gynecologists.

Health Officials Say 4,000 Quarantined Animals at Ohio Pet Distributor Will Be Destroyed After Several More Are Found to be Infected with Potentially Deadly Rodent Virus

Last week, a pet distribution center in Ohio, which sends hamsters, gerbils, and mice (“pocket pets”) to stores throughout the east coast of the U.S., was linked to the infected hamster that caused the deaths of three organ transplant recipients in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Now that four more infected hamsters have been found at Mid-South Distributors of Ohio, 4,000 small pets that have been quarantined there will be destroyed according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

An investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first linked Mid-South to the original infected hamster where subsequent testing revealed the presence of the other sick animals.

As we first reported on May 25, health officials linked the deaths of at least six transplant patients to a viral infection known as LCMV (lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus). The virus is carried by approximately 5% of all rodents and is usually spread to humans through contact with infected animals or their feces or urine.
About 2% of the general population has antibodies to the virus which means that those individuals have been exposed at some point in their lives. LCMV usually causes few problems for healthy people.

The results can be quite different (and deadly), however, for those whose immune systems have been compromised by diseases like cancer or AIDS or as a result of taking immune-suppressing drugs designed to prevent organ rejection.  

Two kidneys, a liver, and two lungs taken from a donor in Rhode Island, who died of a stroke, were transplanted into four patients in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Three of the recipients died within weeks of receiving the organs. Tests revealed that a hamster owned by the donor was infected with LCMV.

In December 2003, three organ recipients died in Wisconsin under similar circumstances. Unfortunately, the Wisconsin deaths were not regarded as a public health threat at the time since there was apparently no evidence that the virus was spread from person-to-person. Thus, no public statement was made about the occurrences.

The doctors in the New England cases did not learn about the Wisconsin deaths until it was too late to save at least one of the latest victims. It was not until one of the doctors, Dr. Staci Fischer, contacted the CDC that the connection to LCVM and the organ donor’s infected hamster was made. Dr. Fischer believes that had she had the information earlier; “it would have made a difference for our other patient.”

Although such events are extremely rare, the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state health officials, and medical experts immediately began an investigation into the deadly occurrences and started asking doctors and hospitals to carefully monitor all organ transplant patients and blood transfusion recipients for any unusual illnesses. They also recommended careful testing of all donated organs and blood.

No commercial test exists for LCMV and it is not one of the viruses for which tests are routinely performed on organs.

UK and U.S. Face Increased Risk from Antibiotic-Resistant Tuberculosis

Medical experts and health officials on both sides of the Atlantic are troubled by the emergence and spread of various strains of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis (TB).

In the UK, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is currently battling a potentially fatal strain of TB known as isoniazid-resistant TB which first appeared in north London in 2000. Since that time, some 200 cases of the disease have been reported throughout the UK, although London, with 188, is the real “hot spot.”

According to the HPA, “the failure of patients to complete courses of prescribed antibiotics” has facilitated the spread of isoniazid-resistant TB. Since the treatment regimen lasts six months or more, proper treatment of at-risk groups like the homeless and intravenous drug users is quite problematic thereby increasing the likelihood that the strain will continue spreading.

Incentives and other programs that encourage and reward those who adhere to the lengthy treatment routine are being utilized. These include giving out food vouchers, social service support, and accommodation assistance.

Between 1987 and 2003, London has seen TB cases double to 2,745 thereby accounting for 45%   
of all cases in England and Wales. Sir William Stewart, Chairman of the HPA, states: “The bugs are cleverer than we are. They grow, multiply and mutate more quickly than we can deal with them.

Antibiotics, though still hugely important, are no longer the saviors that they were thought to be in the 1950s.” The overuse by the medical and veterinary professions has contributed to the appearance and spread of new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals and beyond.

Thus, the problem has become a global one with respect to a number of bacteria in general and TB in particular. In the U.S., for example, the groups that were once at greatest risk of developing multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) included HIV patients, prisoners, and the homeless.

Today, however, it is more likely that new cases of the resistant form of the potentially deadly disease will be brought into the country by immigrants who have traveled from areas where there is a “raging pandemic” of TB.

As pointed out above, drug-resistant TB arises when ineffective drugs are prescribed or infected patients stop taking their medication too soon thereby allowing mutant strains of the TB bacteria to multiply.

Once this type of mutant strain arises it is capable of person-to-person transmission. Whereas multidrug-resistant TB had been resistant to 2 or 3 drugs in the past, today’s strains are resistant to 6 to 11 drugs.
A report in the June 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) also reveals that California has the largest concentration of drug-resistant TB cases in the U.S. with 37 in 2004. California has gone from about 20% of the nations total cases in 2001 to an estimated 33% at present.

According to the JAMA report by Dr. Reuben Granich of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of California’s multidrug-resistant cases of TB involve people born outside of the United States.

Dr. Granich believes that the key to controlling the problem lies in caring for immigrants and enhancing TB care overseas and not in closing the borders.

Although the overall number of cases of multidrug-resistant cases of TB has declined by 76% since outbreaks in 1993, California’s total number of cases has “stagnated.” The California Department of Health is concerned with the problem of imported multidrug-resistant TB since immigrants are often poor, frightened, and prone to move frequently.

The 37 California cases in 2004 cost $8.72 million in direct medical costs and contact tracing when you include the 120 people who developed latent infections from them. Normal TB cases can usually be treated in 6 months with about $2,000 of standard antibiotics.

Cases of multidrug-resistant TB can take anywhere from 18 to 36 months to treat. The cost of the often toxic, second-line drugs required can be between $28,000 and $1.2 million per patient.   

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