Health Highlights: April 28, 2010

By on April 28, 2010

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

Many Pet Owners Discuss Troubles With Pets: Survey

About one in 10 pet owners in the United States would confide in a pet, finds an Associated Press-Petside.com poll.

The survey of 1,112 pet owners nationwide also found that one-third of pet-owning married women and 18 percent of pet-owning married men said their pets are better listeners than their spouses.

Respondents were more likely to unburden on dogs than cats. While 25 percent of dog owners said Fido listened better than a spouse, only 14 percent of cat owners said the same thing, the AP reported.

The poll also found that only 5 percent of pet owners said they had taken a pet to a veterinarian or animal psychologist because the pet seemed depressed. However, 18 percent said they were at least somewhat likely to take a pet to a vet or animal psychologist if it seemed unhappy.

“Pets are great because they provide us with unconditional support. They never talk back, never give us the wrong opinion and they are always there for us,” Karen Sueda,
a Los Angeles veterinarian and pet psychologist, told the AP.

“As much as we love our spouses or significant others, sometimes they are not there, sometimes they have their own thoughts about how we should deal with situations. And sometimes, especially when it’s a husband or male significant other, they want to solve the problem rather than just listening to the problem,” she said.

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No Toys With Unhealthy Children’s Meals: California County Officials

Officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., voted Tuesday to forbid fast-food restaurants from offering promotional toys with children’s meals if those meals don’t meet nutritional standards set by the federal Institute of Medicine.

The new law would level “the playing field by taking away the incentive to choose fatty, sugary foods over healthier options,” Ken Yeager, president of the board of supervisors in Santa Clara County, told The New York Times.

“What we’re trying to do is de-link the connection between unhealthy food and toys,” he explained.

The law, the first of its kind in the United States, was passed by the board in a 3-2 vote and will take effect this summer after a final vote in May, The Times reported.

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China Lifts Ban on HIV-Positive Visitors

A two-decade ban on visitors who are HIV-positive or have other sexually transmitted diseases has been lifted by China. The country also removed a longstanding ban on visitors with leprosy.

The changes, which took effect April 24, come just as travelers begin arriving for Shanghai’s world exposition, The New York Times reported.

Bans on travel to China remain in place for people with infectious tuberculosis, serious mental disorders and “infectious diseases which could possibly greatly harm the public health.”

Early this year, the U.S. government rescinded a 22-year-old ban on visitors who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In announcing the policy change, President Obama said he was eliminating a restriction that was “rooted in fear rather than fact,” The Times reported.

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Drug Giant AstraZeneca to Pay $520 Million Over Claims of Illegal Marketing of Antipsychotic

To settle government claims that it marketed the antipsychotic Seroquel to pediatric and elderly patients illegally, AstraZeneca is to pay about $520 million in fines, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Seroquel is approved to treat schizophrenia in patients older than 13, and bipolar disorder in patients older than 10, according to the AP.

However, the U.S. Drug and Food Administration charged that the pharmaceutical giant marketed Seroquel for a variety of illnesses it had never been tested for, including aggression, Alzheimer’s, anger management, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dementia, depression, mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeplessness. It was given to the elderly, children, veterans and inmates, allegedly through kickbacks to doctors, according to the wire service.

The federal government will get $302 million, and states will receive up to $218 million, the AP reported. Other lawsuits have been filed over Seroquel, one of AstraZeneca’s top sellers.

“These were not victimless crimes — illegal acts by pharmaceutical companies and false claims against Medicare and Medicaid can put the public health at risk, corrupt medical decisions by health care providers, and take billions of dollars directly out of taxpayers’ pockets,” Attorney General Eric Holder said during a Tuesday news conference announcing the settlement.

Although the company has denied the charges, AstraZeneca general counsel Glenn Engelmann said in a statement that resolving the case was “in the best interest” of the company.

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FDA Announces Medical Device Committee Changes

Changes in how medical device advisory committees review and discuss data and information at public meetings will take effect May 1, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The goal is to improve discussion and flow of information during meetings of the committees, which make recommendations about whether the FDA should approve new medical devices.

“These changes are expected to empower the agency to make more effective decisions that are informed by more clear and focused discussion by panel experts,” Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a news release.

Voting procedures are a major area where changes are being made, the agency said. The committees will now vote on the safety and effectiveness of a device and on its risks versus benefits.

“By making this change in voting procedure, panel members will address key scientific issues during their discussions, which will be reflected in their votes,” Shuren said. “The change also will allow panel members to address issues related to their area of expertise instead of regulatory issues that may be unfamiliar to them.”

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