Health Highlights: April 6, 2010

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

Anti-Psychotics Boost Pneumonia Risk in Elderly: Study

Anti-psychotic drugs are associated with a nearly two-fold increased risk of potentially deadly pneumonia in elderly people, says a Dutch study that included nearly 2,000 patients over age 65.

The increased risk of pneumonia begins soon after the start of treatment, said the researchers. Of the patients with pneumonia, one-quarter died within a month, BBC News reported.

“Clinicians who start treatment with anti-psychotic drugs should closely monitor patients, particularly at the start of therapy and if high doses are given,” wrote the researchers from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam.

The study appears in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Anti-psychotic drugs are often given to dementia patients to manage aggression.


Multaq Heart Drug Not as Effective as Generic: Study

The heart drug Multaq (dronedarone) is only half as effective as the generic drug Cordarone (amiodarone) in treating atrial fibrillation, says a new study. Atrial fibrillation is a common type of heart rhythm disorder.

In addition, Multaq does not cause fewer side effects than Cordarone, said the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute researchers who examined the findings of existing clinical trials, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The researchers said Multaq should be used only as a second- or third-line drug if all other drug treatments fail.

The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Lead author Dr. Sanjay Kaul noted that atrial fibrillation affects about 2.3 million Americans and causes about 71,000 deaths a year, the Times reported.


Parents Spending More Time With Children: Study

American parents are spending more time with their children than parents of earlier generations, say researchers who analyzed a dozen surveys conducted between 1965 and 2007.

Before 1995, the average amount of time mothers spent looking after their children was about 12 hours a week. In 2007, that increased to 21.2 hours for college-educated mothers and 15.9 hours for mothers with less education, The New York Times reported.

Among college-educated men, the average amount of time spent with their children increased from 4.5 hours to 9.6 hours per week. Among other men, time with their kids jumped from 3.7 hours to 6.8 hours per week.

The findings were presented in March at a Brookings Institution conference in Washington, The Times reported.

The findings should comfort guilt-ridden working parents, said family researchers.

“Parents are feeling like they don’t have enough time with their children,” Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York City, told The Times. “It’s a function of people working so hard, and they are worried they’re shortchanging their children. I’ve never found a group of parents who believe they are spending enough time with their kids.”


Officials Assessing Virus Threat

U.S. public health authorities are investigating whether an infectious virus called XMRV poses a threat to the nation’s blood supply.

XMRV, which was identified in 2006, has been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome and a rare form of familial prostate cancer, but there’s no conclusive evidence that the virus actually causes those diseases, the Wall Street Journal reported.

There’s no sign of spreading XMRV infection. However, the virus appears to be transmitted similarly to HIV, and concern exists about the potential for widespread infection. That’s why officials want to quickly assess whether they need to take action to protect the blood supply.

“These are early days trying to understand the public health significance of XMRV,” said Jay Epstein, director of the Office of Blood Research and Review at the Food and Drug Administration, the Wall Street Journal reported.