Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2012

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

FDA Approves New Drug for Type 2 Diabetes

Bydureon (exenatide extended release), Amylin Pharmaceuticals’ long-acting version of the diabetes drug Byetta, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The once-weekly injection will include a label warning that the drug caused certain thyroid tumors in rats, the Dow Jones news service reported. It’s not known whether the drug causes such tumors in people, the label warning says. But the drug shouldn’t be used by people with a family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (a form of cancer), the warning continues.

Twice in 2010, the FDA declined approval of Bydureon, requesting additional studies and clinical information, Dow Jones reported.

Bydureon is a “glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor,” a class of medications that helps the body produce more insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar.


Erin Brockovich Takes on High School Girls’ Mystery Illness

The environmental activist Erin Brockovich says she’s investigating the case of more than a dozen teen girls at an upstate New York high school with tics and involuntary verbal outbursts.

They mystery illness among the girls at Le Roy high school began several months ago. Extensive testing of the school grounds failed to detect any signs of infectious disease or toxins, reported.

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, a neurologist who has seen and is treating 10 of the girls, had diagnosed them with a rare condition called mass psychogenic illness, more commonly known as mass hysteria.

He noted that while the girls’ symptoms may be psychological in origin, that doesn’t mean they aren’t real, reported.


H1N1 ‘Swine’ Flu Cases Increase in Mexico

There’s agreement about an increased number of H1N1 swine flu and other flu cases in Mexico this season, but while newspapers are warning of a worrisome rise in cases, federal and state officials say the number of cases is within the normal range and there is no cause for alarm.

However, confusing figures about flu cases are listed on the Mexican health ministry’s website and it hasn’t specified the rise in cases, the Associated Press reported.

There are also conflicting reports about screening measures being implemented in schools to check for the H1N1 virus, which is now considered a seasonal flu. The federal education ministry said Wednesday that screening measures were being implemented in all elementary schools, but later said screenings are being conducted only at schools where children exhibit symptoms.

Mexico is seeing more cases of H1N1 flu this season, while the United States is seeing more cases of a strain called H3N2, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine contains antibodies for both strains.

“We are not aware of any unusual changes in the virus in Mexico that would be concerning,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said in an email to the AP.


Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Tested on Dogs

Researchers are using dogs to test an experimental drug to treat spinal cord injuries. If it’s effective, it could lead to human treatments.

The U.S. Department of Defense-funded study will test the drug GM6001 in dachshunds and other long-bodied dogs with spinal cord injuries to see if it will help them walk again, ABC News reported.

The drug blocks an enzyme that promotes damage after a spinal cord injury.

“After you have a spinal cord injury, the deficits you see are not just a consequence of the initial injury, but rather events that occur after the injury,” study co-investigator Linda Noble-Haeusslein told ABC News. “These events are a little more delayed in onset, so we have the possibility of preventing them.”

In a previous study, she found that GM6001 helped mice recover from spinal cord injuries.


High Heels Affect Biomechanics: Study

Wearing high heels affects a woman’s biomechanics, a new study finds.

Australian researchers compared women who wore high heels for at least 40 hours a week and a control group women who rarely, if ever, wore high heels. The women who wore high heels walked differently than those who wore flats, even when the heel wearers went barefoot, The New York Times reported.

As a result of the heel wearers’ perpetual flexed, toes-pointed position while walking with or without heels, the fibers in their calf muscles had shortened and they put much greater mechanical strain on their calf muscles, said the study published last week in The Journal of Applied Physiology.

Among women in the control group, walking primarily involved stretching and stressing their tendons, The Times reported.

By stretching and straining their already shortened calf muscles, the heel wearers walk less efficiently when wearing heels or not, requiring them to use more energy and probably leading to muscle fatigue, the researchers said.


Fake News Sites for Acai Berry Pills Shut Down by FTC

Six online marketers accused of using fake news websites to convince consumers to buy acai berry weight-loss products have reached settlements with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC accused the marketers of creating websites that falsely appeared to be part of legitimate news organizations. For example, the sites presenting a reporters’ “first-hand experience” with acai berry supplements and featured investigative-sounding headlines, CBS News reported.

The FTC went to court in April to seek temporary restraining orders against the six marketers, all of which have since taken down their sites promoting the acai berry pills.

Under the agreements with the FTC, the marketers will pay about $500,000 to the commission. They are barred from making deceptive claims and must make clear that their messages are advertisements and not objective journalism, CBS News reported.