Health Highlights: March 11, 2011

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

Giffords Likely to Attend Space Shuttle Launch: Doctors

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ ability to walk and talk is improving and there is a good chance she’ll be able to attend astronaut husband Mark Kelly’s space shuttle launch in April, her doctors said Friday.

The medical team at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, where she has been undergoing rehabilitation, also said that Giffords has been told that she was shot. Her memory is improving, but she does not recall the shooting rampage, the Associated Press reported.

The doctors described several milestones in the congresswoman’s recovery in recent weeks, including the removal of her breathing tube and her improving ability to walk with assistance and talk in complete sentences.

“I’m very happy to report that she’s making leaps and bounds in terms of neurological recovery,” said Dr. Dong Kim, according to the AP report.

Giffords is displaying emotion at times, including smiles when she achieves key advances in her recovery, he added.

“She has a personality that’s already showing through,” Kim said. “She’s very upbeat, focused on getting better. She hasn’t shown us depression, and she’s just been very forward-looking and even with the speech she’s not showing much frustration.”

Giffords was shot in the head Jan. 8 while she hosted a political event outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. The attacker killed six people and wounded 12 others.

Rabbi David Lyon, who visits Giffords three times a week, also said her speech was improving.

“There are words that are becoming clearer and opportunities to communicate are increasing,” he told the AP.

Any decision on Giffords’ trip to the Florida launch of Endeavour, which Kelly will command, will be based on her ability to move independently, how much assistance is available to her, and whether she is capable of handling the hectic setting of an airport, her medical team said, according to AP.


Seroquel Settlement Costs AstraZeneca $68.5 Million

In what’s believed to be the largest multi-state pharmaceutical settlement of its kind, AstraZeneca will pay $68.5 million to settle out-of-court allegations that it promoted the psychiatric drug Seroquel for unapproved uses.

The money will be paid to 37 states and the District of Columbia, the Associated Press reported.

The states alleged that AstraZeneca promoted Seroquel for insomnia, Alzheimer’s and other off-label uses. The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

“Consumers rightfully expect pharmaceutical companies to engage in responsible marketing efforts that are consistent with approved purposes,” said Thomas Calcagni, acting director of New Jersey’s division of consumer affairs, the AP reported.


Extracurricular Activities Reduce Teen Pot Use: Study

Participation in extracurricular activities reduces the likelihood of marijuana use by nearly one-half in teen girls and by more than one-quarter in teen boys, says a new study.

The analysis of data from about 4,500 Connecticut high school students also found that younger students and those with good grades were also less likely to use marijuana, said the Yale University School of Medicine researchers.

Teens who smoked, drank alcohol and used other substances were more likely to use marijuana. Other behaviors linked to marijuana use included fighting, carrying a weapon, depressed mood and any form of self-harm.

More than 40 percent of the teens in the study said they had used marijuana at some time in their life and 24.5 percent said they had used it within the last 30 days. Boys were more likely than girls to report lifetime use (42 vs. 39 percent) and past-month use (27 vs. 22 percent).

The study appears in the March issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.


Deal Increases FDA Oversight of McNeil Plants

Greater federal oversight at three plants involved in recalls of children’s Tylenol and other widely used over-the-counter medicines is part of an agreement reached between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a unit of Johnson & Johnson.

The deal was reached Thursday and covers plants in Fort Washington, Pa, Lancaster, Pa., and Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, The New York Times reported. The FDA said manufacturing practices at the plants failed to comply with federal law.

The agency said the agreement requires Johnson & Johnson to hire an independent expert to assess whether operations at the plants meet federal standards and to ensure that quality systems are in place.

The FDA would also have the authority to force McNeil to halt manufacturing of medicines or to launch recalls. The agreement needs to be approved by a federal judge.

“Weve had a long engagement with McNeil over the last year with regard to their quality system,” Douglas Stearn, an FDA official who helps oversee compliance by drug makers, told The Times. “We think this represents necessary important steps to assuring quality across the board.”