Health Highlights: March 29, 2010

By on March 29, 2010

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

FDA Scientists Go Public With CT Scan Concerns

U.S. Food and Drug Administration managers ignored agency scientists’ warnings about the radiation risks associated with regular use of powerful CT scans to screen people for colon cancer, according to The New York Times.

The scientists will break their public silence at a meeting Tuesday when an FDA independent panel of experts will discuss how to protect patients from unnecessary radiation exposure.

Internal FDA documents obtained by The Times reveal that agency managers wanted to approve an application by General Electric to allow the use of CT scans for colon cancer screenings, even though FDA scientists repeatedly voiced their objections. The application is still under review.

The use of CT scans to screen for colon cancer is endorsed by the American College of Radiology and the American Cancer Society. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends doctors use a camera on a flexible tube to directly examine a patient’s colon for cancer.

CT scans can deliver the radiation equivalent of 400 chest X-rays, The Times reported. About 70 million CT scans are performed in the United States every year, which may result in as many as 14,000 deaths every year from radiation-induced cancers, according to researchers.


Experts to Review WHO Swine Flu Response

The World Health Organization’s response to the swine flu epidemic will be reviewed by an outside group of about 30 scientists and public health officials.

The experts will consider whether the term pandemic was appropriate for what has been a relatively mild disease. The findings will be presented to member states by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in May, the Associated Press reported.

“The assessment itself is going to address many of the questions which are being raised now,” Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s top flu official, told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Last year, a number of countries asked the WHO not to declare swine flu a pandemic. The governments were concerned that doing so could cause unnecessary panic if the outbreak wasn’t as serious as predicted, the AP reported.

In related news, a new study says that surgical masks may be as effective as N95 respirators in protecting hospital health-care workers from the H1N1 swine flu virus. The Singapore researchers found that rates of H1N1 infection among health-care workers were low whether they used surgical masks or N95 respirators, United Press International reported.

The study was published online ahead of the April issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.


Iraq Violence Affects Children’s Height: Study

Children under 5 years old who were born in the most violent areas of Iraq are an average 0.8 centimeters (0.3 inches) shorter than those born in other areas of the country, British researchers say.

The University of London study found no difference in weight, which suggests the shorter height was linked to the quality, not the quantity, of food available to the children, BBC News reported.

The height difference was most distinct during the children’s first year of life, which could indicate a decline in the health of the mother while pregnant, the researchers said.

The study was presented at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society, BBC News reported.


New Test for Human Growth Hormone in Athletes

A new test similar to one used to detect bone and breast cancer will soon be available to catch athletes who use human growth hormone (HGH), says the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Blood from an athlete is spun in a centrifuge and then mixed with chemicals that cause a reaction to occur. An instrument measures the illumination in the blood, and the intensity of the light signals whether the athlete has used HGH over the past 10 to 14 days, The New York Times reported.

The new procedure, called the biomarkers test, has been under development for more than a decade. It should be available for use on athletes within a few months, according to WADA.

The current test can only detect if an athlete has used HGH within the previous 24 to 48 hours, The Times reported.

“HGH has been used with great impunity since the 1970s,” said WADA Director General David Howman. “Its very available to athletes. They use it freely, and they usually dont use things that cant help them.”

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