Health Highlights: Sept. 26, 2005
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Westerners Look East for Medical Care
More and more North Americans and Europeans are making the trek to India, Thailand and Singapore for medical care that costs them much less than it does at home.
Orthopedic and plastic surgery, as well as infertility and cardiology treatment, are among the types of health care being sought by the western patients, the Associated Press reported.
Bradley Thayer, a 60-year-old retired apple farmer from Okanogan, Wash., is one of those patients. He traveled to India to have a torn knee ligament fixed and, including the airfare, it cost him one-third of what he would have paid in a U.S. hospital.
Thayer said his U.S. doctors told him he'd have to wait six months for the surgery and it would cost him $35,000.
"Flying halfway around the world is cheaper. I came straight to India. It's a long way to come without tests, but I feel great," Thayer told the AP.
It's common for Asian doctors to train and practice in the United States, Great Britain and other western countries and then return to their home countries and have western patients come to them.
The Indian government is taking steps to promote this kind of "medical tourism," and is also planning a list of recommended hospitals, the AP reported.
Countries Scramble to Stockpile Tamiflu
Fear of a global outbreak of bird flu in humans has sparked efforts by many countries to obtain and stockpile the drug Tamiflu, which seems to be the only effective treatment against bird flu in people.
"It appears that this is the only effective intervention we have once someone has been infected. It's the one treatment. The problem is that we don't have enough of it," Jeffrey Levi, a policy analyst for the nonprofit group Trust for America's Health, told the Associated Press.
Current flu vaccines offer no protection against bird flu. However, laboratory and animal tests have found that Tamiflu is effective against the bird flu virus. Doctors in Asia are using Tamiflu to treat people infected with bird flu.
The major problem is that global demand for the drug is outpacing supply. U.S. health officials are concerned about the nation's small stockpile of Tamiflu and some developing countries say they may ignore U.S. patents and make generic versions of the drug to ensure they have adequate supplies, the AP reported.
In an effort to meet demand, drug maker Roche doubled its manufacturing capacity in each of the last two years. The company plans a similar expansion next year.
Laughter a Common Asthma Trigger
A New York University survey of 235 asthma patients found that 56 percent of them said laughter can trigger asthma symptoms.
The researchers said it's not clear how laughter can aggravate asthma symptoms, but they suggested it may be connected to hyperventilating. They also said laughter-induced asthma may be an indication that a person's asthma is not well controlled, BBC News reported.
The study, presented at an American Thoracic Society meeting, also found that laughter-induced asthma did not lead to more asthma flare-ups requiring emergency room visits or hospitalizations, compared with other types of asthma.
"But patients did report that during times when their asthma is well controlled they can laugh for longer without getting asthma symptoms," said lead researcher Dr. Stuart Garay. "That suggests that laughter-induced asthma may be a sign that a person's asthma isn't as well controlled as it could be."
Garay said that even though laughter isn't as well-recognized a trigger as pollen, fumes, and dust mites, it's equally or more common than those triggers, BBC News reported.
For some asthma patients, even mild laugher or a mere chuckle is enough to trigger coughing, Garay said.
Breast Reduction Patient Screening Discovers Cancer Risk
An unexpected benefit from screening all candidates for breast reduction surgery: A significant percentage was discovered to have a high risk for developing breast cancer, and this could lead to earlier and more successful treatment.
These findings were presented today at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) 2005 conference in Chicago.
According to a news release from the society, 12 percent of the 300 breast reduction patients in the study showed abnormal pathologies. This put them at an increased risk for developing breast cancer, the study concluded.
The researchers also found that screening breast reduction candidates of all ages -- not just those over 40 -- was effective because it could find breast cancer in its early stages. Two of 10 patients considered high risk for developing breast cancer were under 40, the study found.
"In the end, we found that although it may cost more up-front to screen each breast reduction patient for cancer, we saved money and helped patients to get treatment sooner," said Dr. Kristin Stueber, co-author of the study.
Interim FDA Chief Also '100 Percent Committed' to Cancer Institute Job
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach isn't ready to give up his job as director of the National Cancer Institute.
That wouldn't be particularly noteworthy, except that President Bush named von Eschenbach over the weekend as the interim replacement for Lester M. Crawford as head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Crawford resigned suddenly Sept. 23, without explanation.
In an interview with the New York Times, von Eschenbach said he had a "100 percent commitment" to both positions. He was particularly proud of his time spent working with cancer patients, he told the newspaper, and he would use that experience at the FDA to make sure there was swift access to approved new drugs. He has been director of the National Cancer Institute since 2002.
The Times quotes von Eschenbach as saying that promising new drugs should be made available "as rapidly as possible." This was especially important, he said, for people with life-threatening diseases, ready to accept greater risks with drugs that hadn't yet stood the test of time.
However, the newspaper cited some experts as having misgivings about von Eshcenbach's dual role, because the National Cancer Institute is often a sponsor of the very drugs the FDA has to consider for approval.
Crawford had been confirmed two months ago by the Senate after serving as deputy and acting FDA commissioner for the last three years.
His tenure was marked by the withdrawal of several high-profile drugs, including the painkiller Vioxx, over safety concerns, the Associated Press reported. He also faced accusations that the agency has held up over-the-counter access to the Plan B emergency contraceptive for political reasons.
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