Health Highlights: Sept. 24, 2005
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
VP Cheney Has 'Successful' Artery Surgery on Both Knees
Originally scheduled to have surgery to repair an aneurysm on the back of his right knee, Vice President Dick Cheney had operations on both knees Saturday, a procedure that took about six hours.
The Associated Press quotes the vice president's spokesman as saying the operations were successful. "He will remain in the hospital for up to 48 hours to monitor his recovery," the wire service quotes Steve Schmidt, counselor to the vice president, as saying. "He is expected to resume a regular schedule when he is released to [go] home."
Schmidt also said the decision to operate on the back of both knees instead of only the right one came when the doctors at at George Washington University Hospital examined him before surgery, the A.P. reported. The condition was discovered during Cheney's annual physical in July.
The condition, if left untreated, could lead to a ballooning artery that is at risk of bursting. Typical surgery involves sewing a fabric patch on the weak spot to reinforce it, the wire service said.
Cheney, 64, had four heart attacks before he assumed his office in 2001. He has an implanted defibrillator to regulate his heartbeat if necessary, although a recent exam showed the device had never been activated, the A.P. said.
Health Emergency Declared From Rita's Landfall
Learning from the mistakes of hurricane Katrina, U.S. health officials prepared to head into southeast Texas and southern Louisiana Saturday to assist victims of hurricane Rita, whose 120 mile per hour winds slammed into an area 32 miles southeast of Beaumont early in the morning.
Even before the winds had died down and the first emergency crews appeared, officials declared the area a health emergency, establishing the procedure for providing aid to victims who may have become homeless, have health emergencies or need other assistance.
While early reports of flooding, power outages and some property damage were reported Saturday morning from Rita's landfall, there was no indication that there was devastation similar to that caused by Katrina when it hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast just a few eeeks ago.
Additionally, the Associated Press reports that government crews, already part of the New Orleans cleanup from Katrina, were being further challenged because new rains from Rita had caused breaches in two of the city's levees, and part of the city had become flooded again.
The wire service reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stockpiled four days' worth of food, water and ice in Texas and Louisiana, and the Pentagon had added 13,273 active-duty troops to the 36,108 National Guard personnel already available.
Finally, the Defense Department told the A.P. it was sending five mortuary teams to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, but it gave no explanation as to how that number had been decided upon.
All but 25 of the Houston hospitals with a combined bed count of about 16,000 said they would stay open. The hospitals had on hand three to four days' worth of food and water and enough diesel fuel to run their electric generators for several days, a hospital association spokesman told the news network.
FDA Commissioner Resigns
The commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Lester Crawford, resigned Friday.
In a three-paragraph note sent to everyone in the agency, Crawford said, "It is time at the age of 67, to step aside."
Crawford had been confirmed two months ago by the Senate after serving as deputy and acting 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.
The resignation was seen as a surprise, the AP said, since at a Washington speech on Monday, Crawford showed no sign that he was planning to leave. President Bush designated Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, the director of the National Cancer Institute, as acting replacement.
A spokeswoman for Crawford's boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, said Leavitt accepted Crawford's resignation "with sadness" and wished him well.
Asked if he was forced to resign, the spokeswoman declined further comment, calling it a personnel issue.
Medicare Taps 9 Insurers for Drug Coverage
Nine insurers across the United States have been approved to provide Medicare's prescription drug coverage beginning New Year's Day, the Associated Press reported Friday.
"Scores" of other companies have been approved by the Bush Administration to provide coverage on a regional basis, the wire service said. All beneficiaries will have at least 11 drug plans to choose from, and in larger states, up to 20 plans, the AP said.
All of this competition represents good news for consumers, officials said. "Forty-nine states will have a drug plan with a premium below $20," Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the wire service.
Fewer than half of those eligible for the coverage have submitted the required application forms, however, the Pittsbugh Post-Gazette reported.
Companies can begin marketing their plans to millions of elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries on Oct. 1, and enrollment will begin Nov. 15, the AP said. McClellan said Medicare would try to help eligible beneficiaries select a plan that's best for them.
According to the AP, companies approved to offer drug coverage nationwide are: Aetna Life Insurance Co., Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., Medco, Memberhealth Inc., Pacificare Life and Health Insurance Co., Silverscript Insurance Co., Unicare, UnitedHealth Group Inc., and Wellcare Health Plans.
Cancer Drug Trial Enrollment Halted Early
Genentech Inc. has stopped enrolling ovarian cancer patients in a clinical study of its prescription drug Avastin because of more frequent instances of gastrointestinal perforations than were seen in previous trials, the company told the Associated Press on Friday.
Five of the 44 ovarian cancer patients given Avastin developed signs of gastrointestinal perforations during the Phase II trial. The study had been expected to enroll as many as 53 patients who hadn't responded to chemotherapy.
People already participating in the trial are being given the option of continuing or dropping out, the wire service said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year approved Avastin for colon cancer, but it's also being studied as a treatment for cancers of the prostate, kidney and pancreas, the AP said.
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