Health Highlights: Nov. 20, 2013

Health Highlights: Nov. 20, 2013

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

J&J Announces $2.5B Settlement for Hip Implant Lawsuits

Johnson & Johnson says it will pay $2.5 billion to settle lawsuits over faulty hip replacements, making it one of the largest settlements paid out in the medical device industry.

The agreement presented in U.S. District Court in Toledo, Ohio, resolves about 8,000 cases involving patients who had to have the metal ball-and-socket hip implant -- called the ASR Hip System -- removed or replaced, the Associated Press reported.

The metal implant was pulled from the market in 2010 after data showed that it failed sooner than older types of plastic or ceramic hip implants.

The settlement announced late Tuesday provides about $250,000 per patient and covers those whose implants were removed or replaced before Aug. 31, 2013. Most of the patients are expected to receive their payments in 2014, the AP reported.

J&J's lawyers have denied that the company acted improperly.

The deal does not cover all lawsuits related to the hip implant, J&J's DePuy unit said in a statement. "DePuy will continue to defend against remaining claims and believes its actions related to the ASR Hip System have been appropriate and responsible," the company said.

The ASR Hip System was sold for eight years and used in about 35,000 patients in the United States and more than 90,000 worldwide. Production of the hip implant was halted in 2009 and it was recalled in 2010, the AP reported.

Internal J&J documents suggest that company officials knew about problems with the device at last as far back as 2008. And a 2011 company review of a patient registry said that more than one-third of the hip implants were expected to fail within five years of implantation, the AP reported.

Replacement hips are generally supposed to last at least 10 to 20 years, according to the news service.

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Obese Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers Must be Checked for Sleep Disorder: FAA

Obese pilots and air traffic controllers in the United States will soon have to undergo screening to determine if their excess weight is causing them to lose sleep and therefore affecting their work performance, the Federal Aviation Administration says.

Agency officials explained that overweight people are at increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder that impairs sleep and can cause drowsiness when people are awake, FoxNews.com reported.

"Airman applicants with a BMI (body mass index) of 40 or more will have to be evaluated by a physician who is a board certified sleep specialist," FAA's air surgeon, Fred Tilton, wrote in a recent FAA medical bulletin. "Anyone who is diagnosed with OSA will have to be treated before they can be medically certificated."

Body mass index is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. People with a BMI of 40 and higher are considered extremely obese.

The memo also says that the FAA plans to expand the screening program to include those with a BMI of 30, FoxNews.com reported. People with a BMI of 30 are considered moderately obese.

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Supreme Court Won't Intervene in Texas Abortion Law Fight

A strict new abortion law in Texas will remain in place at least for now after the U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will not intervene in an ongoing legal fight over the issue.

At least one-third of Texas' abortion clinics have been closed since October when a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, the Associated Press reported.

The 5th Circuit panel's ruling overturned U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel's decision to block the provision. Yeakel said it served no medical purpose and created an illegal barrier for women seeking an abortion.

No more than 20 clinics in the state could meet the new standard. All of those clinics are in metropolitan areas. There are none in the Rio Grande Valley along the border with Mexico. As a result of the new law, some women must travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion, the AP reported.

Planned Parenthood is challenging the new law, saying that it unconstitutionally restricts women's rights.

Tuesday's Supreme Court decision isn't the final word on the issue, but it means that the law will remain in effect while Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against it continues. The case is scheduled to be heard in January by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the AP reported.

Texas is the second-most populous state in the United States, and an average of 80,000 abortions are performed in the state each year, the news service said.

"This law is blocking women in Texas from getting a safe and legal medical procedure that has been their constitutionally protected right for 40 years. This is outrageous and unacceptable -- and also demonstrates why we need stronger federal protections for women's health. Your rights and your ability to make your own medical decisions should not depend on your ZIP code," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the AP reported.

Broad abortion limits have been approved in several conservative states in recent months, but the ones in Texas are especially controversial because of the large number of clinics affected and the distance some women must travel to get an abortion.

The other states with laws on admitting privileges are Tennessee and Utah. Courts have temporarily suspended similar laws in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin, the AP reported.

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Princeton Students 'Highly Unlikely' to Spread Meningitis During Holiday Travel: Officials

It's "highly unlikely" that a meningitis outbreak at Princeton University will spread when students travel over the holidays, but students should get vaccinated as soon as possible, health officials say.

Another person on campus was diagnosed with the rare strain of meningitis last week. It's the seventh case since the strain first appeared at Princeton in March. Six students and one campus visitor have been infected, but no cases outside of campus have been reported, according to USA Today.

On Monday, university officials said the school would offer a new vaccine not yet approved for use in the United States.

The vaccine, called Bexsero, is currently approved for use in Australia and Europe. It is the only vaccine that specifically protects against meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B, the rare strain that's affecting people at Princeton, USA Today reported.

It is "highly unlikely" that Princeton students would spread the disease during holiday travel, because it "requires prolonged, close contact in order to spread from person to person," according to Sharon Hoskins, a senior press officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Princeton students don't need to cancel or alter their holiday plans, but the families of the seven people who have already contracted the disease should consider taking preventative antibiotics, she told USA Today.

 

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Heart Drug Maker Accused of Withholding Negative Study Data

A drug company withheld clinical trial data showing that a medicine meant to lower the risk of heart attack actually increased the risk, according to cardiologists.

They said that for more than a year, Anthera Pharmaceuticals ignored a requirement to provide academic investigators with data from the Phase 3 study of a drug called varespladib.

"Despite a contract that required transfer to the academic authors, the company stonewalled every attempt to acquire the data," Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said in an email to The New York Times.

He was the senior author of a report on the study data that was published online Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and released at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.

In presenting the results at the meeting, study lead investigator Dr. Stephen Nicholls chastised the drug company.

"We think that when you enter into a clinical trial, and we enter into contracts with our patients, there's an obligation that we are going to do the right thing," said Nicholls, a cardiologist at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute in Adelaide, The Times reported.

The study looked at whether the drug could reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, chest pain requiring hospitalization, and death in more than 5,100 patients with acute coronary syndrome. The results showed that patients who took the drug actually had a higher risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems than those who took a placebo.

The study was halted early by the safety monitoring committee in March 2012.

The accusations of withholding study data were denied by Anthera's chief medical officer, Dr. Colin Hislop. He said it simply took time to gather and organize the data. "I don't think the timeline was particularly protracted, nor were we being difficult," Hislop told The Times.

 
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