Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
More people are getting very sick with West Nile virus this year, U.S. health officials said this week. They said the rate of serious illness is the worst since 2004. The Associated Press wrote this week about the lack of research on the health effects of a newer gas drilling technique. Researchers this week reported longer survival for women with advanced breast cancer who took two hormone-blocking drugs. The combination was compared with women who took one drug.
This Issue: West Nile Illness More Severe This Year Research Lacking on Gas Drilling, Pollution and Health 2-Drug Combo Extends Life with Breast Cancer
In the News:
West Nile Illness More Severe This Year
West Nile virus is causing more serious illness than any year since 2004, U.S. officials said this week. Through the end of July, 241 human cases were reported in 22 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. In 144 of those cases, the virus caused serious illness of the brain and nervous system. Four people have died. Usually, this degree of illness occurs in only 1 out of 30 people with any kind of symptoms. Severe illness can cause neck stiffness, confusion, coma and paralysis. Most people infected with West Nile don't even feel sick. Those who do have symptoms usually feel like they have the flu. The last time so many serious cases occurred was 2004, the CDC said. There were 154 serious cases by the end of July that year. CDC officials said they believe the mild winter, early spring and hot summer have produced more mosquitoes than usual. The mosquitoes that spread West Nile prefer to bite birds, but will also bite humans and other mammals. The Associated Press wrote about the West Nile trend.
Research Lacking on Gas Drilling, Pollution and Health
Scientists don't know much about whether new techniques of drilling for natural gas are causing pollution and illness. That's because little research has been funded, the Associated Press (AP) reported this week. In June, a House committee turned down an Obama administration request for funds, AP said. The funds would have supported research on drilling and water quality. This spring, Pennsylvania canceled $2 million worth of funding to track health complaints possibly related to drilling. Experts told AP that research is needed on the safety of hydraulic fragmenting, or "fracking." This relatively new technique injects water, sand and chemicals into the ground under high pressure. The process breaks up rock to release the gas. Environmentalists say fracking could pollute underground drinking water. Methane released by the process also could pollute the air, they say. Industry spokesmen say the process is safe when done properly. With a lack of government funding, some private efforts to do research are being discussed. They could include universities, other nonprofits and possibly industry funding.
2-Drug Combo Extends Life with Breast Cancer
In a new study, women who took two estrogen-blocking drugs at the same time lived longer with advanced breast cancer. The study included 707 women. All were receiving their first drug treatment for breast cancer after it had spread elsewhere in the body. They had the most common type of breast cancer, which grows in response to estrogen. Women with this type of breast cancer usually receive drugs that block estrogen from getting to the tumors. The women in the study were randomly divided into 2 groups. One group received anastrozole (Arimidex). The other received anastrozole plus fulvestrant (Faslodex). Both are estrogen-blocking drugs, but they work in different ways. Women who received both drugs lived a median of 47.7 months, 6 months longer than those who received only anastrozole. Their cancer did not get worse until about 15 months after treatment started. This was about 6 weeks longer than in women who took a single drug. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study this week. The Seattle Times wrote about it.
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