Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
On the Atlantic coast, cases of rare meningitis have struck nearly 30 people, and 5 have died. The disease seems tied to contaminated steroids, and the company producing the drug has temporarily shut down. A study has found that even moderate drinking may be linked with heart rhythm problems in people who have diabetes or heart disease. Binge drinking also was linked with rhythm problems, which put people at risk for stroke. Nationally, the birth rate has fallen for the fourth year in a row. Teens and younger women have particularly low rates. Online, researchers are preparing to scour the Internet for complaints about adverse drug reactions. They hope to use the information along with data collected through more official channels to increase drug safety and reduce side effects.
This Issue: Baby Bust: Birth Rate Falls Again Rare Meningitis Sickens Dozens Study Seeks Tweets About Drug Reactions Drinking Ups Risk for Heart Rhythm Problems
In the News:
Baby Bust: Birth Rate Falls Again
The U.S. birth rate fell for the fourth year in a row, says a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Births dropped most dramatically for teens, women in their 20s and Hispanic women. The teen birth rate is now as low as it was in 1946. Rates of cesarean sections leveled off at 33% after rising for over a decade. Experts suggest that the sluggish economy is one driver of the low birth rate. People who are out of work, underemployed or worried about finances are holding off having children, or forgoing them altogether. The report was released October 3.
Rare Meningitis Sickens Dozens
More than two dozen people have been diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis. Five of them have died. They have a non-contagious form of the disease. It is caused by a fungus that is often found in leaf mold. Everyone who became sick had received steroid injections, mostly for back pain. Experts believe the steroid may be contaminated with the fungus. The company that makes the steroid has issued a recall. It also has voluntarily stopped operating while health experts investigate. Most cases occurred in Tennessee, but people in Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia also have fallen ill.
Study Seeks Tweets About Drug Reactions
A National Science Foundation grant will help researchers use social media to track drug reactions. They will sift through posts on message boards, Twitter, Facebook and other online sites. The project builds on earlier work that sought out information on adverse reactions to 20 drugs. Over 12 years, the earlier work detected some drug reactions long before other methods did. For example, it discovered that some people taking the antibiotic Cipro had ruptured tendons. Two years later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a "black box" warning for Cipro related to ruptured tendons. The Associated Press wrote about the grant October 4.
Drinking Ups Risk for Heart Rhythm Problems
Even moderate drinking may put people at risk for heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), says a Canadian study. The study used information from two other trials. They followed a total of 30,000 people for more than 4 years. People over 55 who also had heart disease or diabetes were at risk for arrhythmia if they drank at least moderate amounts of alcohol. "Moderate amounts" were 1 to 14 drinks a week for women, and 1 to 21 drinks a week for men. The study also suggested that drinking 5 or more drinks a day was associated with a higher risk for arrhythmia. Known risk factors for arrhythmia include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, older age and having an overactive thyroid. The study was published October 1 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
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