Tales of the Unexpected

We know that our readers like the occasional bizarre medical story, so in honor of Halloween, we have decided to bring you a whole collection.

We have borrowed from Ripley’s latest edition of Believe It or Not! which contains tales of unbelievable medical mishaps and amazing stories from around the world.

For example, the Chinese builder who slipped while climbing scaffolding and impaled himself on a crowbar.  The offending object sliced through his chest, missing his aorta by just ½ inch

Another unlucky Chinese man accidentally swallowed a pair of scissors 3 ½ inches long and 1 ½ inches wide.  He was allegedly using the scissors as a toothpick but when he suddenly laughed, they slipped down into his throat.  He tried unsuccessfully to cough them back up and the scissors eventually had to be removed by surgery.

Talking of removing things, the book goes on to recount the tale of a 70-year-old woman who had been suffering from constant nosebleeds for five days.  During surgery, doctors at a hospital in India removed 40 maggots from her nose. Turns out, a housefly had entered her nose and laid eggs inside it. When the eggs hatched, the larvae started feeding on her flesh, causing her nose to bleed.

Not ghoulish enough for you?  Then you may want to go ahead and order your own copy of the book. Believe us there are plenty more tales awaiting those who wish Halloween would come more than once a year.

Happy haunting!

An aspirin a day keeps bowel cancer away?

Aspirin is not only an effective painkiller, it is thought to help fight conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke to migraine headache and high blood pressure in pregnancy. Some studies have suggested it can double the chances of a successful IVF pregnancy while others have suggested it may even block the spread of certain viruses.

Now, researchers at Oxford University have found that a daily aspirin tablet may help to prevent both bowel cancer and bowel cancer deaths.

The study followed over 14,000 patients for a period of 20 years.  The results, published in the current edition of The Lancet, show that low-dose aspirin reduced the risk of the incidence of bowel cancer by 24% and of dying from the disease by 35%.

“Aspirin taken for several years at doses of at least 75mg daily reduced long-term incidence and mortality due to colorectal cancer. Benefit was greatest for cancers of the proximal colon, which are not otherwise prevented effectively by screening with sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.” concluded the study authors.

The findings build on previous research on the issue and offer great hope for individuals with a high risk of bowel cancer, such as those with obesity or a family history of the disease.

One in 20 people in the US develops bowel cancer over their lifetime, making it the third most common cancer. Current figures from the National Cancer Institute indicate that there are more than 140,000 new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed in the US each year and more than 50,000 deaths.

Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said the study provided very positive findings.  “This was a big study over a long period of time and reinforces the message that aspirin may be important in significantly reducing the number of cases and deaths from bowel cancer.”

Aspirin is already one of the most widely used medications in the world.  An estimated 40,000 tons of it are consumed worldwide, each year.  SRxA’s Word on Health wonders just how much more will be sold as a result of this.

Let us know your thoughts.

Not so Rotten Eggs!

As someone who stood in line for 3 hours to receive my H1N1 vaccine last year, only to be turned away by an officious clipboard wielding nurse, this Word on Health blogger just had an “I told you so” moment!

According to new recommendations by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), anyone with a history of suspected egg allergy should first be evaluated by an allergist or immunologist for appropriate testing and diagnosis but can probably receive the vaccination.

Matthew J. Greenhawt, M.D., and James T. Li, M.D., Ph.D., from the Department of Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic, have co-authored the guidelines based on recent studies that show that even the most egg-allergic individuals can receive the flu vaccine safely under the care of their allergist/immunologist.

As I know only too well, in the past, people with egg allergy were told they could not have the flu vaccine because it contained egg protein which could potentially trigger an allergic reaction. However new research shows that not only do flu vaccines contain only tiny amounts of egg protein, the vast majority people with egg allergies don’t react.  Indeed it seems that many people with diagnosed or suspected egg allergy can receive the influenza vaccination successfully, if simple precautions are followed.

These include:

  • Anyone with a history of suspected egg allergy should first be evaluated by an allergist or immunologist for appropriate testing and diagnosis
  • Patients with a confirmed egg allergy can then receive the vaccine safely using one of two protocols: a two-step graded challenge or a single, age-appropriate dose

It is not necessary to withhold influenza vaccination from egg-allergic patients,” says Greenhawt. “Our recommendations provide two flexible approaches to vaccination. Each approach is backed with recent evidence that it is safe. Most allergists should be able to identify with one of our recommended approaches and, as such, be able to vaccinate their egg-allergic patients with confidence.”

So, Nah! Nah! Na! Nah! Nah! to you officious nurse.  Who has egg on their face now?

Do you have vaccine stories to share?  Word on Health would like to hear them.

Sweet Dreams for allergy sufferers

Hot on the heels of our recent bed bug story, Word on Health is delighted to bring you news of a better nights sleep.

The Hyatt hotel chain is pioneering a program where they will set aside rooms specifically for people with allergies and asthma. 3% to 5% of all full-service Hyatt hotel rooms will be converted this year – a total  of 2,000 rooms at 125 properties

First up – the Hyatt Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, TX.   In addition to enjoying the spa, lazy river, and beautiful golf course, guests can now chose to stay in a hypoallergenicroom.

As we write, crews are preparing 16 rooms to make them allergy friendly.

Measures will include:

  • Putting special coverings on mattresses and pillow cases
  • All hard and soft surfaces will be coated with a special barrier
  • Each room has an air purifier – a class two medical device that re-circulates the air 4 x an hour

When you walk into the room, the air doesn’t feel as humid or as heavy,” observed executive assistant manager Jeff Babcock. “It actually feels light. As an allergy sufferer myself, I can tell you I feel nice and relaxed when I walk in.”

The cost of upgrading to an allergy friendly room will be $25-$30 per night.  Iif the rooms prove to be popular, Hyatt will  expand the program.

According to the hotel giant, there is  a growing demand for such rooms from guests who suffer from respiratory problems. This is not so surprising  given that about 54% of Americans are sensitive to at least one allergen.   Dust mites, a major component of dust, are one of the more common allergens and can be found in mattresses, pillows, carpets and upholstery.  A frequently cited 1996 study in New Zealand found that hotel carpeting and beds had the highest concentration of dust mite allergens of any public place, including hospitals, rest homes, churches, child care centers and movie theaters.

SRxA’s Word on Health applauds the Hyatt on this initiative.  We’d also like to hear from you if you have allergy related hotel stories to share.

FDA Warning – Time to get personal

In a move guaranteed to send shock waves around the industry, FDA lawyers just announced that CEOs of pharmaceutical companies could face prosecution for off-label drug marketing.

The FDA’s Deputy Chief of Litigation, Eric Blumberg, said, “Unless the government shows more resolve to criminally charge individuals at all levels in the company, we cannot expect to make progress in deterring off-label promotion. It’s clear we’re not getting the job done with large, monetary settlements.”

Although the lawyer didn’t specify when the agency will start to implement sanctions, he warned company executives not to wait until the first charges are brought.

If you’re a corporate executive or are advising a corporate executive, now is the time to comply,” continued Blumberg.

Non-compliance with the order could result in executives incurring fines of up to $100,000 and up to one year in jail. In addition, regulators could also bar individuals from working in the drug industry.

Prosecuting executives for violations of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act falls under the Park Doctrine, a long forgotten, and rarely used statute named after the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court case against a retail food chain president.   In essence, the Park Doctrine allows prosecutors to hold CEOs responsible for the crimes of their underlings, even if they had no specific knowledge of their actions, on the general principle that CEOs have a responsibility to ensure that their organizations follow the law.

For small companies with rigorous compliance in place this should not be a problem, but for the giant pharma entities with upwards of 100,000 employees is it realistic, let alone possible, for the CEO to make sure they’re all obeying the law?

If you’re a CEO of a pharma company, or an employee who would like to stay employed, then look no further than SRxA.  We are here to help you through the complexities or compliance and create worry-free marketing and educational initiatives, guaranteed to help you and your boss sleep at night.

Contact us today for further information.

Love Potion Number 9?

Imagine a drug that would make men nicer, reduces stress, improves orgasms and turns you into a better parent.  Sounds too good to be true or maybe more like internet spam?

Not so, dear reader.  It turns out that this omnipotent agent has been around for about 500 million years and the manufacturer is none other than Mother Nature herself.

So what is the name of this wonder drug?  Alpha-hypophamine – a hormone that acts primarily as a neurotransmitter in the brain.  Better known as oxytocin, this is the same hormone that it is released in large amounts during labor, and breastfeeding.

Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin‘s role in various behaviors, including social recognition, pair bonding, anxiety, autism and maternal behavior.  The latest of these studies tested the effects of oxytocin in men. Healthy males were given either oxytocin nasal spray or placebo, then shown photos of a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man. The men were then asked for emotional reactions.

Significantly higher emotional empathy levels were recorded for the oxytocin group than for the placebo group, leading researchers to conclude that oxytocin is responsible for regulating emotional empathy.

Finally – a female hormone we can all love.

Slimming Shades!

Drawing your drapes, or closing your blinds before going to bed, may do more than shutting out the bogey man or your neighborhood voyeur!

According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, persistent exposure to light at night may lead to weight gain, even without changing physical activity or eating more food.

Researchers found that mice exposed over an eight week period to even dim light at night gained 50% more weight than mice that lived in a standard light-dark cycle.

Although there were no differences in activity levels or daily consumption of food, the mice that lived with light at night were getting fatter than the others,” said Laura Fonken, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in neuroscience at Ohio State University.

Which begs the question, if the mice are not less active or eating more, what’s causing the bigger weight gain?

It turns out that mice living with light at night eat at times they normally wouldn’t. “Something about light at night was making the mice in our study want to eat at the wrong times,” said Randy Nelson, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Ohio State.

Food for thought?  While you, dear reader, digest this information, we at Word on Health are off to order our blackout shades!

New Sun Rising


Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. formerly known as Sepracor, Inc. announced its new name this week.  The name change and updated branding follows Sepracor’s acquisition by Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co., Ltd last year.

This is an exciting time for Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. and we are poised to deliver on our vision to become a leading global pharmaceutical company known for scientifically-advanced products that improve the lives of patients,” said Mark Iwicki, President and Chief Operating Officer of Sunovion. “The meaning of Sunovion combines the strength of the sun with innovation and, for us, represents the start of a great new company. Launching our new corporate identity is a meaningful next step for our employees and partners who have contributed to our past success. We remain focused on our goal to grow our current brands and advance our pipeline candidates.”

Sunovion will continue its sales and marketing efforts offering brands including ALVESCO®,  BROVANA®, OMNARIS®, XOPENEX®, XOPENEX HFA®.

We at Word on Health applaud Sunovion’s continued dedication to improving patients’ respiratory health.

Spinal Cord Injury therapy – one small step closer

Back in August 2010, Word on Health brought you news that the FDA had given the green light for a stem cell therapy trial.

Given the enormous ethical and regulatory hurdles surrounding this controversial topic, we take our hats off to Geron Corporation who, on Monday, announced the enrolment of the first patient.

The primary objective of the Phase I study is to assess the safety and tolerability of the stem-cell therapy GRNOPC1 in patients with recent thoracic spinal cord injuries. The therapy is injected directly into the injured area and is hoped to restore spinal-cord function by triggering the production of myelin-producing cells, potentially allowing for new movement.

Spinal Cord Injury is caused by trauma to the spinal cord that results in loss of functions such as movement, sensation and bowel or bladder control. Every year approximately 12,000 people in the U.S. sustain spinal cord injuries. The most common causes are automobile accidents, falls, gunshot wounds and sports injuries.

The initiation of this Phase I study is thought to represent the first publicly known use of embryonic stem cells in humans.

According to Geron’s President and CEO, Thomas B. Okarma, Ph.D., M.D. “Initiating the GRNOPC1 clinical trial is a milestone for the field of human embryonic stem cell-based therapies. When we started working on this in 1999, many predicted that it would be a number of decades before a cell therapy would be approved for human clinical trials.”

In order to participate in the study, patients must be newly injured and receive the therapy within 14 days of the injury. The company has said it plans to enroll between eight and 10 patients in the US.

The trial is expected to take about two years to complete. Word on Health will be watching closely and will bring you further news as it breaks.  In the meantime we’d love to hear from you about your thoughts on this.

Columbus Day Musings

Those of us lucky enough to have vacation to mark Columbus Day may have time to think about the explorer who is widely credited with having discovered and colonized the Americas.  Here at Word on Health, we’ve been wondering which of the many nasty medieval diseases did Christopher Columbus suffer from?

According to most historians it wasn’t the usual suspects: plague, dysentery, typhoid or ergotism.

Until recently, most attributed his death, at the age of 55 to complications of gout.  However, new evidence from Dr. Antonio Rodriguez Cuartero, a professor at the University of Granada, paints a different picture.  After studying Columbus’ family history, personal diaries and the letters penned by Columbus’ son, the professor contends that all signs point to Reiter’s syndrome.

All sources seem to agree that during his later years, Columbus became increasingly incapacitated by pain in his joints, painful urination and bleeding from his eye.  One cannot blame the leech-applying physicians of his day, for attributing these symptoms to gout.  More than 500 years later we still don’t know much about Reiter’s syndrome, or “reactive arthritis’ as it is also known.

Some people think that it involves the immune system, which is “reacting” to the presence of bacterial infections in the genital, urinary or gastrointestinal systems, but the exact cause remains unknown.

Complications of Reiter’s include aortic insufficiency, left-sided heart failure, pulmonary edema and endocarditis, which may give further credibility to Cuartero’s theory that Columbus died of a heart attack.

Whatever the reason, we say Rest in Peace Christopher & Happy Columbus Day to all our readers!