Health Highlights: March 15, 2016

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

Marijuana-Based Drug Reduces Epilepsy Seizures: Study

An experimental marijuana-based drug called Epidiolex reduced epilepsy patients’ seizures, according to the company developing the drug.

GW Pharmaceuticals said the drug was more effective than a placebo in reducing convulsive seizures in children with a rare type of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, The New York Times reported.

The average age of the 120 patients in the study was 10 and they suffered an average of 13 convulsive seizures a month at the start of the study, despite taking other drugs. Half the children were given Epidiolex and half a placebo.

During the 14-week study, those taking the drug had a 39 percent reduction in seizure frequency, compared with 13 percent in the placebo group. Major side effects of Epidiolex included drowsiness, diarrhea, decreased appetite, fatigue, fever, vomiting, and upper respiratory infection, The Times reported.

Further study findings will be presented at a medical conference, GW said.

The U.K.-based company said it will meet with U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials to discuss if the findings of this single study could be used to approve Epidiolex to treat Dravet syndrome. Currently, there are no drugs specifically approved for the condition, which affects about 5,000 children in the U.S., The Times reported.

GW said the results of another trial of the drug for Dravet syndrome later this year, along with the results of two trials assessing its effectiveness in treating another form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut.

If approved by the FDA, Epidiolex would become the first marijuana-based prescription drug to be approved in the U.S., The Times reported.

Marijuana extracts prepared by medical marijuana dispensers are being bought by some parents whose children with epilepsy are not helped by conventional drugs.

“The results of this Epidiolex pivotal trial are important and exciting, as they represent the first placebo-controlled evidence to support the safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical cannabidiol in children with Dravet syndrome,” study principal investigator Dr. Orrin Devinsky, of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, New York University Langone Medical Center, said in a statement, The Times reported.


Dissolving Heart Stent to be Reviewed by FDA Panel

Possible approval of a heart stent that dissolves into the body after helping open clogged arteries will be discussed by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel.

Stent maker Abbott Laboratories is seeking FDA approval for the first-of-kind Absorb device, but the agency has questions about its safety and effectiveness, the Associated Press reported.

An FDA review posted last week said a company study showed that rates of cardiovascular complications were slightly higher with Absorb than with a conventional metal stent, and that the risk of complications was higher when Absorb was used in smaller arteries.

The panel of outside experts will discuss available data about Absorb and advise the FDA on whether the device should be approved. The agency typically follows the recommendations of its advisory panels, the AP reported.

The Absorb stent is already sold in Europe.


Federal Criminal Investigation Into Kellogg Urination Video

Federal officials launched a criminal investigation into an online video showing a man urinating on a Kellogg factory assembly line.

Kellogg said it learned of the video Friday and its own investigation concluded the video was recorded at its Memphis, Tenn. factory in 2014, the Associated Press reported.

The video shows a man urinating on an assembly line, then panning to a sign with the Kellogg logo.

After learning of the video, Kellogg immediately contacted federal officials. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation is looking into the incident, the company said.

An FDA spokesperson did not immediately response when asked to comment, the AP reported.

“It is important to note that any products that could be potentially impacted would be very limited and past their expiration dates,” Kellogg said.

It said products potentially-affected products include Rice Krispies Treats, granola clusters used in some products and puffed rice treats no longer made by Kellogg, the AP reported.


Suspected Lassa Fever Patient Being Treated at Atlanta Hospital

A person suspected of having Lassa fever has been admitted to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Lassa fever is a viral disease that occurs mainly in West Africa and is rare in the United States. The death rate for hospitalized patients with the disease is 10 to 20 percent, according to Emory, NBC News reported.

The patient is an American physician assistant who was working in Togo, West Africa for a missionary group. The patient was admitted to the hospital Saturday morning and is currently being treated for “symptoms consistent with a fever-related illness,” Emory said.

The hospital was asked by the State Department to admit the patient to the its Serious Communicable Diseases Unit, where four Ebola patients were treated in 2014, NBC News reported.

Lassa is spread through the urine and droppings of a type of rat in certain parts of Africa. It can also be spread by infected people, “but only through direct contact with fluids. It cannot be transmitted through casual contact, and is not an airborne virus,” according to Emory.

Symptoms of Lassa fever typically include fever, headache, fatigue and weakness. Lassa has been linked with Ebola in the past, but “Lassa fever is less likely than Ebola to spread from person to person and is far less deadly,” Emory said, NBC News reported.

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