Health Highlights: June 8, 2016

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

Internet Search Data May Reveal Pancreatic Cancer Patients: Study

Analyzing large numbers of Internet searches may help pinpoint people with pancreatic cancer even before they are diagnosed, according to a new study.

The authors said their research could lead to early detection of pancreatic cancer, which can improve the chances of survival for people with the disease, The New York Times reported.

Early screening can improve the five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients from 3 percent to 5-7 percent, according to the study published Tuesday in The Journal of Oncology Practice.

It was conducted by Microsoft researchers Dr. Eric Horvitz and Dr. Ryen White and Columbia University graduate student John Paparrizos.

“We asked ourselves, ‘If we heard the whispers of people online, would it provide strong evidence or a clue that something’s going on?'” Horvitz told The Times.

He and his colleagues analyzed pancreatic cancer-related searches on Microsoft’s search engine Bing and found they could identify 5 to 15 percent of pancreatic cases. The searches were anonymous, so there was no way to contact the people doing them.

One possible next step is to create a health service where people permit their searches to be collected so that scientists can monitor for queries that indicate warning symptoms, The Times reported.

However, the researchers conceded that using web searches to generate health-related data is new territory for the medical profession.

“I think the mainstream medical literature has been resistant to these kinds of studies and this kind of data,” Horvitz told The Times. “We’re hoping that this stimulates quite a bit of interesting conversation.”


FDA Warns of Overdoses of Anti-Diarrhea Drug

Overdoses from common anti-diarrhea drugs are being investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which warned the drugs can cause potentially deadly heart problems when taken in higher-than-recommended amounts.

Loperamide is the main ingredient in prescription Imodium and similar non-prescription drugs meant to control diarrhea. Medical literature cites cases where people try to get high by taking huge doses of up to 300 milligrams at once. Recommended doses are 8 to 16 milligrams a day, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA has received 31 reports of people hospitalized due to heart problems, including 10 deaths over the last 39 years, after taking large amounts of loperamide. However, many drug overdoses are not reported to the FDA.

Between 2011 and 2014, there was a 71 percent increase in loperamide-related calls to national poison centers, according to an article published last month in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

In an online notice, the FDA said it is monitoring the issue and weighing future action, the AP reported.


Large Increase in Legionnaire’s Disease Cases Since 2000: CDC

There was nearly four-fold increase in the rate of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the United States over 15 years, but most of them could have been prevented, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The severe, sometimes fatal type of pneumonia occurs when a person inhales small droplets of water contaminated with the bacteria Legionella.

Reported cases of legionellosis, including Legionnaires’ disease and a milder flu-like illness called Pontiac fever, rose from 0.42 to 1.62 cases per 100,000 persons between 2000 and 2014, according to a CDC report released Tuesday. Nearly all the cases involved Legionnaires’ disease, the Washington Post reported.

Last year, about 5,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease and more than 20 outbreaks were reported to the CDC.

The agency noted that nearly all of the cases since 2000 could have been prevented with measures such as proper disinfectant use and correct water temperature, the AP reported.

“Large recent outbreaks in New York City and Flint, Michigan have brought attention to the disease and highlight the need to understand why the outbreaks occur and how best to prevent them,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a briefing.

He said the most common sources of Legionella bacteria were water in showers, cooling towers and hot tubs. The bacteria thrive in warm water but can be killed by disinfectants, such as chlorine, the AP reported.


Updated Toxic Chemical Regulations Passed by Senate

A bill updating U.S. toxic chemical regulations was approved Tuesday by the Senate.

The measure updates the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and requires new testing and regulation of thousands of chemicals used in common consumer products ranging from laundry detergent to car seats, The New York Times reported.

Under current law, about 64,000 chemicals are not subject to environmental testing or regulation. Some environmental and public health critics say while the new bill offers some improvements, it cedes too much to chemical companies.

The bill was passed by the House last month and now goes to President Barack Obama for his expected signature, The Times reported.

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