Thursday, May 25, 2006

Accidental overdoses and side effects from attention-deficit drugs probably send thousands of children and adults to emergency rooms, according to the first national estimates of the problem.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that problems with the stimulant drugs drive nearly 3,100 people to ERs each year. Nearly two-thirds -- overdoses and accidental use -- could be prevented by parents locking the pills away, the researchers said.

Other patients had side effects, such as chest pain, stroke, high blood pressure and fast heart rate. Concerns over those effects have led some doctors to urge the Food and Drug Administration to require a "black box" warning on package inserts for drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall.

The issue was debated in a series of letters in today's New England Journal of Medicine, including some from doctors worried about the dangers of not treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Hamster and Patients' Deaths

A virus killed three patients in the past year after they received donated body organs, and a pet hamster may be partly to blame, a report said yesterday.

The deaths occurred in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and each involved patients who had received transplanted organs from the same woman, 45, whose hamster was later found to carry the virus, researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. The virus was not found in the woman.

The patients all received drugs that suppressed their immune systems, which may have allowed the virus to thrive. "In any immune-compromised person, you have a risk of having the virus spread through the body," wrote C.J. Peters, 65, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The report also noted four fatalities involving transplants in Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2003 in which the same virus was found. All the cases involved the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, which can cause a severe form of meningitis. Peters said he does not consider it a major risk in transplants.

Inheriting a Gene's Effect

In a startling exception to classical genetics, mice in a lab experiment have inherited an effect of an aberrant gene without inheriting the gene itself.

Experts say the result may someday help scientists understand aspects of diabetes, infertility and other problems. They also said that though such an inheritance pattern has been seen before, it is not clear how common or important it is.

DNA is the stuff of genes in mice and men. But the new study indicates that DNA's chemical cousin, RNA, produced the odd result -- mice with distinctive white tail tips.

For the study, reported in today's journal Nature, scientists produced mice that carried one normal copy of a gene and one aberrant copy. After breeding, each mouse passed along one of its gene copies to each offspring. The offspring, in turn, ended up with two copies, one from each parent.

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