Antibiotic Poses Heart Risk

A widely used antibiotic long considered safe dramatically increases the risk of cardiac arrest, particularly when taken with some popular drugs for infections and high blood pressure, a huge study found.

The drug, erythromycin, has been on the market for 50 years and is prescribed for a wide range of infections.

The new study shows the need for continuing research on the safety of older medicines, said researcher Wayne A. Ray, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

Taken alone, erythromycin doubled the risk of sudden cardiac death among patients in the study. In patients taking other drugs -- those that increase erythromycin's concentration in the blood -- the risk of cardiac death was more than five times as great, Ray and his colleagues found. That translates to six deaths for every 10,000 people taking erythromycin for the typical two weeks while on the other drugs.

The study was published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Pollution Holds Lungs Back

In the first long-term study of air pollution's effects on children, researchers reported yesterday that contaminated air stunts lung development in teenagers -- and that the effects could extend well into adulthood.

The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that existing pollution controls in many parts of the United States are inadequate.

The researchers, who followed 1,759 children in 12 Southern California communities, said pollution is probably having a similar effect on children elsewhere.

The youngsters were tested for eight years beginning at age 10, just before their lungs began their final maturation spurt.

James Gauderman of the University of Southern California and his colleagues found that 7.9 percent of the 18-year-olds in the highest-pollution areas had lung capacities that were less than four-fifths of what they should have been. Among teenagers subjected to the least-polluted air, only 1.6 percent had underperforming lungs.

Suicide Surge Predicted

A suicide takes place somewhere around the world every 40 seconds, or nearly 1 million a year, and the rate looks set to surge over the next two decades, international health experts said yesterday.

Although men in their sixties -- retirement age -- are by far most likely to die at their own hand, the numbers among younger men between 15 and 29 are rising, largely because of availability of guns, the experts told a news conference.

"Suicide is a major public health problem and accounts for 1.5 percent of the total cost of disease to world society," said Jose Bertolote, mental health specialist at the U.N. World Health Organization.

Former communist states -- Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Latvia and Hungary -- had the highest rates.

The next five were Sri Lanka, ex-Soviet Kazakhstan and Belarus, Slovenia, and Finland, according to figures for 2000.

Nod Sought for Heart Device

The maker of the first self-contained replacement heart is seeking approval to begin marketing the product for use on thousands of heart disease patients who are at a high risk of death.

If approved, Abiomed Inc.'s application to the Food and Drug Administration would usher in the first commercial use of the device, which has been under development for 22 years, Michael Minogue, the company's chief executive and president, said yesterday.

The softball-size implantable pump is powered by batteries and has no wires or tubes sticking through the skin, unlike earlier mechanical hearts that were attached to machinery outside the body.

-- From News Services