Reuters Health News Summary

Following is a summary of current health news briefs.

Drug-resistant staph spreads easily in households

(Reuters Health) - The superbug MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) can spread easily from people to household pets, according to a new study that underscores the importance of frequent handwashing. MRSA was once rare, and so-called staph infections used to be more easily treated with antibiotics, researchers note in the Lancet Infectious Diseases. But due in part to overuse of antibiotics, MRSA now infects hundreds of thousands of people and kills about 20,000 people each year in the U.S. alone.

U.S. prosecutors open criminal probe of opioid makers, distributors

Federal prosecutors are investigating six pharmaceutical companies for potential criminal charges in connection with shipping big quantities of opioid painkillers that contributed to a healthcare crisis, according to regulatory filings. Five companies have received subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney's office in the Eastern District of New York as part of the investigation: drugmakers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd , Mallinckrodt Plc, Johnson & Johnson and Amneal Pharmaceuticals Inc, and distributor McKesson Corp, regulatory filings showed.

Judge partly vacates convictions of opioid maker Insys' founder, executives

A federal judge on Tuesday partially overturned the convictions of Insys Therapeutics Inc's founder and three former executives accused of bribing doctors to prescribe an addictive opioid, but declined to disturb the remainder of the jury's verdict. U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston ruled the evidence prosecutors presented at trial did not support finding that John Kapoor and the others intended for doctors to prescribe the drug, Subsys, to patients who did not need it.

Massachusetts adopts tough ban on flavored vaping, tobacco products

Massachusetts on Wednesday adopted the country's toughest ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes, in response to a rise in youth vaping and an outbreak of vaping-related serious lung injuries. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed into law legislation passed by the state's Democrat-controlled legislature earlier this month that also places a 75% excise tax on e-cigarettes.

MRI spots tumors in women with dense breasts, but false positives a problem

(Reuters Health) - Breast cancer can be difficult to detect in women with extremely dense breast tissue, but a new Dutch study indicates that getting an MRI scan can spot tumors that would otherwise be missed. "This is the first really-thorough investigation into the effect of MRI on interval cancer," said senior author Dr. Carla van Gils, referring to the tumors uncovered between screening mammograms. "There are still questions to be answered, but this is a really important step we've taken."

Deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's might disrupt swimming ability

(Reuters Health) - A small study finds that some people lose their ability to swim when their Parkinson's disease is treated with deep brain stimulation. Researchers identified nine cases of Parkinson's patients who effectively forgot how to swim after having a deep brain stimulation device implanted to control disease symptoms such as tremor, rigidity and slowed movement, according to the report published in Neurology.

Pfizer, Novartis lead $2 billion spending spree on gene therapy production

Eleven drugmakers led by Pfizer and Novartis have set aside a combined $2 billion to invest in gene therapy manufacturing since 2018, according to a Reuters analysis, in a drive to better control production of the world's priciest medicines. The full scope of Novartis' $500 million plan, revealed to Reuters in an interview with the company's gene therapy chief, has not been previously disclosed. It is second only to Pfizer, which has allocated $600 million to build its own gene therapy manufacturing plants, according to filings and interviews with industry executives.

Treating HIV-infected infants very early substantially improves health: study

A small study of African infants infected with HIV found that treating them with powerful drugs within the first hours and days of birth helped preserve their immune systems, improving their chances of better long-term health, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday. HIV infections in newborns pose a huge health burden in developing countries. One study estimated that 300 to 500 infants are infected every day in sub-Saharan Africa.

Supplements touting brain benefits may contain unauthorized ingredient

(Reuters Health) - Many supplements marketed for brain health may contain piracetam, an ingredient not proven effective for preventing or easing dementia or cognitive impairment and not approved for sale in the U.S., researchers say. In an analysis of five products purchased online, researchers found that four contained piracetam, sometimes in dangerously high amounts. The fifth, which was labeled and sold as piracetam, contained no detectable amount of the drug.

Cancer patients, survivors face increased risk of heart disease deaths

(Reuters Health) - Many cancer patients and survivors die from heart disease rather than from their tumors, especially if they have certain malignancies like breast and prostate cancer, a U.S. study suggests. Researchers examined data on more than 3.2 million cancer patients diagnosed between 1973 and 2012. During the study period, 38% of these patients died from cancer and another 11% died from cardiovascular disease.