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Health Highlights: April 30, 2014

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Health Highlights: April 30, 2014

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

FDA Considering OTC Use of Singulair for Allergies

Over-the-counter use of the respiratory pill Singulair as a treatment for allergies is being considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

If that occurs, Singulair would compete with antihistamine pills like Claritin and nasal sprays like Nasacort, the Associated Press reported.

Currently, Singulair requires a prescription. An FDA review posted online expresses concerns about inappropriate use of the drug by teens or by people with conditions more serious than allergies, including asthma.

An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to meet Friday and vote on whether Singulair is safe for nonprescription use, the AP reported.

Drug-Resistant Bacteria Found Worldwide: WHO

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now found worldwide, a situation that could have serious public health consequences, the World Health Organization warns in a new report.

Without urgent action to counter the threat, "the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill," Dr. Keiji Fukuda, one of the agency's assistant director-generals, said in a news release, the Associated Press reported.

The WHO's first global survey of antibiotic resistance revealed high rates of drug-resistant E. coli bacteria, which can cause numerous problems, including meningitis and skin, blood and kidney infections. In some countries, treatment for E. coli is ineffective in more than half of patients.

The agency also discovered alarming rates of resistance in other bacteria, including those that cause pneumonia and gonorrhea, the AP reported.

No new antibiotics have been introduced for more than 30 years and there is an urgent need to develop new drugs to fight bacteria, experts say. Last year, Britain's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sally Davies said antibiotic resistance is a "ticking time bomb" that posed as great a threat as terrorism.

"We see horrendous rates of antibiotic resistance wherever we look...including children admitted to nutritional centers in Niger and people in our surgical and trauma units in Syria," Dr. Jennifer Cohn, a medical director at Doctors Without Borders, in a news release, the AP reported.

Nations must improve their monitoring of antibiotic resistance. "Otherwise, our actions are just a shot in the dark," Cohn said.

People should use antibiotics only when prescribed by a doctor, should complete the full prescription, and must never share them with others or use leftover prescriptions, the WHO said.

More Americans Breathing Unhealthy Air: Report

Nearly 148 million Americans live in regions where air pollution levels are a threat to their health, according to the American Lung Association's 2014 State of the Air report.

The number of people found to be breathing unhealthy air is nearly 16 million more than in the 2013 report.

"The Clean Air Act has helped us come a long way," Janice Nolen, assistant vice president at the American Lung Association, told USA Today. "But we have 120 days of unhealthy air in Los Angeles and other places, so we have to keep pushing because we know cleaning up the air has an impact on human health."

The report examined levels of particle pollution from vehicle exhaust and coal-fired plants, along with ozone (smog). Both types of pollution increase the risk of heart disease, asthma and lung cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The lung association said that year-round levels of particle pollution in the 25 worst cities violate health standards, USA Today reported.

J&J Halts Sales of Device Used in Uterine Fibroid Surgery

Sales of a device used in surgery to remove uterine fibroids have been halted due to concerns that they may worsen a rare but deadly type of cancer, Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday.

The company noted that while worldwide sales, distribution and promotion of the device -- called a morcellator -- have been suspended, it will not be taken off the market, the Wall Street Journal reported.

J&J took the action after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors on April 17 that using a morcellator to remove uterine fibroids risked worsening a type of cancer called uterine sarcoma.

The FDA said 1 in 350 women who undergo uterine fibroid surgery have undetected uterine sarcoma, WSJ reported.

An FDA advisory committee will meet this summer to more closely examine morcellator use during uterine fibroid surgery. In a letter to customers, J&J said it was awaiting input from the FDA and the medical community.