September 9, 2008

4 Arthritis Medicines Under Cloud

The Food and Drug Administration ordered stronger warnings yesterday on four medications used widely to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other serious illnesses. The FDA says the drugs can raise the risk of possibly fatal fungal infections. The drugs - Enbrel, Remicade, Humira and Cimzia - work by suppressing the immune system to keep it from attacking the body. For patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the treatment provides relief from swollen and painful joints, but it's "a double-edged sword," said the FDA's Dr. Jeffrey Siegel. That's because the drugs also lower the body's defenses against various kinds of infections.

Siegel, who heads the office that oversees arthritis drugs, said the FDA became concerned after discovering information that doctors appeared to be overlooking a particular kind of fungal infection called histoplasmosis. Of 240 cases of the infection reported to the FDA, a total of 45 patients died - about 20 percent.

The infection, which mimics the flu, is prevalent in much of the middle part of the country.

Patients should call their doctors if they develop persistent fever, cough, shortness of breath or fatigue, which can be signs of the fungal infection.

Originally published by The Associated Press.

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