Sunday, April 17, 2011

Common drug linked to hepatitis

Common drug linked to hepatitis
Julia Medew
April 18, 2011

A PAINKILLER commonly used in hospitals and ambulances may be causing hepatitis, especially in patients who receive multiple doses.

Three doctors yesterday reported in the Medical Journal of Australia that a 33-year-old Brisbane woman appeared to have developed hepatitis from three doses of the drug known as methoxyflurane or Penthrox.

She was given the drug during treatment to repair varicose veins and had no family history of liver disease or other known risk factors that could explain her illness.

Advertisement: Story continues below Doctors Kacey O'Rourke, Stuart McMaster and Karin Lust said similar cases of hepatitis after methoxyflurane had been found in women who had received the drug during labour.

Given the drug is widely used, the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital doctors said it was important for health professionals to know that repeated exposure could increase the risk of hepatitis. They also urged practitioners to report similar cases in future and to consider the drug as a possible cause of hepatitis in patients without any known risk factors.

Despite being banned for six years in the US due to safety concerns, Penthrox is widely used by paramedics in Australia and has recently been studied for use in children.

About 3 million doses have been dispensed in Australia over the past 30 years. In 2010 it became part of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme as an item available free for doctors' bags. However, Dr O'Rourke, Dr McMaster and Dr Lust said there was ''a paucity of data on its efficacy and safety''.

The American Food and Drug Administration banned methoxyflurane in 2005 because it was associated with serious, irreversible and even fatal kidney and liver damage.

A spokesman for Ambulance Victoria, James Howe, said the article would be reviewed. A spokesperson for Therapeutic Goods Administration, which investigates drug safety concerns, was unavailable to comment.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and can be caused by viruses, alcohol, drugs and other toxins or less commonly by a breakdown in a person's immune system. There are five viruses that specifically cause hepatitis and it can be either an acute or chronic illness with varying recovery times.

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