US FDA boosts number of heparin-related deaths

WASHINGTON, June 16 Mon Jun 16, 2008 5:56pm EDT

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Monday updated the number of deaths of patients who took heparin, nearly doubling it to 149, but said they could not link the deaths to contaminated forms of the blood-thinning drug.

The Food and Drug Administration reported the new death toll of patients who took heparin, a medication that was recalled by Baxter International Inc (BAX.N) and other companies earlier this year. The recalled heparin was made with ingredients imported from China.

In the cases cited, which includes all manufacturers, patients had symptoms associated with contaminated heparin, such as extreme allergic reactions.

FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley stressed the agency was unable to determine if contamination was the cause of the deaths.

"It doesn't mean that they died of contaminated heparin ... Just that they received heparin, and they died," Riley said.

An earlier FDA probe found chemical contaminants in some batches of Baxter's heparin. Officials previously said there were 81 deaths among patients treated with heparin since January 2007.

The new total also goes back to January 2007.

Heparin is a vital medication used in dialysis and some surgeries to prevent blood clots. (Reporting by Kim Dixon; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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