Long-term paracetamol use ‘poses risk’

Doctors may be underestimating the risks to patients from long-term use of paracetamol, the world’s most popular painkiller.

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Researchers found chronic users of the drug – people who typically take large, daily doses over several years – may increase their risk of death, or kidney, intestinal and heart problems.

Led by Philip Conaghan at the Leeds Institute of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Medicine in northern England, the team analysed data from eight previously published studies into long-term paracetamol use.

The data came only from people who had paracetamol prescribed by a doctor, as opposed to over-the-counter purchases.

Two of the eight studies had found an increased risk of mortality, up to 63 per cent, among long-term paracetamol users, compared to those who had not been prescribed the drug during the study period.

Four found a heightened risk, ranging from 19 to 68 per cent, of cardiovascular problems. The risk of gastro-intestinal bleeding and other intestinal side-effects was up to 49 per cent as high.

Three studies found an adverse effect on kidneys.

In all cases, the risk was dose-dependent – in other words, the higher the dose, the greater the risk, said the analysis published in the British journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Even though the risk in absolute terms was small, doctors should think carefully when prescribing the drug, it warned.

But other experts cautioned against over-reaction.

They pointed out the analysis was unable to tell whether early death and health problems were caused by an underlying illness rather than from the paracetamol.

Nor did it take into account over-the-counter purchases of the drug, a picture that could be far more complex.

“Paracetamol remains the safest analgesic (painkiller) available, and this study should not stop people taking it,” said Nick Bateman, a professor of clinical toxicology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

“Based on these results, the lowest effective dose for the shortest necessary period is advised,” he told Britain’s Science Media Centre.

“This is common sense for all medicines.”

Turnbull says Abbott best for PM

Malcolm Turnbull insists Tony Abbott is the best person to be prime minister.

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That’s because he has the confidence of the party room.

“To be the leader of a political party you only need one attribute and that is to have the confidence of the party room,” he told ABC TV.

Mr Turnbull has been billed as the likely challenger in any spill of the Liberal leadership.

But he hasn’t thrown his hat in the ring or even hinted that he covets the top job.

Mr Turnbull said the 102 Liberals in the party room were the ones who decided who led their party.

“You can have all the attributes in the world, perceived, real, unreal, imagined – the only attribute that matters is … whether the majority of the party room support you,” he said.

Clearly, Mr Abbott had that support as no one challenged him.

Asked if he had the ticker to challenge Mr Abbott, he replied: “My ticker is in very good shape.”

The communications minister said all Liberals were committed to giving Australia sound, responsible, good government.

“We support Tony Abbott as our leader. He has the support of the party room. Yes, there was a spill motion, but it was not carried and we are all behind the leader, every single one of us,” he said.

On the contentious issue of gay marriage, Mr Turnbull said there was really little difference between his position and Mr Abbott – as they both supported a conscience vote, even though he supported same-sex marriage and the prime minister opposed it.

“If a private member’s bill comes up, I’ve got no doubt the party room will decide there will be a free vote,” he said.

“The idea that there’s this massive gulf between us is quite imaginary and it’s been put around by people, frankly, who I suspect don’t bare either Tony or me a lot of good will.

Jailed Harris stripped of British honour

Jailed pedophile Rolf Harris has been stripped of his British honour by the Queen, putting him on a dishonour roll alongside the likes of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

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Harris had his CBE annulled on Tuesday, one week after being told to hand back his Australian honours.

“The Queen has directed that the appointment of Rolf Harris to be a Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, dated 17 June 2006, shall be cancelled and annulled and that his name shall be erased from the Register of the said Order,” an announcement in the Crown’s official publication, the London Gazette said.

The 84-year-old was sentenced to five years and nine months’ jail in mid-2014 for indecently assaulting four girls in Britain between 1968 and 1986.

However, he’s expected to serve less than three years behind bars.

The Queen appointed Harris a Commander of the Order of the British Empire – one step below a knighthood – a year after the entertainer painted her portrait to mark her 80th birthday.

The one-time royal favourite had previously been made a Member of the Order (MBE) in 1968 and then an Officer (OBE) in 1977.

He wasn’t stripped of those awards as they had been superseded by the higher honour.

The process of cancelling a British award occurs when an honours and appointments secretariat puts forward a case to the forfeiture committee, whose decision then goes through the prime minister to the Queen for approval.

Cases normally arise when a holder “has brought the honours system into disrepute” – most often by being convicted of a crime and jailed.

Harris was stripped of his Order of Australia honours a week ago, leading British Labour MP Simon Danczuk to publicly decry that Australia had acted more quickly against Harris than they had.

“I am delighted. Public opinion would have been outraged if no action was taken and the system was brought into disrepute,” Danczuk said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister David Cameron backed the move to cancel Harris’s honour.

In 2008, Mugabe was stripped of his honorary knighthood, awarded in 1994, for “abuse of human rights” and “abject disregard” for democracy.

He was the first foreigner to be stripped of an honorary knighthood since Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 – the day before his execution by firing squad.

Harris previously lost his place in the ARIA Hall of Fame and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) fellowship.

His image has been erased from public artworks and commemorative plaques removed from city streets.

In sentencing Harris in July 2014, Justice Nigel Sweeney said the former entertainer had shown no remorse for his crimes.

“Your reputation lies in ruins … and you have no-one to blame but yourself,” the judge said.

A month ago Harris was interviewed over two days by Operation Yewtree officers regarding fresh allegations of sexual assaults.

Finance News Update, what you need to know

WORLD FINANCE UPDATE:

The Australian dollar has fallen but remains above 78 US cents after the Reserve Bank’s decision to keep interest rates on hold at 2.

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25 per cent.

At 0630 AEDT on Wednesday, the local currency was trading at 78.26 US cents, down from 78.35 cents on Tuesday.

And the Australian share market looks set to open lower following falls on Wall Street.

At 0645 AEDT on Wednesday, the share price index futures contract was down 12 points at 5,911.

ELSEWHERE:

KIEV – Ukraine’s central bank has moved to shore up the country’s battered currency by hiking interest rates to 30 per cent as the government pushed through draconian reforms needed to clinch another IMF bailout.

FRANKFURT – German retail sales, a closely watched measure of household confidence, surged in January, official data shows, suggesting that consumer spending will remain the main growth driver in Europe’s biggest economy this year, analysts say.

HONG KONG – Macau casino revenue plunged a record 49 per cent year-on-year in February as gaming takings free fall as a result of China’s corruption crackdown, figures show.

GENEVA – Mining and commodities giant Glencore was back in the black in 2014, posting a $US2.3 billion ($A2.94 billion) net profit, but took a $US1.1 billion impairment charge on dwindling commodity prices, it says.

LONDON – Barclays fell into a net loss last year, the British bank says, hit by huge costs linked to its alleged role in the rigging of foreign exchange markets.

LONDON – British American Tobacco has launched a $US3.5 billion ($A4.48 billion) bid to take control of its Brazilian unit Souza Cruz, the Latin American nation’s biggest cigarette maker.

TOKYO – Sharp shares have dropped after a report said the struggling Japanese electronics firm will ask its key lenders for aid as it eyes the closure of money-losing units.

NEW YORK – Harsh winter storms chilled US auto sales in February, with Ford especially taking a hit with a surprise 1.79 per cent fall from a year earlier.

STOCKHOLM – Sweden’s left-wing government wants to scrap the country’s budget-surplus target, aiming to axe a policy that critics consider outdated.

BARCELONA – BlackBerry may be launching four new smartphones over the coming year, but the struggling company is staking its future on becoming a giant in software.

Hewitt locked in Cup selection battle

An intriguing selection headache involving the man set to succeed him as Australian Davis Cup captain awaits Wally Masur in the Czech Republic this week.

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Australia are without injured star Nick Kyrgios for the first round World Group tie, starting in Ostrava on Friday, leaving 38th-ranked Bernard Tomic as the clear singles spearhead against a Czech team missing top gun Tomas Berdych.

But who will join join Tomic in Friday’s opening-day singles remains undecided, with newly-appointed captain Masur tossing up between 34-year-old Davis Cup legend and captain-in-waiting Lleyton Hewitt or the higher-ranked Sam Groth.

Hewitt and Groth are likely to team up in doubles on Saturday, meaning the decision will likely come down to workload and strategy as much as form and rankings.

Masur, handed the job after Pat Rafter stood down last month, is effectively warming the captaincy chair for Hewitt, who will take on the role post-retirement early next year.

And while the final selection call is ultimately his to make, Masur says he’s working closely with Hewitt and coaches Tony Roche and Josh Eagle in deciding what’s best for an Australian team chasing a first World Group victory since 2006.

“You’re going to ask questions of (players like Hewitt) and get their feedback because it’s pretty valuable,” Masur told AAP.

“I’d be mad to try to come in here and try and absolutely stamp my authority on the team because that would be counter-productive.”

Hewitt, the most prolific winner in Australian Davis Cup history, has missed the opening-day singles just twice in his record 17-year career in the competition.

However, big-serving 27-year-old Groth, ranked 29 places higher than Hewitt at 69 in the world, has improved out of sight over the past year and defeated Hewitt in straight sets in Brisbane in January.

The pair have been playing practice matches in training all week, along with Kyrgios’ replacement Thanasi Kokkinakis, and Masur said a decision on the final make-up of the team wouldn’t be made until Thursday.

“One of the great things is, we’ve a very versatile team,” Masur said.

The 2012-13 champion Czechs are the competition’s top-ranked team, but look vulnerable without world No.8 Berdych and wily veteran Radek Stepanek.

However, Masur insists a team led by 31st-ranked Lukas Rosol and world No.45 Jiri Vesely will be very hard to beat at home.

“They’ve got such a good tradition and culture around Davis Cup and the fans will create quite an atmosphere,” he said.