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.

Hodges deserved captaincy: Parker

There were no awkward moments when Justin Hodges was named Brisbane captain ahead of Corey Parker.

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“Coz (Parker) was probably the first to congratulate me,” said Hodges, who shared the Brisbane reins with Parker last year.

However, one looms ahead of Thursday night’s NRL season opener against South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium.

Hodges had been expected to lead the team out after returning coach Wayne Bennett opted for the veteran centre ahead of Parker and Sam Thaiday.

But Broncos tradition indicates a player celebrating a major milestone runs out first.

And Parker becomes just the second Brisbane player to shatter the 300-game barrier in the NRL blockbuster.

It has the potential to strain the friendship but Parker seemed bemused by the predicament.

“We haven’t actually spoken about that but Hodgo is the captain so I assume he will run out first,” he smiled.

Parker confirmed he was the first to embrace Hodges after Bennett made the captaincy call last week.

“Why wouldn’t I? He is a great mate of mine,” he said.

“He is the captain and I endorse that.

“It’s a great achievement. It was only right for me to go and congratulate him.

“It was a great reward for him.”

However, Parker said no longer having the ‘c’ against his name would not alter his on-field leadership role.

“Nothing is going to change with me,” he said.

“We have leaders throughout different departments on the field.”

It may be a milestone match for Parker but it also looms as a big game for Bennett.

It will mark the foundation Broncos coach’s official return since ending a seven-year hiatus and reclaiming the Brisbane coaching reins.

Asked if Bennett’s return was like putting on an old pair of slippers, Parker laughed: “They are an old pair of slippers.

“(But) he has been refreshing for the club.

“He made it clear as soon as he came back that things were going to change and for the better.”

Asked if Bennett was nervous ahead of his comeback match, Parker said: “You have to ask him.

“He holds a pretty good poker face.”

Meanwhile, Lachlan Maranta slotted onto the right wing ahead of Daniel Vidot, while Aaron Whitchurch was named as a utility on an extended bench.

Whitchurch last played for Brisbane in 2013 before suffering a back injury.

Big name recruits named to make their Broncos debuts are pivot Anthony Milford, Kiwi prop Adam Blair and impact forward James Gavet.

Morgan at No.1, Lui at No.6 for NQ

The race for North Queensland’s No.

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1 jersey has been won by Michael Morgan.

And Robert Lui has snapped up the five-eighth spot – not that you could tell from the official team list.

Incumbent Morgan has relegated ex-Penrith No.1 Lachlan Coote to the second-tier Queensland Cup after emerging triumphant in an intriguing pre-season duel for fullback.

Morgan had been tipped to slot into the halves with co-captain Johnathan Thurston despite a sensational 2014 at fullback that ended with a Kangaroos Four Nations train-on squad nod.

But Morgan will remain at fullback for Saturday night’s NRL season opener against Sydney Roosters in Townsville with Lui at pivot – but not according to the team list.

Eyebrows were raised when Thurston was named at five-eighth and Lui at halfback for the round one clash.

But Cowboys coach Paul Green has reportedly since called it a “typo”, reassuring fans that Thurston will remain at halfback.

He said Lui’s combination with Thurston in the halves during the pre-season sealed his start.

“Robbie worked hard over the pre-season and his trial form has been pretty good too,” Green said.

“I picked the team on form.”

Green believed Coote was set to play a key role for North Queensland – but just not yet.

“It was his jersey to lose,” Green said of Morgan at fullback.

“Given Cootey hasn’t played a lot of footy in the last two years – I think he has played six games – he needs a bit of footy in the legs.

“Cootey will make a contribution for us this year at some stage – I am not sure when that is, but.”

In other team news, ex-Bronco Ben Hannant will partner co-captain Matt Scott in the front row, relegating former Test prop James Tamou to the bench.

Still, Green dipped his hat to Tamou who completed a long comeback from neck surgery with a head-turning 45 minute trial display last weekend against Cup side PNG Hunters.

North Queensland take on the Roosters for the first time since their controversial 31-30 loss in the 2014 NRL semi-finals.

Green did not have to be told his side were expected to go a couple of steps further in their 20th year.

“I’ve been a little bit excited this week,” he said.

“I said to the boys to make sure we build our week ready for Saturday, we don’t want to get ready for the game too early.

“I’ve got to keep myself in check as well.”

Panthers ready to go one better in NRL

Jamie Soward has declared the Penrith Panthers have the spine to go one better than last year and make the NRL grand final.

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The Panthers have one of the strongest creative cores in the competition in veterans Soward and Peter Wallace forming the halves, last year’s surprise packet James Segeyaro at hooker and representative star of the future Matt Moylan in the custodial role.

Soward said the quartet’s combination had improved after a year, and a pre-season, together and had the potential to go better than last year’s heart-breaking preliminary final exit.

“I’d like to think I’ve got a better understanding of Matt and James’ games,” Soward said.

“I understood Wal’s a lot earlier because we’re older guys and we room together and spend a lot of time together.

“With the young guys, just keeping up with them is the main thing.

“We’re a tight-knit spine. You’ve got Isaac John there as well who can step in at the drop of the hat.

“Between the five of us, we’ve got a real good combination there and if everyone does their job right, we can go further this year.”

The Panthers will kick off their season with a grudge match against Canterbury at Pepper Stadium on Sunday.

It was the Bulldogs that brought their fairytale run to an end last year, one game short of the grand final.

The Panthers’ playmakers have had a disrupted pre-season with Soward (ankle) and Segeyaro (ankle) having minor surgery while Wallace is returning from an ACL injury which cut short his 2014 season.

Moylan, meanwhile, returned late after earning a call-up to Australia’s Four Nations squad.

“Wal coming back in different stages through the pre-season, he had to get his knee moving, we had him chiming in and then I had surgery and Chicko (Segeyaro) had surgery and Matty was in the Four Nations,” Soward said.

“Before Christmas we didn’t really have much to do with each other but after Christmas we got back together and I think we understand that we’ve all developed our games from last year.

“Everything’s looking good, I can’t say that enough at the moment, we’re ready to go.”

Gilmore’s dominance can be ‘infuriating’

Layne Beachley reckons Stephanie Gilmore’s dominance of the women’s world surfing tour has left her younger Australian rivals furious and frustrated.

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But the seven-time champion has urged them to use that as fuel to break through.

Gilmore is just one crown short of Beachley’s all-time record, having claimed six of the past eight championships.

Hawaii’s Carissa Moore is the only other winner since 2007.

Compatriots Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons have both been runner-up twice to Gilmore – and last year were within arm’s reach of the 2014 title at the final round.

“I know that can be infuriating, it can be frustrating,” Beachley told AAP.

“You get to a state where you keep asking yourself: `How can I beat this girl? What more do I have to do?’

“When you have your competitors questioning themselves against you, then you have a distinct advantage over them.

“But then, when you’ve got someone as young and passionate and hard-working as Tyler, vying for your position, then it keeps you looking over your shoulder as well.”

The 42-year-old said the likes of Wright and Fitzgibbons needed to try “shake off” the heartbreak and return fresh, energised and focused.

“That’s what I did throughout my career – I was winning every year, but I would start fresh every year as well, so I would never bring last year’s results into this year’s mindset,” she said.

“Having the capacity to do that and then the motivation to maintain that mindset is another skill in itself.”

Beachley said she could never rule Gilmore out of a world title position, given her experience, competitive nature and ability.

“But I know she’s got a hell of a job ahead of her to repeat it considering the level of talent she’s up against,” she said.

Much has been made of Gilmore’s chance to match Beachley’s record title haul, but they are yet to chat about it beyond a brief TV interview for 60 Minutes last month.

“That was only on camera – we haven’t actually spoken about it off-line,” Beachley said.

“So I will definitely have that conversation with her when I see her next.

“Steph’s just got to be conscious of the fact that she may be looking for excuses instead of ways to achieve it.”

Gilmore has been nominated for the Laureus World Action Sports Award – Beachley, who is now a Laureus ambassador, won that award in 2004.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in Shanghai on April 15.

Badminton lacks future ‘star’, says Indonesia’s Taufik

As the world’s best prepared for this season’s first Premier Superseries, with China seeded to win four of the five titles, Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat, the 2004 Olympic champion, said the game was “only about Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan at the moment.

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That long-lasting rivalry, however, will not continue in Birmingham, as Malaysia’s Lee is still suspended indefinitely for failing a doping test at last August’s world championships.

Lee, who won silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, remains confident he can clear his name when a Badminton World Federation panel conducts a hearing into the case.

With Lee missing, Taufik said he could not predict the next big rivalry to excite the sport, largely due to inconsistency among the players at the top of the men’s game.

“For a great player, we will have to wait five more years as the standard is going up and down,” said twice All-England runner-up Taufik, who retired in 2013.

“Everyone has a different style. After (Lee) Chong Wei and Lin leave, who else is there? Chen Long [the current world number one] perhaps, but he is not like these two. He has a different style and a different character.

“Badminton needs an icon like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis. It is a question of how you become a champion and stay at the top.”

TRUE STAR

Taufik’s view was echoed by Denmark’s former world number one Peter Gade.

“The combination of finding a true star is a complex thing,” said Gade, the last European to win the men’s title here in 1999. “We need to see some of the younger players coming through and show that they have the full package.”

Gade and Taufik were speaking at a Yonex event to celebrate a major sponsorship deal with Lin, indicating the Chinese will be a regular on the world circuit ahead of an expected tilt at a third Olympic title.

Lin, looking relaxed in a suit during a question and answer session, last appeared at the championships in 2012 when he won his last All-England crown.

“I have played here 12 times and won five titles,” he said ahead of his first round match on Wednesday against Hong Kong’s Wei Nan. “The history is very special.”

On his great rival, Lee, he added: “He’s not only my opponent, but also my good friend. I’m hopeful he will make a swift comeback.”

(Editing by Ken Ferris)