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Health Highlights: Jan. 6, 2008

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  • Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

    Placebo Scores Better Than Anti-Psychotic Drugs in Aggressive Outburst Study

    People with low IQs subject to aggressive outbursts don't benefit from two of the most widely-used anti-psychotic drugs, according to British researchers.

    The New York Times reports that a study following 86 adults with low IQs in England, Wales and Australia found that placebos were just as effective -- and possibly more so -- as Haldol and Risperdal, two of the most popular drugs used against schizophrenia and other behavioral conditions.

    These drugs had been used in recent years, the Times reports, as calming agents for people who exhibit threatening behavior and children with attention deficit difficulties, among others.

    The researchers found that after a month of treatment, 79 percent of study subjects taking pills with no medicinal value had a reduction in aggressive behavior, while 65 percent of those taking the antipsychotic drugs experienced the same effect, the newspaper reported.

    The study, published Jan. 3 in the Lancet, may cause a review of how Haldol and Risperdal are prescribed in the United Kingdom, the newspaper says.

    Dr. Peter J. Tyrer, a professor of psychiatry at Imperial College London who led the study team, told the Times he believed part of the dramatic results may have been that the research subjects usually receive so little notice that their behavior was in response to all the attention.

    "They're neglected, they tend to be pushed into the background, and this extra attention has a much bigger effect on them that it would on a person of more normal intelligence level," Tyrer is quoted as saying.


    15,000 Toy Wagons Recalled for Too Much Lead

    Even the classic toy red wagon isn't immune from the recent spate of Chinese-made product recalls over the amount of lead contained in the toys' paint.

    Some 15,000 red wagons imported by Tricam Industries of Eden Prairie, Minn., violate the federal lead paint standard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in announcing the wagons' recall. No injuries have been reported.


    The recall involves model MH1250. The wagons were sold at Tractor Supply Co. stores across the United States from September 2002 through November 2007 for about $30.

    The wagon should be taken away from children immediately. Contact Tricam Industries at 800-867-6763 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday for instructions on how to return the wagon and obtain a refund.


    Bird Sales Suspended After Parrot Fever Bacterium Discovered

    A bird infection commonly known as parrot fever has forced 775 PetSmart stores in 44 states to suspend bird sales.

    According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette at least 23 cockatiels -- small members of the parrot family -- have tested positive for psittacosis, the medical term for parrot fever.

    Psittacosis, a bacterial infection, can be treated with antibiotics, but it is often contagious from bird-to-bird. Humans can also contract the disease, which manifests itself with flu-like symptoms, the Post Gazette reported. It is rarely fatal in humans.

    The birds were first quarantined in December, the newspaper reported. "We suspended sales as a precaution," a PetSmart spokesman at the company's Phoenix, Ariz. headquarters is quoted as saying. So far, there have been no reports of any human having contracted the disease, the newspaper reported.


    Proposal to Restrict Medical Marijuana Use in Montana Challenged

    A proposal by Montana's Department of Corrections to prohibit all people on parole or probation from using marijuana for medical reasons is being challenged as unconstitutional.

    The Associated Press reports that the proposed rule, which would be an exception to Montana's approved 2004 medical marijuana law, was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union at a Jan. 3 hearing.

    "It's almost as if the Department of Corrections is trying to obliquely regulate medical marijuana," the AP quotes ACLU attorney Elizabeth Griffing as saying. "This is just an overreaching of your authority and jurisdiction."

    Ron Alsbury, chief of the Montana probation and parole bureau, responded, "The proposed rule changes are reasonable, we believe," adding that alcohol and drug use causes higher recidivism rates, the wire service reported.

    There is no record of the number of parolees who use medical marijuana, the AP says, but there are 572 Montana residents registered to use medical marijuana.


    Oklahoma City Mayor Wants Citizens to Shed Pounds

    The mayor of Oklahoma City has given citizens a hefty challenge for the new year: Lose a collective 1 million pounds.

    Prompted in part by the city's reputation as one of America's fattest, Mayor Mick Cornett -- himself struggling to lose weight -- is pointing residents to the city's new Web site, designed to help fellow Oklahomans track how much they've lost, the Associated Press reported.

    "You're not really going to take on obesity unless you acknowledge that we eat too much and don't eat the right foods," he told residents. Proof of the pudding may be that Oklahoma's official state meal is pecan pie, the AP noted.

    The city Web site,, includes a body mass index calculator, healthy recipes, and links to fitness centers citywide.

    Oklahoma City was 15th in last year's survey of America's fattest metro areas, conducted by Men's Fitness magazine, the wire service said.


    Cervical Cancer Vaccine Is Painful Shot

    The vaccine aimed at preventing cervical cancer in girls is gaining a reputation as one of the most painful childhood inoculations, the Associated Press reports, citing instances of burning pain and even fainting among recipients.

    Health officials don't doubt the importance of vaccinating girls with Gardasil, designed to thwart the sexually transmitted virus that's responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. The shot is approved for females ages 9 to 26.

    Officials at the shot's maker, Merck & Co., concede that the virus-like particles that comprise the vaccine are the likely culprits for the pain, the wire service said.

    The pain is usually short-lived, girls interviewed by the AP said. But some recipients reported pain during sleep and while driving.

    From 2005 until last July, there have been about 230 reports of girls vaccine-associated fainting. It's not been established that Gardasil's sting is the reason, the AP said.


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