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Health Highlights: Jan. 1, 2008

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

    Saline Gargle May be Able to Identify Head and Neck Cancer

    Gargling in the morning may be much more beneficial than merely freshening your breath, according to a study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore.

    According to the report in the Jan. 1 issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research, Johns Hopkins scientists have found that a saline solution used for gargling can identify genetic markers for head and neck cancer, especially for those at highest risk - heavy smokers and alcohol drinkers.

    According to a Johns Hopkins news release, 211 head and neck cancer patients and 527 individuals without cancer of the mouth, larynx or pharynx, were asked to brush the inside of their mouths and then rinse and gargle with a salt solution.

    Lead investigator Dr. Joseph Califano said researchers were able to filter out cells thought to contain one or more chemically altered genes found only in head and neck cancers.

    And while the tests weren't 100 percent accurate in identifying malignancy, they did provide strong genetic indicators in those patients who has head and neck cancer. "Few tests can be perfect 100 percent of the time in identifying both normal and cancerous cells," says Califano, an associate professor of otolaryngology -- head and neck cancer and oncology at Johns Hopkins. "Because head and neck cancers are not widespread, it makes more sense to screen those at high risk and to focus on a tests ability to accurately rule out healthy people," he says in the news release.


    Female Testosterone Drug Being Tested

    The University of Virginia has joined 99 other medical research facilities in testing a new drug that could help women who have lost interest in sex.

    According to the Associated Press, researchers at the UVa Health System will begin prescribing a drug that uses the male hormone testosterone to heighten a woman's libido. About one-third of American women are believed to be affected by hypoactive sexual disorder, the decline in the desire for sexual activity.

    The drug, called LibiGel and made by BioSante Pharmaceuticals Inc., is still being tested for safety and effectiveness before it is submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.

    The UVa Health System testing isn't for the general population, Dr. Anita Clayton, a psychiatrist who will supervise the study, told the AP

    Only 25 women between the ages of 30 and 65 will be enrolled, she said, and they must have had both ovaries surgically removed and be taking an estrogen supplement. Finally, she said, they must display symptoms and concern about lack of sexual desire.


    Authorities Search for Passengers Who Sat Near TB Victim

    Health officials continued a 17-state search for airline passengers who may have been exposed to a woman who was diagnosed with a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, yet flew from India to San Francisco with a stopover in Chicago earlier this month, USA Today reported.

    The 30-year-old Nepal native, who lives in Sunnyvale, Calif., took American Airlines flight 293 from New Delhi, India, to Chicago on Dec. 13, then flew on to San Francisco. She had been diagnosed with TB in India and showed symptoms of TB on the flight, including a fever, the newspaper said.

    About a week after the flight, she checked into Stanford University Hospital. A spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the woman "was at the extreme end of the severity of the disease."

    The woman is now said to be "stable and doing well," a hospital spokesman told the newspaper.

    She was seated in row 35 on the India-to-Chicago flight. The CDC said 44 passengers may have been close enough for potential exposure, though their risk is considered small. The agency recommended that all of them be tested for TB now and again in about 10 weeks.

    A CDC spokesman said that between June 2006 and June 2007, the agency was involved in about 100 similar investigations, USA Today reported.

    In May, an Atlanta attorney with TB triggered an international health scare after flying to and from Europe for his wedding, despite warnings from U.S. health officials not to fly. In November, officials announced that they didn't think Andrew Speaker had infected any fellow passengers. Speaker was released from a Denver hospital in July after completing treatment.


    Drug Makers Investigated Under Alleged Iraqi Kickback Scheme

    Global pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are being investigated by Britain's Serious Fraud Office as part of an investigation into alleged bribes paid to the government of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

    A third international drug firm, Eli Lilly, also is being investigated over alleged breaches of a United Nations humanitarian program that allowed Iraq to trade oil for food, Agence France Presse reported.

    All three companies, denying any wrongdoing, said they were cooperating fully with the investigation.

    A 2005 U.N. audit, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, found that the Saddam regime demanded bribes from as many as 2,000 foreign firms doing business in Iraq under the oil-for-food program, AFP reported.

    The Iraqi regime allegedly swindled millions of dollars from the program, the news service said.


    Bush Signs Extension of Child Health-Care Program Into Law

    President Bush on Saturday signed legislation that would extend a controversial children's health insurance program, after twice denying attempts to expand its reach.

    The extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) should provide states with funds to cover those enrolled through March 2009, the Associated Press reported. Bush and Republican legislators contend the program will cover families that currently fall into a coverage gap -- earning too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance.

    But Democrats, with the support of some Republican legislators, were pushing hard for an expansion of the program to cover an estimated four million more children, the AP said. Their proposal, which would have added $35 billion to SCHIP coffers, was to have been paid for by an increase in the tobacco tax.

    But Bush claimed that the Democrats' plan ignored the nation's neediest children. He also objected to the tax increase and what he described as a move toward more government-funded health care.

    The current program covers about 6 million children, but Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday said her party won't stop "until 10 million children receive the health-care coverage they deserve."


    FDA Warns of Norovirus in Louisiana Oysters

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to avoid eating raw oysters harvested from the West Karako Bay area of Louisiana between Dec. 3 and 21 because they may carry a potentially deadly pathogen called norovirus.

    "FDA has received reports of norovirus infection in seven individuals who ate raw oysters on Dec. 13 at a restaurant in Chattanooga, Tenn.," the agency said in a statement released Saturday. "Test results from two of the ill patients were positive for norovirus," they add, and tests of oysters harvested from West Karako Bay and served at the restaurant also tested positive for the virus.

    Norovirus infection presents with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, along with fatigue, fever, chills, and headache. The illness usually passes within 48 hours but can be serious for the very young, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems.

    According to the FDA, the infected oysters were distributed by Bon Secour Fisheries in Alabama to the restaurant in Chattanooga, and the shellfish may "still [be] available in other retail and food service settings."

    The agency notes that cooking (boiling or steaming) oysters destroys norovirus.


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