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Health Highlights: Jan. 5, 2008

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

    FDA Set to Clear Milk and Meat From Cloned Cows: Report

    As early as next week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to sanction the use of cloned cattle to produce milk and meat for human consumption, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

    The FDA has wrestled with the idea for more than six years, having asked cattle producers not to sell food products from cloned cows until the agency ruled on the issue, the newspaper said.

    Cloned cattle cost about $15,000 to $20,000 per copy. Most of these animals would be used for breeding, and it would be some three to five years before any products from cloned cows would be widely available, the Journal said.

    Some breeders have already experimented with cloning cattle, including ViaGen Inc., the largest cloning company in the United States.

    The expected FDA action may energize opponents in Congress and elsewhere who feel there isn't enough evidence to prove that products from cloned cattle are safe. Cloned animals tend to have more health problems, especially at birth.

    The food industry appears divided over whether to support products from cloned animals or their offspring, the newspaper said.


    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 exhibits itself as having 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," the 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 A.P. 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 A.P. 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.


    Universal Flu Shot Showing Promise

    A single flu vaccine that doesn't have to be re-tailored every year to reflect the latest dangerous variants of the influenza virus is showing promising results in human trials, BBC News reported Friday.

    The vaccine, manufactured by Acambis, is believed to protect against all strains of influenza A, the network said. Influenza A strains are responsible for causing epidemics, and the new shot could offer lifetime protection against them.

    The vaccine could be stockpiled in the event of a long-predicted epidemic triggered by a mutated bird flu virus that's more easily passed between people than current forms of bird flu.

    In initial clinical testing, nine of 10 recipients of the ACAM-FLU-A vaccine developed flu antibodies, BBC News reported. Acambis scientists are working to perfect the vaccine before larger trials proceed, the network said.

    Experts cautioned that it would be years before the new vaccine could be made available for widespread use.


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