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Health Headlines - March 28

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm

U.S. Presidential Spokesman's Cancer Returns

U.S. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow's cancer has returned and has spread, the White House announced Tuesday.

In 2005, Snow was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery and six months of chemotherapy, the Associated Press reported. Last year, a small growth was found in his lower right pelvic area.

The growth was removed Tuesday and doctors said that it was cancerous and that the cancer had spread to Snow's liver.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Snow, 51, was resting comfortably after the surgery to remove the growth and that he had vowed to aggressively fight the disease with an as-yet-to-be-determined course of treatment, the AP reported.

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Merck Cleared in Vioxx Lawsuit

A jury in Madison County, Ill., has decided in favor of drug maker Merck in a lawsuit over the painkiller drug Vioxx.

The jury deliberated for two days before announcing its verdict Tuesday in the case of a 52-year-old woman who died of a heart attack. The jury agreed with Merck's lawyers, who argued that Patty Schwaller's sudden death was more likely caused by her weight and other health issues than by Vioxx, the Associated Press reported.

Schwaller had taken Vioxx for about 20 months. In the lawsuit, her widower claimed that the drug contributed to his wife's death and that Merck failed to adequately warn people taking the drug that it increased the risk of cardiovascular problems.

Vioxx was pulled off the market in 2004 after Merck's own research showed the drug increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. So far, 15 Vioxx lawsuits have been tried and Merck has won 10 of those cases, the AP reported. The company faces thousands of lawsuits.

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No Smoking While Driving in New Delhi

In what's believed to be a first for any major city worldwide, the High Court in New Delhi has banned smoking while driving in India's capital city, the Associated Press reported.

The smoking ban was among a number of new laws introduced to fight bad driving habits in the city. The court also outlawed the use of mobile phones while driving. People caught smoking or using a cell phone face a $32 fine -- a heavy penalty by local standards.

People who break the law more than five times will have their license revoked, the AP reported.

More than 1,900 people die on New Delhi's roads each year. Traffic laws, which haven't been updated since they were introduced 20 years ago, are largely ignored by drivers, the AP reported.

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Family Members Main Cause of Whooping Cough in Infants

Family members are the most common source of whooping cough (pertussis) in infants, says an international study in the April issue of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

The 20-month study of infants in four countries -- Canada, France, Germany and the United States -- found that household family members such as parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents were responsible for 75 percent of pertussis cases among infants for whom a source could be identified. Parents alone were the source in 55 percent of infant cases, the study said.

"It is important to understand how the disease is spread, particularly to infants who are too young to be vaccinated themselves, so that steps can be taken to prevent infections in these vulnerable infants and potentially save lives," senior author Dr. Annelies Van Rie, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health, said in a prepared statement.

"It is troubling to learn that infants are often infected with pertussis by their own family members, who are often unaware of having pertussis themselves, and in whom pertussis could have been prevented if they had received a pertussis booster vaccination," Van Rie said.

Infants, who are more vulnerable to severe pertussis and serious complications, account for 90 percent of pertussis deaths in the United States. Pertussis is spread through airborne droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

In the past two decades, the number of pertussis cases in the United States has tripled. This is partly because pertussis immunity from early childhood vaccinations wears off and leaves adolescents and adults susceptible to the disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends pertussis booster shots for teens and adults.

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Americans Urged to Take Diabetes Risk Test

One in five Americans either has type 2 diabetes and doesn't know it or has pre-diabetes, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, says the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Tuesday is the 19th annual American Diabetes Alert Day, and the ADA is urging people who are overweight, physically inactive, and over age 45 to take a test to help them determine their level of risk.

The American Diabetes Risk Test includes questions about weight, age, lifestyle and family history. People who score 10 points or more on the test are at high risk for diabetes and are encouraged to see their doctor. The test is available at the ADA's Web site (www.diabetes.org) or by calling 1-800-342-2383.

"Today is a day for Americans to take charge of their health. The diabetes epidemic has taken a devastating toll on families and communities across the country," Dr. Larry C. Deeb, the ADA's president of medicine and science, said in a prepared statement.

"But there is hope. Early detection and treatment can help prevent type 2 diabetes or serious complications associated with diabetes, such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, amputation, and even death. By taking the American Diabetes Risk Test, people can be one step closer to having the information they need to lead a healthier life," Deeb said.

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Seasonal Flu Identified Among Airline Passengers

Seasonal flu is the likely cause of illness among several passengers who were aboard a Continental Airlines flight Monday from Hong Kong to Newark, N.J., the Houston Chronicle reported.

The flight crew noticed that a number of passengers appeared ill during the flight and notified U.S. health authorities. The plane was held on the tarmac for two hours after it landed in Newark. After an investigation, health officials cleared the sick passengers to enter the United States.

The passengers' symptoms were consistent with seasonal influenza, Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Chronicle. Some of the passengers were already sick when they boarded the aircraft in Hong Kong but more became ill during the flight, Allen said.

The ill passengers caused concern because the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak originated in Asia in 2002 and was spread, in part, by airline passengers. Thousands of people were infected by SARS and hundreds died.

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