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Health Headlines - March 6

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm

Cheney Develops Blood Clot in Leg

Vice President Dick Cheney was diagnosed with a blood clot in his left leg Monday and will be put on long-term, blood-thinning medication.

Cheney, 66, went to his doctor in Washington, D.C., after feeling minor discomfort in his calf, spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said. An ultrasound showed the blood clot, known as a "deep venous thrombosis" or DVT, in his left lower leg.

"He'll maintain his regular schedule," McBride told the Associated Press. "He feels fine."

DVT involves the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg or the thigh, that then can move into the lungs and cause an often fatal condition called pulmonary embolism. DVTs have come to public attention over the past few years after airline passengers on cramped, long-haul flights developed them in what some have called "economy-class syndrome."

The vice president, who returned last week from an overseas trip that included stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has had a long history of heart ailments. He had four heart attacks before he assumed office in 2001. He has an implanted defibrillator to regulate his heartbeat if necessary. And in 2005, he underwent six hours of surgery on both legs to repair a kind of aneurysm, a ballooning weak spot in an artery that can burst if left untreated.

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Vaccine Protects Against Different Strains of H5N1 Bird Flu

A vaccine based on one strain of the dangerous H5N1 bird flu virus is also effective against other versions of the virus, according to study results released by vaccine developer GlaxoSmithKline PLC on Monday.

The study of 400 adults found that the vaccine, developed using an H5N1 strain from Vietnam, may also protect against the Indonesian strain of H5N1, the Associated Press reported.

This is not the first cross-protection noted in a bird flu vaccine. Both Sanofi Aventis and Novartis SA have reported similar results with vaccines they're developing to protect people against a potential bird flu pandemic.

"These results are good news, but we're still in the early days and we don't really know which of the vaccine formulations are the better ones," Dr. Alan Hay, director of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Center laboratory in Britain, told the AP.

The H5N1 virus is believed to be the most likely candidate to cause a future flu pandemic. A vaccine that offers broader protection could prove important, since experts can't predict the specific strain of virus that may trigger a pandemic.

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Prince Charles' Wife Has Hysterectomy

Prince Charles' wife, Camilla, underwent a hysterectomy at London's King Edward VII hospital on Monday and is expected to remain hospitalized for the rest of the week.

"The Duchess of Cornwall had her operation this morning and is recovering well," said a statement released by Prince Charles' office, the Associated Press reported.

There are a number of reasons for doing a hysterectomy, including cancer, menstrual problems, abnormal growths or complications following birth. Camilla's operation was not the result of cancer, but Prince Charles' office did not provide any more details. It's expected that his wife will require six weeks of recuperation.

She and Prince Charles recently returned home after a 10-day tour of the Mideast, the AP reported.

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FDA Warns About Possible Impact of Time Change on Equipment

The change to daylight savings time this coming weekend may have unpredictable effects on medical devices and equipment; hospital computer networks; and associated information technology systems, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This year is the first year with new start and end dates for daylight savings time. It will start three weeks earlier and end a week later than in previous years.

The FDA said this means that medical equipment that uses, creates or records time information about a patient's diagnosis or treatment and hasn't been updated by the manufacturer may not work properly when the change takes place this weekend.

Medical devices or medical device networks that are affected by the new time change could cause a patient's treatment or diagnostic result to be: incorrectly prescribed; provided at the wrong time; missed; given more than once; given for longer or shorter durations than intended; or incorrectly recorded.

Patients and health-care providers should go to the FDA's Web site (http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/safety.html) for recommendations on what to do if their medical equipment uses or displays time.

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Moldy, Damp Homes Cause Childhood Asthma: Study

Children living in damp, mold-infested homes may be at increased risk of developing permanent asthma, says a Finnish study in the European Respiratory Journal.

Researchers surveyed the homes of more than 300 children and found that serious dampness or visible mold was two to three times more common in homes where there were asthmatic children, BBC News reported.

The findings offer clear evidence that mold and damp cause asthma in children, and don't just worsen or trigger attacks in children whose asthma has another underlying cause, the study authors said.

"Damp in the home does more than merely exacerbate existing asthma -- it can contribute to the onset of persistent asthma," said researcher Dr. Juha Pekkanen of the National Public Health Institute in Kuopio.

However, some asthma experts still aren't convinced that mold and dampness can cause asthma. Dr. Michael Burr, a mold and asthma researcher at Cardiff University in Great Britain, said the findings of this study, along with existing evidence, suggest that mold "probably triggers respiratory symptoms and may contribute to causing asthma."

"However, it is not possible to distinguish conclusively between the role of moisture damage and mold as trigger factors and any casual link with childhood asthma based on the current evidence," Burr said.

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Mass. Insurance Premiums Could Be as Low as $175 a Month

The average premium for uninsured Massachusetts residents could cost about half of what's previously been suggested.

When they released results of negotiations with health insurers, state officials on Saturday said the average monthly premium for this group of people could be as low as $175, compared to some earlier insurer estimates of $380, the Associated Press reported.

"This is a big improvement from the first round of bids and a big step forward for health care reform," said Gov. Deval Patrick. "The health security that was the point of health care reform will be delivered at an affordable price."

The plans for uninsured people are a major component of Massachusetts' insurance program, which requires all state residents to have health insurance coverage by July 1. If they don't have coverage, they face tax penalties.

It's expected that the panel overseeing the law will vote this week to approve the seven health care plans that meet the affordability guidelines, the AP reported.

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Hot Baths, Hot Tubs May Affect Male Fertility

Hot baths or hot tubs may contribute to male infertility, says a study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

The three-year study found that sperm counts in five of 11 men with fertility problems jumped by 491 percent after they stopped having hot baths or using hot tubs for a few months, BBC News reported.

The five men whose sperm counts increased also showed increased sperm motility, from 12 percent to 34 percent.

The study authors noted that five of the six men who showed no fertility improvement after they stopped taking hot baths or using hot tubs were chronic smokers. This could have been a factor in their lack of response, BBC News reported.

The findings support the current recommendation that men should avoid "overheating" their sperm. Previous studies have also found that wearing tight underwear or heat from a laptop computer can reduce male fertility, reported the Journal of the Brazilian Society of Urology.

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