Health Highlights: April 23, 2003

WHO Warns Against Travel to Parts of Asia, Canada Oldest American Dies at 113 Mixed-Gender Twins More Socially Developed Court Documents Reveal Clonaid Secrets FDA Wants Antihistamines Sold Over-the-Counter Fisher-Price Toy Poses Choking Hazard

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

WHO Warns Against Travel to Parts of Asia, Canada

If you don't have to travel to Toronto, Beijing, or China's Shanxi province -- don't, warns the World Health Organization.

Wednesday's stern announcement is the agency's latest effort to curb the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). WHO says its previous warning against travel to Hong Kong and the Chinese province of Guangdong remains in effect.

The latest warning will apply for at least three weeks, which is double the incubation period for SARS, the Associated Press reports.

China announced nine new deaths Wednesday -- seven in the capital of Beijing -- raising the country's death toll to at least 106. Beijing's schools were ordered closed for two weeks, leaving almost 2 million students to study at home.

In Toronto, the hardest-hit city outside Asia, specialists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) arrived to help Canadian authorities try to contain the outbreak. The respiratory illness has killed 15 Canadians and is believed to have sickened more than 320, at least 66 of them Toronto-area health-care workers. Hospital staffers working in Toronto SARS wards have been ordered to wear double gloves and full face shields, wire service reports say.

The CDC is warning Americans to avoid travel near Toronto hospitals and other likely sources of infection, but has stopped short of recommending an outright ban on travel to the region. So far, the United States has reported 38 probable SARS cases but no deaths.

Worldwide, SARS has infected more than 4,000 people and has caused at least 251 fatalities. Health experts say they're looking for a sharp and sustained drop in new infections over a number of weeks before the epidemic can be declared under control, the AP reports.


Oldest American Dies at 113

Eating junk food during her life didn't affect the longevity of 113-year-old Mary Dorothy Christian, who was the United States' oldest person when she died Sunday.

Christian, who was born June 12, 1889, in Taunton, Mass., was declared the oldest living American last November after the death of a 113-year-old woman in Florida, the Associated Press reports.

Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hostess Twinkies were among Christian's favorite foods, and she satisfied her appetite for them as long as she was able, relatives said.

As a teenager, Christian saw flames destroy San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. She married in 1907 and had two sons. She outlived both of them. After getting a divorce in 1922, she worked at a number of jobs and retired in 1971. She lived alone until she was 102.

The oldest living American is now Elana Slough, 113, of New Jersey.


Mixed-Gender Twins More Socially Developed

Mixed-gender twins have better emotional and social development than other children, says a Finnish study.

The study found that mixed boy and girl twins were more developed than same-sex twins and single children. The researchers suggest that the best qualities of each gender helps the mixed twins' development, BBC News Online reports.

The study compared 4,000 sets of twins with 22,000 of their classmates. Students in classes with twins evaluated their classmates, rating them on how easily they became irritated or on their level of friendliness.

The study appears in the journal Twin Research.


Court Documents Reveal Clonaid Secrets

The corporate structure of the group Clonaid appears to be as empty as its claims to have cloned the first human baby.

The Boston Globe reports that it obtained sealed court documents that show Clonaid has only two employees and no address and no board of directors. Despite that, the group plans to charge dozens of prospective clients as much as $200,000 each for its cloning services.

Clonaid received international attention late last year when it claimed to have cloned a human baby. The group contends it recently cloned its fifth baby. There is no scientific proof that the group has cloned any human babies.

Despite the apparent shortcomings revealed in the court documents, Clonaid advertises itself as a company and solicits investments through its Web site, the Globe reports.


FDA Wants Antihistamines Sold Over-the-Counter

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to follow Claritin's lead by ordering other prescription allergy medications to be sold over-the-counter, USA Today reports.

The agency wants to make the popular medications Allegra and Zyrtec available without a prescription. FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan refused to confirm the report, telling the newspaper it was a matter "under active consideration."

Since the antihistamine Claritin went over-the-counter in December, its price has dropped by two-thirds, McClellan says. This has led several health plans to charge higher co-payments for prescription antihistamines, including Allegra and Zyrtec, USA Today reports.

The makers of Allegra and Zyrtec oppose the FDA's move, as do some consumer groups, who say insured patients would actually pay more for the drugs if they went over-the-counter. Insured people pay only a fraction of the cost of prescription medications, but they are responsible for the entire cost of drugs sold over-the-counter.


Fisher-Price Toy Poses Choking Hazard

Fisher-Price is recalling 67,000 Little People® Animal Sounds Farms toys. Two small metal screws that hold the "stall doors" in place can come off, posing breathing and choking hazards to young children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

Fisher-Price has received 33 reports of the screws coming off, including four instances of a screw being found in a child's mouth. A fifth child needed emergency surgery to remove a screw from his lung.

The recalled toys are shaped like barns and make animal sounds when the doors of the cow or horse stalls are opened. They can be identified by the model numbers 77973 or 77746 and a six-character manufacturing date code that begins with 168 through 212, followed by the number 2 as the fourth digit. Both the model number and date code can be found on the underside of the green ramp.

Toy stores and other mass-merchandise retailers nationwide sold the toys between July 2002 and December 2002 for about $30. Consumers should take the product away from young children immediately and contact Fisher-Price toll-free at 1-866-259-7873 anytime to request a free repair kit.

Consumer News