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Health Highlights: Aug. 4, 2009

Swine Flu Deaths Surge, WHO Reports Human Malaria Originated In Chimps: Study Chinese Town Undergoes Plague Disinfection FDA Approves Avastin for Most Common Kidney Cancer

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

Swine Flu Deaths Surge, WHO Reports

The World Health Organization reported Tuesday that 338 people died from swine flu in the last week.

The H1N1 virus is now responsible for a total of at least 1,154 deaths since it emerged in Mexico and the United States in April and became a pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, the official WHO death toll was 816.

WHO said Tuesday that laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease have now reached 162,380.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government may take a less aggressive stance on school closings in swine flu outbreaks, officials involved in establishing national swine flu response guidelines told the AP.

Earlier this year, the government recommended that schools close down at the first sign of the H1N1 swine flu virus, but that advice was later relaxed.

Under the new guidelines, federal officials may recommend school closures only under "extenuating circumstances," such as cases where there are many children with underlying medical conditions, an official involved in guideline discussions told the AP.

The government might also suggest school closures if many students or staff are already sick or absent. Officials are trying to finalize guidelines before the start of the new school year.

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Human Malaria Originated In Chimps: Study

Chimpanzees appear to be the source of malaria in humans, according to a study released Tuesday.

Researchers studied malaria in chimps in Cameroon and Ivory Coast and concluded that the parasite that causes malaria in humans likely developed from the parasite that causes malaria in chimps, the Associated Press reported. It had been believed the two parasites developed from a common origin.

"We now know that malaria, while at least thousands of years old, did not originate in humans but rather was introduced into our species, presumably by the bite of a mosquito that had previously fed on a chimpanzee," said Dr. Nathan D. Wolfe of Stanford University and the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative.

He told the AP that learning more about the chimp parasite may lead to better treatments for malaria in humans, or even a vaccine.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Malaria kills a million people worldwide each year.

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Chinese Town Undergoes Plague Disinfection

A Chinese farming town where three people have died of pneumonic plague was being disinfected Tuesday by health authorities. Left untreated, the disease can kill a person within 24 hours of being infected.

Checkpoints were set up last Thursday after the outbreak was first detected in Ziketan, in the northwestern province of Qinghai. On Tuesday, workers began disinfecting the town and killing rodents and insects that can carry pneumonic plague bacteria, according to the provincial health department's Web site, the Associated Press reported.

People who visited the town since mid-July and have developed a cough or fever have been advised to seek hospital treatment. Pneumonic plague can be passed from person to person through coughing.

Along with the three who died, nine other people are infected and in hospital, said health officials and the official Xinhua news agency, the AP reported.

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FDA Approves Avastin for Most Common Kidney Cancer

The drug Avastin has been approved in the United States for treating patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma, the most common form of kidney cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Avastin to be used in combination with the drug interferon-alpha, Agence France Presse reported.

A study found that patients treated with a combination of the drugs lived nearly twice as long without disease progression compared to patients treated with only interferon-alpha.

Since the end of 2007, Avastin has been available in Europe as a first-line treatment for advanced kidney cancer, AFP reported. Last week, European officials approved the drug for treatment of breast cancer.

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