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Health Highlights: August 10, 2002

Bush Administration Issues Patient Privacy Standards 2 More West Nile Deaths Reported; Miss. Declares State of Emergency Charlton Heston Apparently Has Alzheimer's Restored Hair Color Seen With Cancer Drug Screenwriter Eszterhas Reveals Cancer, Urges Non-Smoking Movies Twins Moving Following Separation Surgery New York City Mayor Seeks Wider Smoking Ban Canadian Dies of Mad Cow-Like Disease

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

Bush Administration Issues Patient Privacy Standards

After a decade of debate, the United States finally has its first set of comprehensive federal standards governing the privacy of people's computerized medical records.

Under the rules issued yesterday by the Bush administration, physicians and hospitals can share information about patients without their permission with managed-care and insurance companies. But they can do so only for the treatment of patients, the payment of bills, or to carry out a "broad, undefined category labeled health care operations,' " the Washington Post reports.

People gain the right to inspect their medical records, correct mistakes, learn who has looked at their records, and "seek penalties against anyone who misuses the information," the newspaper says.

The administration says it struck the right balance between privacy concerns and the need for timely medical care.

Advocates for privacy, however, say the new rules, which take effect next April, don't do enough to protect people's privacy. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D.-Mass., says he plans to introduce a bill to overturn the regulations.


2 More West Nile Deaths Reported; Miss. Declares State of Emergency

Health officials in Louisiana say two more people in that state have died from the West Nile virus, bringing the total number of deaths in the current outbreak to seven.

In addition, another 14 cases have been confirmed in the state. That brings to 85 the total number of cases of the mosquito-borne disease now reported, making the outbreak the largest since West Nile first appeared in the United States in 1999, reports the Associated Press.

Officials in neighboring Mississippi suspect a death there may be the eighth West Nile death in the U.S. this year. As a result, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove yesterday declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to seek federal funding to fight a potential outbreak.

All seven confirmed deaths from the disease this year have been in Louisiana, with the latest two being a 76-year-old man and a 94-year-old woman, both from areas across Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, where many of the other cases have occurred.


Charlton Heston Apparently Has Alzheimer's

Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston disclosed yesterday that he has symptoms that would indicate the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

"My dear friends, colleagues and fans, my physicians have recently told me I may have a neurological disorder whose symptoms are consistent with Alzheimer's disease," Heston, 78, said in a taped statement played at a news conference in Beverly Hills.

"I'm neither giving up nor giving in," he added.

If the diagnosis proves accurate -- and only an autopsy can tell for sure -- Heston would join the four million Americans with the degenerative neurological condition. Doctors can briefly slow the progression of Alzheimer's with drugs, but they have yet to find a cure for the illness, HealthDay reports.


Restored Hair Color Seen With Cancer Drug

Some cancer drugs are associated with hair thinning and falling out, but researchers say they've found that one popular cancer drug used to treat leukemia appears to restore color to gray hair.

A team of French doctors says that in treating 133 cancer patients with the drug Gleevec, they found that five men and four women who started out with gray hair had their original hair color restored after treatment, reports the BBC.

The color was restored over a period of about five months in most patients.

The findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.


Screenwriter Eszterhas Reveals Cancer, Urges Non-Smoking Movies

In his movies, cigarettes have been seductive and glamorous, but in "Basic Instinct" writer Joe Eszterhas' real life, tobacco has caused throat cancer and had the very un-glamorous effect of robbing him of his voice.

The controversial screenwriter revealed in an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times that he was diagnosed with throat cancer 18 months ago and that it has destroyed much of his larynx, making speaking difficult.

Eszterhas says he is having difficulty forgiving himself for filling his films with characters who smoked rampantly and he is calling on Hollywood to stop presenting smoking as being attractive or glamorous.

"My hands are bloody; so are Hollywood's. My cancer has caused me to attempt to cleanse mine," he writes. "I don't wish my fate upon anyone in Hollywood, but I beg that Hollywood stop imposing it upon millions of others."


Twins Moving Following Separation Surgery

The twin girls born joined at the head are still in critical but stable condition, but they are making their first gestures and opening their eyes following a 22-hour surgery by a team of UCLA doctors to separate them.

The 1-year-old girls began movement after being taken off of paralyzing drugs they had been on since the surgery on Tuesday. Doctors say they are "cautiously optimistic" about the girls' long-term prospects, reports the Associated Press.

The girls, Maria de Jesus Quiej Alvarez and Maria Teresa, were born in rural Guatemala and brought to UCLA for the surgery by a non-profit group called Healing the Children. Physicians who performed the surgery, estimated to cost about $1.5 million, donated their services.


New York City Mayor Seeks Wider Smoking Ban

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban smoking in all of the city's bars and restaurants, the Associated Press reports. The wider ban would include 13,000 establishments not covered under the existing anti-smoking law, which allows smoking in bars and small restaurants with fewer than 35 seats.

The mayor is expected to announce his plans early next week, the AP says.

Cigarette sales in the city sank almost 50 percent last month after the city raised its per-pack tax from 8 cents to $1.50. The price on some packs jumped to more than $7.

California and Delaware currently ban smoking in all bars and restaurants, as do several cities, including El Paso, Texas, the AP reports.


Canadian Dies of Mad Cow-Like Disease

An unidentified Canadian man is that nation's first confirmed casualty of a human condition related to "mad cow" disease.

The man, who died at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was under 50 years old, reports the Associated Press. He contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) while living in Britain, where he regularly consumed processed meats, a Canadian government spokesman says.

There is no cure for the brain-wasting fatal illness, which causes progressive dementia. More than 100 Britons have died from CJD, which can be transmitted by eating infected meat or by coming in contact with contaminated tissue or medical equipment.

The disease can only be confirmed by autopsy. The Canadian man's diagnosis was confirmed Aug 6, the AP says.

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