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Health Highlights: August 9, 2002

Two New West Nile Deaths Reported Restored Hair Color Seen With Cancer Drug Screenwriter Eszterhas Reveals Cancer, Urges Non-Smoking Movies Twins Moving Following Separation Surgery New York Mayor Seeks Wider Smoking Ban Canadian Dies of Mad Cow-Like Disease Second Briton Dies of Legionnaires'

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

Two New West Nile Deaths Reported, Brings La. Total to 7

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

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

All seven deaths from the disease 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 from New Orleans, where many of the other cases have occurred.


Restored Hair Color Seen With Cancer Drug

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

A team of French doctors say 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, however one patient saw restoration in a little as 14 months.

The doctors said there may have been even more patients with restored hair color, but it was hard to tell since some patients had dyed their hair.

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 today'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 formerly conjoined-at-the-head twin girls were still in critical but stable condition but were making their first gestures and opening their eyes today 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 sister Maria Teresa, were born in rural Guatemala and brought to UCLA for the surgery by a non-profit group called Healing the Children. Physicians on the surgery, estimated to cost about $1.5 million, donated their services.


New York 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.


Second Briton Dies of Legionnaires'

A woman in her 50s has become Britain's second casualty of the nation's worst outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in a decade. The woman was not immediately identified.

More than 100 others have become ill, including 90 who remain hospitalized, reports the Associated Press. The pneumonia-like illness is believed to have stemmed from an air conditioning system in the town of Barrow-in-Furness, public health officials say.

In the past, the primary source of infection with Legionella bacteria has been water in the heating or air conditioning systems in public buildings.

Both the disease and the bacterium were discovered following an outbreak traced to a 1976 American Legion convention in Philadelphia.

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