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Health Highlights: August 2, 2002

Louisiana West Nile Deaths Prompt Emergency Declaration Deal Keeps Mass. Drugstore Chains Carrying Medicaid -- For Now 'Reliever' Inhalers Tied to Asthma Deaths Genetic Link Found in Some Violent Men Feds Propose Gene-Altered Crop Rules to Thwart Contamination More American Kids Get Chicken Pox Vaccine

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

Louisiana West Nile Deaths Prompt Emergency Declaration

The confirmed deaths of four Louisiana residents from West Nile virus and the infections of 58 others with the mosquito-borne disease have prompted Gov. Mike Foster to declare a statewide emergency.

Health officials say the virus has been detected in nearly all corners of Louisiana and, in addition to the deaths, has caused the hospitalization of at least a dozen people.

The first confirmed death was that of an 83-year-old Baton Rouge woman, and the latest deaths included a 53-year-old man from Folsom, a 75-year-old man from Baton Rouge and a 72-year-old man from the town of Iowa in Calcasieu Parish, reports the Associated Press.

The deaths are the first in the nation to be reported from West Nile this year. There have been a total of 185 confirmed cases and 22 deaths, including the Louisiana deaths, from West Nile since the virus first appeared in the country in 1999, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Foster says he hopes the declaration of a state of emergency will bring in federal money to help counties step up spraying for mosquitoes.

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Deal Keeps Mass. Drugstore Chains Carrying Medicaid -- For Now

Three leading drugstore chains say they will temporarily continue to fill Medicaid prescriptions in Massachusetts on the condition that the state reconsiders plans to slash reimbursements for such prescriptions by 11 percent.

Drugstore chains CVS Corp., Walgreen Co. and Brooks Pharmacy, which fill about 60 percent of the state's Medicaid prescriptions, threatened to withdraw from the Medicaid program following this week's announcement of the planned cut in reimbursements.

Under an agreement with the state, the pharmacies will continue to receive the current rate for Medicaid prescriptions through Oct. 2nd, while the state holds a public hearing to set an appropriate reimbursement rate, reports the Associated Press.

The state will also require that beginning today, pharmacies must give a 30-day notice prior to withdrawing from the Medicaid program. Previously, no advance notice was required.

About 900,000 Massachusetts residents belong to the health program for the poor, which is jointly operated with state and federal funds.

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'Reliever' Inhalers Tied to Asthma Deaths

Asthma patients who use their so-called "reliever" inhalers excessively are at increased risk of death from asthma, a new study shows.

Researchers evaluated the relative risk of dying from asthma for someone taking a specific asthma drug -- either short-acting beta agonist inhalers designed for emergency or relief use, or inhaled steroids, longer-acting medicines designed to keep the condition under control, reports HealthDay.

In looking at the records of more than 96,000 asthmatics, ages 10 to 79, the researchers found that 43 people died specifically as a result of their asthma, most of whom were over the age of 50.

After factoring out various health risks, the researchers found that those who used the beta agonists the most had the highest risk of asthma death.

The findings, reported in the August issue of the journal Thorax, mirror those of several other recent studies, say the authors.

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Genetic Link Found in Some Violent Men

A gene linked to aggressive behavior may help explain why some men who were abused as children turn to violent crime while others do not, reports HealthDay.

Men with relatively weak activity of the gene, called MAOA, who were maltreated as children are far more likely to display antisocial behaviors than their peers who also suffered abuse but have normal levels of the instruction.

Although the study suggests that weak MAOA may be a proverbial devil on the shoulder, the researchers stressed that healthy MAOA is a powerful protector from antisocial urges.

"There must be something in one's [genes] that can make a person trauma-resistant," said Terrie Moffitt, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a co-author of the study.

Moffitt and her colleagues report their findings this week in the journal Science.

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Feds Propose Gene-Altered Crop Rules to Thwart Contamination

To prevent unapproved genetically modified crops from contaminating the regular food supply, the White House is proposing new rules to protect consumers, The New York Times reports.

The newspaper says that based on the sheer number of field trials of genetically modified crops, some of them will inevitably find their way into the normal food supply, federal officials worry. Since most of the experimental crops will not have been government tested and approved, officials fear the possible health concerns and the possibility of a slew of recalls.

The White House is suggesting that before field trials grow too large, the Food and Drug Administration or Environmental Protection Agency should test the new product for possible toxicity or whether it could cause allergies.

A recent example of a genetically modified food making its way into the normal food supply involved altered corn called StarLink. Once discovered in taco shells and other foods, the contamination resulted in massive recalls and severely hurt American corn exports, the Times reports.

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More American Kids Get Chicken Pox Vaccine

More than 75 percent of American toddlers received the chicken pox vaccine last year, up from about 25 percent five years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Chicken pox is usually mild in children, but in some cases can lead to pneumonia and other serious infections, reports the Associated Press. Before the vaccine was introduced in 1995, the vast majority of American children contracted the disease.

The chicken pox vaccine is recommended for children ages 19 to 35 months. The CDC also says that vaccinations against other diseases among the same aged children are at an all-time high. Nearly 90 percent have been inoculated against hepatitis B, and 94 percent against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough.

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