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Health Highlights: Dec. 10, 2014

EPA Issues New Rule for Certain Chemicals in Paints, Glues Ebola Fighters Are Time's 2014 Person of the Year Ebola Risk Extremely High for Health Workers in Sierra Leone: Study Laughing Gas Shows Promise in Treating Depression Whole Grains Standard for School Meals Eased

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

EPA Issues New Rule for Certain Chemicals in Paints, Glues

A new rule to protect Americans from chemicals that can cause birth defects, blood toxicity and other health problems was announced Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The seven ethylene glycol ethers or glymes chemicals are currently used in consumer products such as paints, inks and glues. Under the new rule, companies will be required to have any proposed new uses of these chemicals reviewed by the EPA for possible harmful effects to people or the environment.

"Today's action is part of our continuing efforts to help ensure that chemicals in products we use every day are safe for the American public," Jim Jones, assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention at the EPA, said in an agency news release.

"Finalizing this action could prevent an increase in the use of these chemicals and reduce human exposure through ingestion and inhalation," he added.


Ebola Fighters Are Time's 2014 Person of the Year

Time has chosen the Ebola fighters as its 2014 Person of the Year.

"Ebola is a war, and a warning. The global health system is nowhere close to strong enough to keep us safe from infectious disease, and 'us' means everyone, not just those in faraway places where this is one threat among many that claim lives every day," Time said in explaining its decision.

"The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight. For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are Time's 2014 Person of the Year."

Other finalists included the Ferguson protesters, Vladimir Putin, Taylor Swift and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.


Ebola Risk Extremely High for Health Workers in Sierra Leone: Study

Health care workers in Sierra Leone have more than 100 times the risk of catching Ebola than the general public, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

This increased risk is not necessarily due to poor protective measures in hospitals. Health care workers are a close community and when one becomes sick with Ebola, that person can infect his or her colleagues, NBC News reported.

In countries affected by the current Ebola outbreak, 622 health care workers have been infected and 346 of them have died, according to the World Health Organization.

The loss of medical staff is a serious problem for Sierra Leone, which has only 2,400 health care workers for a country of six million people, NBC News reported.


Laughing Gas Shows Promise in Treating Depression

Laughing gas may help treat severe depression, researchers say.

Their study of 20 patients found that nitrous oxide -- often used to sedate dental surgery patients -- can be a fast-acting and effective treatment for severe depression in people who haven't responded to antidepressants or other standard therapies, CBS News reported.

Two-thrids of patients who received the gas had significant improvements in their depressive symptoms, compared to one-third of those who were given a placebo, according to the study in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

"The nitrous oxide treatment improved it above and beyond the placebo," Dr. Peter Nagele, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Washington University's School of Medicine, said in a podcast, CBS News reported. "This was fairly rapid, so at two hours. But our primary endpoint when we measured everybody -- we asked the patients to come back the next day -- was sustained to a day."


Whole Grains Standard for School Meals Eased

A requirement for more whole grains in school meals would be eased under a bill released by Congress.

Some schools say meeting the whole grain rules -- part of healthier school meal standards phased in since 2012 -- is a major challenge, the Associated Press reported.

House Republicans wanted to permit schools to opt out of the school meal standards, but the bill does not allow for that. In addition to easing the requirement for whole grains, the bill would delay reductions of sodium in school meals that were to take effect in 2017.

The changes to the school meal standards are included in a huge year-end spending bill that's expected to become law before the end of the year, the AP reported.

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