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Health Highlights: Dec. 11 2002

Over-the-Counter Claritin Now in Drug Stores Two Out of Three Americans Favor Smallpox Vaccine, Poll Says OJ Loses Vitamin C Punch Over Time Cosmetics Chemical May Damage Sperm Chickens Harboring Resistant Bacteria Women Waiting Longer to Start Families

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

Over-the-Counter Claritin Selling in Drug Stores

Claritin, the allergy drug previously available on prescription only, is now for sale in drugstores as an over-the-counter purchase.

According to an initial survey, consumers will pay between 90 cents and $1.35 per 10-milligram tablet, manufacturer Schering-Plough told the Associated Press. For people without insurance, this is a money-saver. But for those with insurance, a 30-day supply will cost $27 to $40.50, which is more expensive than the $5 to $10 copayment they pay for prescription medication.

The non-drowsy antihistamine comes in three once-a-day formulations, a twice-a-day formulation, and a syrup for children.

Claritin's switch to a non-prescription medication has prescription-plan holders concerned that insurance companies may refuse to cover other prescription-only antihistamines or may increase patients' copayments.

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Two Out of Three Americans Favor Smallpox Vaccine, Poll Says

Two out of three Americans say they'd have the smallpox vaccine despite the risk of serious side effects, according to a new poll.

A telephone survey of 1,002 adults, conducted for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, indicates that people are more concerned about smallpox being used in a bioterror attack than they are about possible vaccine repercussions, the Orlando TV station WESH 2 reports.

Most respondents also said that when it came to information about how to protect themselves, they had more faith in their doctors than the government. And they believe America is only slightly better prepared to deal with a bioterrorism assault than it was a year ago when anthrax was sent through the mail.

President Bush is expected to decide shortly whether the smallpox vaccine should be offered to the public for the first time in 30 years.

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OJ Loses Vitamin C Punch Over Time

Orange juice loses much of its vitamin C zing the longer it sits in your refrigerator, new research suggests.

According to an Arizona State University study, the closer a carton of orange juice gets to its expiration date, the less vitamin C it contains. How much less, depends on the container, the Montreal Gazette reports.

Over a period of 30 days, researchers periodically tested brands with screw-on caps, brands in milk-carton style containers, and orange juice made from frozen concentrate. At all points, the frozen variety had the most vitamin C, while the juice in the carton had the least.

But as the days passed, the level of the nutrient kept falling in all three brands. For example, orange juice made from a fresh batch of frozen concentrate has 65 milligrams of vitamin C per 165 gram serving. Researchers found that after two weeks this fell to 45 milligrams, and to 36 milligrams after four weeks.

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Cosmetics Chemical May Damage Sperm

A common chemical found in cosmetics, perfumes and certain plastics may damage the sperm of adult men, Harvard University researchers say.

The chemical type, known as phthalates, may cause damage to sperm's genetic material, the researchers report in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. But they are unsure whether the damage could cause male infertility or birth defects, according to an analysis of the report from BBC News Online. The chemical has been shown to cause birth defects among animals, but that potential has not been proven in people.

Last month, the U.S. Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel, an industry-sponsored monitoring group, voted to allow continued use of phthalates, which are commonly used to make fragrances last longer, and to soften some materials made of plastic.

The Harvard scientists, who studied semen and urine samples from 168 men, say they plan a bigger study to measure pregnancy success rates and other fertility factors.

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Chickens Harboring Resistant Bacteria

Almost half the chickens bought during a random test at grocers around the United States contained a harmful bacterium that causes food poisoning, according to a survey published in the January issue of Consumer Reports.

Campylobacter bacteria were found in 42 percent of 484 fresh chickens purchased. And another bacterium, salmonella, was found in 12 percent of the chickens. Even more worrisome, 90 percent of the campylobacter and 34 percent of the salmonella proved resistant to common antibiotics like tetracycline, reports the Associated Press, in its analysis of the Consumer Reports article.

Both types of bacteria can cause nasty cases of food poisoning, with symptoms including diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In people with weakened immune systems, severe infections could cause death.

Campylobacter, salmonella, and similar germs can be killed by washing your hands thoroughly after handling the poultry. Experts say you should cook the chicken so it is no longer pink, and heat the poultry to 180 degrees.

The U.S. Agriculture Department, which already randomly tests products for salmonella, says it's in the beginning stages of creating a campylobacter testing program, the AP reports.

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Women Waiting Longer to Start Families

The average American woman waited until she was about 25 years old before starting a family in the year 2000, compared with 21.4 years for her first birth in 1970, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a report released today.

The increase in average age reflects a recent downturn in teen-age pregnancies and rising birth rates for women in their 30s and 40s, the CDC says. But the agency's National Center for Health Statistics reports that the majority of pregnancies still occur among women in their 20s.

In 2000, the average age of a woman who had her first child ranged from a low of 22.5 years in Mississippi to 27.8 years in Massachusetts. In 1970, Arkansas had the lowest average age at 20.2 years, and the highest age was shared by Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York at 22.5 years.

The report, titled "Mean Age of Mother, 1970 to 2000," cites changes in educational opportunities and career choices for women in the last 30 years. The number of women completing college nearly doubled during the span, and the number of women in the workforce rose 40 percent, the report says.

Consumer News