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Health Highlights: Dec. 19, 2002

Some Heart Defibrillators Linked to Increased Risks NYC Pushes Tough Anti-Smoking Bill Flu Virus Infects Hundreds Aboard Navy Vessel FDA Eases Food Advertising Rules N.Y. Couple Sentenced in Dangerous Beauty Scam Piercings, Tattoos May Suggest Other Risky Behavior

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

Some Heart Defibrillators Linked to Increased Risks

Newer, more sophisticated heart defibrillators may carry a slightly increased risk of heart failure or death for patients who have them implanted, a study warns.

The latest models feature built-in pacemakers, similar to the device implanted in Vice President Dick Cheney last year. They supply electrical impulses to the upper and lower heart chambers, helping to maintain a normal heart rhythm.

But researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found most people don't need that much help. In fact, the results show the extra heart stimulation can prove fatal, the Associated Press reports. The research suggests that less sophisticated defibrillators, fitted with back-up pacemakers that stimulate the lower heart chamber when the beat slows down, may be preferable for many heart patients.

In the study, 26.7 percent of dual-chamber patients died or suffered heart failure within one year of getting the implants, compared with 16.1 percent of patients who got only back-up pacemaking help.

This year, about 80,000 people worldwide had a defibrillator implanted. The researchers say about 75 percent of the recipients have the more sophisticated devices, but only about five percent need the added help.

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NYC Pushes Tough Anti-Smoking Bill

The New York City Council has voted in favor of one of the nation's toughest anti-smoking bills.

The bill passed yesterday, 42 votes to seven, with two abstentions. It must now be signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and could take effect by the end of March, The New York Times reports.

Designed to protect workers from second-hand smoke, the bill would ban smoking in bars, restaurants and buildings. Exemptions would apply to some cigar bars already in operation, bars with no employees except the owners, nonprofit membership clubs with no employees, and bars or certain health-care facilities with enclosed smoking rooms.

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Flu Virus Infects Hundreds Aboard Navy Vessel

An intestinal flu virus has stricken hundreds of sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt during naval exercises in the Atlantic, U.S. Navy officials said.

When the virus peaked four days ago, it had infected at least 300 of the more than 5,000 aircraft carrier crew members, CNN reports.

Blood tests have confirmed a diagnosis of intestinal flu. The ailing sailors are being treated with rest and plenty of fluids.

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FDA Eases Food Advertising Rules

Food producers may now advertise "qualified" claims about their products' health benefits, even though such claims haven't been medically proven, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Until now, food manufacturers were allowed to advertise health claims only after scientific consensus on those claims had been reached, the Associated Press reports.

The new ruling puts food manufacturers on par with producers of dietary supplements. The latter are allowed to report "qualified" health claims -- meaning there is scientific research that supports those claims, but not necessarily scientific consensus.

An example of a qualified health claim among food products is the notion that certain fish containing omega-3 fatty acids are thought to -- but not proved to -- reduce the risk of heart attack, the AP reports.

A spokesman for the food industry welcomed the move as "leveling the playing field" with the $17 billion dietary supplement industry. But consumer advocates condemned the action. "Most consumers ... don't like wishy-washy advice from health agencies," said Bruce Silverglade of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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N.Y. Couple Sentenced in Dangerous Beauty Scam

A New York City couple has been sentenced to prison for injecting an unapproved Botox-like substance into patients who wanted to look younger, Newsday reports.

Eliezar and Iris Fernandez posed as doctors and treated at least 20 people with the dangerous substance, authorities tell the newspaper. Several of those injected have been hospitalized with life-threatening infections and permanent scars.

The couple pleaded guilty in October to reckless endangerment. Eliezar Fernandez, 53, was sentenced yesterday to 2 1/3 to 7 years, and Iris, 49, was sentenced to 2 to 6 years.

The Fernandezes used Hyacell, a substance that is used for cosmetic purposes in other countries but is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The undocumented aliens from Venezuela face deportation after they serve their sentences, Newsday says.

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Piercings, Tattoos May Suggest Other Risky Behavior

Teenagers with body piercings, and especially those sporting tattoos, are more likely to experiment with alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana than teens without piercings or tattoos, a Health Canada survey suggests.

"Body piercing and tattooing are visual clues that a teen wants to be associated with the experimental, risk-taking community," the survey said.

The results showed that 40 percent of teens with tattoos were daily smokers and they were four times more likely to be daily marijuana smokers, according to a report in The Ottawa Citizen. They were also 24 percent more likely to agree that they sometimes "try things that are dangerous or forbidden just for the fun of it."

Teens with piercings were less likely to engage in risky behavior than their tattooed peers, but slightly more likely than teenagers with neither piercings nor tattoos.

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