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Health Highlights: Dec. 24 , 2002

Thousands of Christmas Candles Recalled Most 9/11 Dust Particles Too Large to Cause Harm 'Tis the Season To Be Sexy? Clock Ticks for Male Fertility, Too Italy to Ban Smoking in Restaurants, Bars Implantable Device May Track Patients' Organs Army Nerve Gas Study Shows Long-Term Effects in Animals

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

Thousands of Christmas Candles Recalled

A Florida company is recalling about 60,000 Christmas tealight candles because of a possible fire hazard.

The wick doesn't properly burn down and can melt the candle's plastic holder, according to an Associated Press story.

The wire service says the manufacturer, Atico International USA Inc., of Fort Lauderdale, received one report of a candle holder melting. The incident was reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which said there were no injuries.

The candles are red, white and green and come in packages with the words "Merry Christmas," "Christmas Morning," "Candy Cane" or "A Christmas Avenue."

According to the AP, the stores that carried the candles nationwide since last September were Eckerds, Kerr Drugs, Snyders Drug Store and Farmacias El Amal.

For more information, consumers can call the company at 1-800-645-3867, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.

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Most 9/11 Dust Particles Too Large to Cause Harm

New York City residents who inhaled the dust and debris caused by the 9/11 terrorist attacks may not have to fear long term effects.

The New York Times reports that study samples of the millions of tons of dust collected after the collapse of the twin towers at the World Trade Center found that most particles were large enough to be expelled from the lungs.

Only about one percent of the material was small enough to be absorbed into the body, researchers found. The results of the study will be published in the February issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

"That means, in terms of potential lifetime exposures, we're probably going to be very lucky in that these may not be exposures of significant health risk," said Paul Lioy, one of the authors of the report and an associate director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.

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'Tis the Season to Be Sexy?

The holidays are a romantic time -- perhaps a bit too romantic.

According to an Associated Press story, teenagers who are going steady are more likely to have sex for the first time during the Christmas/New Year's period than at any other time of year except June.

Researchers from Mississippi State University who reviewed data from a federal health survey found that many teens who are dating seriously choose December as the time to have sex for the first time.

The findings were solid enough for the experts to predict that teenagers with steady partners are three times more likely to lose their virginity than teens who don't have a Main Squeeze.

"We call it the 'Santa Claus effect,' " Martin Levin, lead author of the study, told the AP. The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

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Clock Ticks for Male Fertility, Too

When couples have trouble conceiving a child, the problem lies with the man as often as with the woman, according to some fertility experts.

Dr. Marc Goldstein of New York Presbyterian Hospital, told MSNBC that men also become less fertile with age; it's just a more gradual process for them.

Dr. Narendra Singh of the University of Washington says that sperm cells in older men are more likely to have damaged DNA. "We found that there is a sudden change around 35 years of age," Singh told MSNBC. Experts like Singh say men should be aware that their biological clock can also run out of time.

According to a Dec. 20 report on fertility treatments, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2.1 million Americans have fertility problems.

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Italy to Ban Smoking in Restaurants, Bars

The Italian government passed a bill over the weekend that bans smoking in most public places.

The new law, which is expected to take effect in a year, will hit the country's smokers hard. Italians, who ignore smoking bans in places like cinemas, airports, museums and other places, will face fines ranging from $25 to $250 if they violate the new law. And if they light up around pregnant women or children under age 12, the fine doubles, Pasadena News reports.

Bar and restaurant owners who want to allow smoking must create separate smoking areas. If they fail to enforce the law, owners risk paying up to $2,000 in fines.

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Implantable Device May Track Patients' Organs

Tiny implantable medical devices may soon be used to track a person's organ function, experts say.

Five years ago, Medtronic released its pioneer implantable monitor for people with mysterious fainting spells. Today, the company has sold more than 25,000 of the 2-inch-long monitors, known as Reveal. The device is implanted in a person's pectoral muscle and monitors heart activity in a 42-minute loop. A doctor or nurse can retrieve the recorded data at any time and restart the loop.

Developers say the Reveal monitor is just the beginning for implantable monitors. They envision implants that track blood pressure, heart rates, even pressure in the brain of spina bifida patients who require fluid-draining shunts.

Doctors hope the monitors will cut treatment costs and result in fewer hospital visits for patients.

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Army Nerve Gas Study Shows Long-Term Effects in Animals

Low levels of sarin nerve gas affected the behavior and organ functions of laboratory animals at least a month after exposure, according to new research that could provide clues to the mysterious illnesses of Persian Gulf War veterans.

In two separate Army-sponsored studies, scientists observed behavioral problems, brain changes and immune system suppression in rodents many days after exposure to doses that caused no immediate effects, such as convulsions or pupil constriction, the Associated Press reports.

Although these are only animal studies, one on guinea pigs, the other on mice, they appear the first to provide new information in an area where a lack of research has made it impossible to conclude whether Gulf veterans' illnesses are linked to low-level sarin gas exposure.

"They are pushing back the frontiers of biological effects of low levels of sarin. The evidence is building," said Dr. Francis O'Donnell, a medical consultant for the Defense Department who helps track Gulf War illness research.

Veterans of the 1991 war have suffered from various illnesses they believe linked to their service in the Gulf. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems, loss of muscle control and loss of balance.

Most scientists have blamed stress. Some veterans attribute the health problems to toxic substances they encountered in the Gulf, including sarin.

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