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Health Highlights: Dec. 25 , 2002

Prescription Drug Program for Low-Income Residents Ruled Illegal Millions of Americans With Severe Lung Problems Still SmokeThousands of Christmas Candles Recalled 'Tis the Season To Be Sexy? Clock Ticks for Male Fertility, Too Implantable Device May Track Patients' Organs

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

Prescription Drug Program for Low-Income Residents Ruled Illegal

An experimental Maine program designed to offer reduced prices for prescription drugs to low-income residents has been struck down by a U.S. appeals court.

The program, which received the backing of the federal government when it was created 18 months ago, was ruled unlawful because it violated the Social Security Act, which creates the guidelines for the Medicaid program, The New York Times reports. The Maine initiative required drug manufacturers to offer discounts of up to 25 percent, with no guarantee of state or federal contributions.

Other states have been weighing programs similar to Maine's as a way to combat rising drug costs. The pharmaceutical industry had opposed the Maine project.


Millions of Americans With Severe Lung Problems Still Smoke

Millions of Americans with the potentially fatal lung diseases asthma and emphysema continue to smoke.

Twenty-five percent of the estimated 16 million people with asthma still smoke, despite their doctor's warnings. And 38 percent of the nearly 3 million Americans with emphysema also smoke, the Associated Press says, quoting a report from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The study also found that 20 percent of those with high blood pressure and 19 percent of diabetics continue to smoke.

Doctors say the findings prove that nicotine is a highly addictive drug.


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.


'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.


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.


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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