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Health Highlights: Dec. 9, 2002

Epilepsy Treatment May Help With Depression, Other Ills Genes May Predict Tumor Spread U.S. Surgeon General Undergoes Appendectomy Carbon Monoxide Deaths Among Cold Carolinians U.N. Official Chides West Over AIDS Crisis AWOL Surgeon Sued by Spinal Patient

Epilepsy Treatment May Help With Depression, Other Ills

Vagus nerve stimulation, a therapy used to reduce epileptic seizures, may also help people who suffer from severe depression, Alzheimer's disease and chronic migraines, researchers say.

The treatment involves wiring a small device, implanted in a patient's chest, to the vagus nerve in the neck. The device stimulates the nerve for 30 seconds, every five minutes, 24 hours a day. By interrupting electrical impulses in the brain -- the cause of epileptic seizures -- the technique reduces the number and severity of seizures, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.

Preliminary research suggests the therapy may also help other health conditions. In a recent Swedish study, it improved cognition in 10 Alzheimer's patients. And last year, European Union countries approved vagus nerve stimulation as a treatment for depression.

The new study was presented at the American Epilepsy Society's annual meeting in Seattle.

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Genes May Predict Tumor Spread

A genetic "fingerprint" may reveal whether certain tumors will spread to other parts of the body, new research says.

Until recently, doctors believed that unpredictable cells caused cancer's spread. But a study by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute suggests that certain tumors have genetic patterns. And genes within a cancer cell are more likely to determine whether the cancer will surface in a site other than the original malignancy, The Boston Globe reports.

"These results strongly support the idea that some primary tumors are preconfigured to metastasize and that this propensity is detectable at the time of initial diagnosis," researcher Dr. Sridhar Ramaswamy told the newspaper.

The study is published in the current edition of Nature Genetics.

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U.S. Surgeon General Undergoes Appendectomy

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona underwent an appendectomy yesterday evening at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, according to his office.

Carmona, in Hawaii to address the Research Centers in Minority Institutions International Symposium, had the 45-minute surgery after admitting himself to the center yesterday.

Carmona is expected to spend the next few days recuperating in the hospital and will return to work full-time shortly after the holidays, his office said.

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Carbon Monoxide Deaths Among Cold Carolinians

North Carolina residents without power since last week's ice storm are doing virtually anything to stay warm. That includes bringing in barbeque grills and outdoor heaters that subject them to carbon monoxide poisoning, two state newspapers report.

The Raleigh News & Observer cites authorities who say one person in the Durham area has already died. And the Charlotte Observer, reporting a death in that city as well, says Hispanic immigrants used to warmer climates aren't familiar with carbon monoxide hazards and are particularly vulnerable.

The newspapers say the American Red Cross is distributing free carbon monoxide detectors to warn people of the odorless gas. And other volunteers are passing out flyers in Hispanic neighborhoods.

Carbon monoxide reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen, and low blood oxygen levels can result in loss of consciousness and death. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and confusion, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

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U.N. Official Chides West Over AIDS Crisis

Western nations' response to the burgeoning AIDS crisis in Africa is woefully inadequate, the United Nations' top AIDS advisor charges.

"We know there is a lot of money out there, we know there is plenty of food but something must be profoundly wrong somewhere," former Canadian legislator Stephen Lewis tells the Associated Press.

A four-year-old appeal from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for countries to donate $10 billion to combat AIDS in Africa has so far raised just $2.1 billion, Lewis says.

About 70 percent of the world's AIDS cases are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, the AP reports. The disease has claimed the lives of 7 million agricultural workers there since 1995, which has only added to the scourge by threatening some 14 million of the region's people with starvation.

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AWOL Surgeon Sued by Spinal Patient

The patient who was left on a Boston operating table while his doctor left in mid-surgery to make a bank deposit is suing the surgeon for malpractice, CNN reports.

Charles Algeri, who underwent spinal fusion surgery last July, says he suffers pain that's getting progressively worse. He blames Dr. David Arndt, who reportedly left Algeri on the table for 35 minutes with an open 14-inch incision. Algeri says he's not suing Mount Auburn Hospital, where the operation took place, insisting that Dr. Arndt bears full responsibility. The hospital has since suspended the surgeon.

The amount of the suit wasn't immediately disclosed. Algeri says he probably will need additional surgery to alleviate his pain and correct alleged problems with the original fusion.

Asked by CNN's Connie Chung what should happen to Dr. Arndt, Algeri replied, "A lot of people think I'm out for money. And it's not that. It's that I want to get well. I would like him to live, to go through what I go through every day just to get out of bed, just to get in and out of the bathroom, let's say... walk a mile in my shoes."

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