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Health Highlights: Feb. 2, 2007

Texas 1st State to Mandate That Girls Get Cervical Cancer Vaccine Bush Wants Major Medicare and Medicaid Spending Cuts Protein Alterations Prevent Flu Virus From Spreading Fewer U.S. Women Dying of Heart Disease Hair Dye-Related Allergies Soaring: Journal Maytag Dishwashers Recalled Due to Fire Hazard

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

Texas 1st State to Mandate That Girls Get Cervical Cancer Vaccine

Texas Governor Rick Perry on Friday signed an executive order making his state the first to require that schoolgirls receive the Gardasil vaccine against cervical cancer.

"If there are diseases in our society that are going to cost us large amounts of money, it just makes good economic sense, not to mention the health and well-being of these individuals, to have those vaccines available," he told the Associated Press.

The vaccine -- which was approved for use by the federal government in June -- has proven highly protective against the most common strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), the cause of most cases of cervical cancers.

Beginning in September of 2008, all Texan girls entering the sixth grade (at about 11-12 years old) will receive the three shots of Gardasil needed to confer immunity, the AP reported.

Issuing an executive order allowed Perry, a Republican, to circumvent potential opposition in the state legislature from conservative groups who have voiced concern that routine HPV vaccination of young girls promotes premarital sex and interferes with parents' rights.

Perry has said, however, that he sees little difference between the cervical cancer vaccine and immunization against diseases such as polio.

The Texas move has gotten the backing of Gardasil's maker, Merck, which the AP says has doubled its lobbying budget in the state. According to the news agency, Merck could realize billions in sales if vaccination with Gardasil, which costs $360 for the three-shot regimen, is made mandatory for girls across the US.

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Bush Wants Major Medicare and Medicaid Spending Cuts

In his budget next week, it's expected that U.S. President George W. Bush will ask for more than $70 billion in spending cuts from Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years.

The proposals, part of the White House plan to balance the budget by 2012, are expected to spark a fight with the Democrat-controlled Congress, The New York Times reported.

"There is a large area for potential compromise and agreement, but with these latest Medicare proposals, the president is just asking for controversy. He still acts as if Republicans were in complete control and Democrats had lost the election," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D., N.Y.), who heads the House Ways and Means Committee.

It's also expected that Bush will propose changes to the Children's Health Insurance Program that could reduce federal payments to states that provide coverage for children with family incomes that are more than twice the poverty level, the Times reported.

In contrast, Democrats want major expansions of the children's health program.

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Protein Alterations Prevent Flu Virus From Spreading

Making changes to a protein on the surface of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic prevents the virus from spreading among animals, says a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published Friday in the journal Science.

The scientists said this kind of research may help them better prepare for the next pandemic, CBC News reported.

For the study, the CDC team recreated batches of the 1918 virus and then made two changes to a protein on its surface. The modified virus was then put in the noses of lab ferrets. The infected animals developed flu and died but did not transmit it to uninfected neighboring ferrets.

The alterations made by the CDC scientists to the 1918 flu virus made it similar to the H5N1 bird flu virus, CBC News reported. Currently, H5N1 is not easily transmitted among humans, but experts fear that H5N1 could mutate and cause a pandemic.

"Though we still don't know what changes might be necessary for H5N1 to transmit easily among people, it's likely that changes in more than one virus protein would be required for the H5N1 virus to be transmitted among humans," study lead author Dr. Terrence Tumpey said.

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Fewer U.S. Women Dying of Heart Disease

The number of American women who died from heart disease decreased from one in three in 2003 to one in four in 2004, a drop of nearly 17,000 deaths, the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) said Thursday.

The institute also noted that heart disease deaths in women steadily declined from 2000 to 2004, a type of steady annual decline that had not occurred before. The findings were released to mark National Wear Red Day, part of The Heart Truth program to raise women's awareness about heart disease and encourage them to take action to reduce their risk factors.

"To see such a significant reduction in deaths underscores that the efforts of many individuals and organizations to raise awareness, improve treatment and access, and inspire women to take action are truly saving lives," Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, NHLBI director, said in a prepared statement.

She said significant progress has been made in increasing women's awareness that heart disease is their leading killer. In 2005, 55 percent of women were aware of that fact, compared to 34 percent in 2000, according to survey findings.

"More women are aware that heart disease is their leading killer, and research shows that this heightened awareness is leading them to take action to reduce their risk. They are more likely to step up their physical activity, eat healthier, and lose weight," Nabel said.

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Hair Dye-Related Allergies Soaring: Journal

As more people around the world color their hair, the number of people who suffer allergic reactions to hair dye is soaring, warns the British Medical Journal.

The study said the allergic reactions are caused by para-phenylenediamine (PPD) and related compounds in a group of chemicals called aromatic amines, which have been used in hair dyes for more than a century, Agence France Presse reported.

The allergic reactions can cause eczema on the face or around the hairline and, in severe cases, facial swelling and painful bruising.

Citing case reports from a number of countries, the British Medical Journal said the worldwide incidence of PPD allergy is rapidly increasing.

"Cultural and commercial pressures to dye hair and, perhaps, the widespread obsession with the 'culture of youth' are putting people at risk and increasing the burden on health services," the journal noted in it's Feb. 3 issue.

But persuading people to change is difficult.

"It may not be easy to reverse these trends ... as some patients have continued to use such dyes even when advised that they are allergic to them and risk severe reactions," the journal noted.

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Maytag Dishwashers Recalled Due to Fire Hazard

Faulty wiring that can cause a fire has prompted the voluntary recall of 2.3 million Maytag and Jenn-Air brand dishwashers, the company and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Thursday.

Maytag has received reports of 135 fires and four injuries linked to the faulty wiring, the Associated Press reported.

The recall covers under-counter or portable plastic tub dishwashers with almond, black, white, bisque, or stainless-steel front covers. The machines were sold at appliance and department stores between July 1997 and June 2001. Prices ranged from $370 to $800.

The CPSC said consumers with these dishwashers should immediately disconnect them from electrical power by disconnecting a fuse or by shutting off a circuit breaker, the AP reported.

To check if your dishwasher is included in the recall, phone Maytag at 1-800-675-0535.

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