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Health Highlights: Feb. 22, 2007

U.S. Experts Deny Problems With HPV Vaccine Britain to Pay Women for Eggs Donated to Research 'Preemie' Baby Released From Hospital, Back at Home More Americans Treated for Meth, Narcotic Abuse Medical Marijuana Advocates Sue U.S. Government European Union Not Ready for Flu Pandemic: Report

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

U.S. Experts Deny Problems With HPV Vaccine

Although there are more than 500 cases of mostly minor side effects involving a vaccine that could prevent cervical cancer in girls and women, U.S. health officials say there's no need for additional warning labels on the vaccine, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The report preceded a meeting in Atlanta Thursday, at which experts were to present side-effects data on the vaccine, Gardasil, to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of the side-effect reports involve fainting, but fainting is a common side effect among teens who get any vaccination, experts told the wire service. "There is absolutely no reason to think that there is anything in this vaccine, as opposed to another vaccine, that's going to make people more likely to faint," CDC immunization safety official Dr. John Iskander told the AP.

Gardasil is Merck & Co.'s three-dose vaccine approved for females ages nine to 26. It protects against strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) that have been shown to cause cancer of the cervix.

On Wednesday, a Virginia-based group called the National Vaccine Information Center issued a statement describing side effects of the vaccine. The statement also argued that not enough research had been done on the vaccine to prove that it was safe.

The AP said it had obtained data showing 542 reports of adverse side effects of the vaccine, ranging from fainting and injection site swelling, to fever and nausea. There also have been three reports of Guillian-Barre syndrome, a debilitating condition that has been associated with other vaccines, the wire service said.

Earlier this week, Merck said it would end a campaign to persuade states to require the vaccine for adolescent girls attending public school, the AP said.


Britain to Pay Women for Eggs Donated to Research

Britain approved a plan Thursday to pay women to donate eggs for stem cell and cloning research, a move scientists say would improve the supply but civil rights groups worry will exploit the poor.

Under the plan, women undergoing expensive fertility treatments would be given discounts for donated eggs. Others would receive up to 250 pounds (about $500 U.S.) for each fertilization cycle to cover travel costs or lost work time.

The donated eggs would be used to create cloned embryos from which to extract stem cells for research into curing diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The United States and some other countries already allow human egg donations for research, but the U.S. has no national policy on payment. Some states, however, do reimburse women for costs, the Associated Press reported.

Not everyone is happy with the plan, however. Dr. Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Laboratory at King's College, London, told the AP, "It's exploitative, because there will be women attracted even by the thought of getting 250 pounds from this. I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of selling tissue and body parts."


'Preemie' Baby Released From Hospital, Back at Home

Amillia Sonja Taylor, who was just 9 1/2 inches long and weighed less than 10 ounces when she was born last October, is back at her parents' home in Homestead, Fla., just south of Miami, Baptist Children's Hospital officials told the Associated Press on Thursday.

"They called me in the morning, told me to come pick her up," said mother Sonja Taylor.

Dr. Paul Fassbach, who cared for Amillia since shortly after she was born, said doctors decided to release her after her blood-cell count appeared to go up. Amillia, whose name means resilient and a fighter, suffered respiratory and digestive problems, as well as a mild brain hemorrhage, when she was born after less than 22 weeks in the womb.

Doctors believe that the girl will not suffer major long-term effects. Amillia now weighs about 4 1/2 pounds and is just over 15 1/2 inches long. A developmental specialist will track her neurological development, the AP reported.


More Americans Treated for Meth, Narcotic Abuse

While treatment admissions are falling for abuse of cocaine and heroin, admissions are rising for Americans being treated for abuse of methamphetamine and narcotic painkillers, the U.S. government said Thursday.

People treated for prescription narcotic abuse rose 9 percent to more than 64,000 between 2004 and 2005, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said in a statement. And between 1995 and 2005, the number of admissions for drugs including codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, and similar medications soared more than 300 percent, the agency said.

Use of methamphetamine, a home-made stimulant produced from ingredients in over-the-counter cold medicines, rose 12 percent to more than 169,000 between 2004 and 2005, SAMHSA said. But that number was relatively small compared with other illicit drugs, the agency added.

In 2005, there were 256,491 substance abuse treatment admissions for cocaine use and 254,345 admissions for heroin, representing slight declines from the prior year. Treatment for marijuana abuse also fell slightly over the span, the agency said.


Medical Marijuana Advocates Sue U.S. Government

U.S. advocates for legalizing use of marijuana for medicinal purposes have sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), charging both have issued "false and misleading statements" about the drug's medical benefits.

A non-profit group called Americans for Safe Access, based in Oakland, Calif., challenged the government agencies' contention that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," The New York Times reported Thursday.

The group's attorney, Joseph Elford, cited a recent study by the Clinical Research Center at San Francisco General Hospital, which found that smoking marijuana relieved pain and eased other symptoms of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. That study was sanctioned by the FDA, Elford told the newspaper.

An HHS spokeswoman refused comment, saying the agency didn't issue statements on pending litigation. But she did say that the government stood by its statement of April 2006, in which it said "there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful."


European Union Not Ready for Flu Pandemic: Report

The European Union is ill-prepared for the long-feared human flu pandemic that could arise from the current outbreak of H5N1 bird flu, the European Center for Disease Control said in a report released Thursday.

The EU is at least two years away from being able to respond effectively to a massive human flu outbreak, according to a Bloomberg news service report of the agency's findings.

The current strain of H5N1 emerged in Asia in 2003. World health officials fear the deadly virus, which has led to the deaths and slaughter of millions of birds and has killed at least 167 people, could mutate into a pandemic form that's easily passed between humans.

"It's a question of 'when', not 'if" a [human] pandemic will occur," ECDC Director Zsuzsanna Jakab said in the report. The analysis urged governments to be better prepared in non-health related sectors such as electric utilities, which must devise plans to deal with significant staff absenteeism, Bloomberg reported.


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