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Health Highlights: Feb. 4, 2007

No Special Labels Planned for Food From Cloned Animals Bird Flu Outbreaks Reported on Poultry Farms in England, JapanPsychological Aftermath of Terrorist Attacks Endures, Study Says Drug Addiction Medicine May Offer New Crohn's Disease Treatment Texas 1st State to Mandate That Girls Get Cervical Cancer Vaccine Bush Wants Major Medicare and Medicaid Spending Cuts

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

No Special Labels Planned for Food From Cloned Animals

Don't expect food labels to let you know whether the hamburger meat you're selecting is from a cloned animal.

The Associated Press reports that when the U.S. government approves consumption of food from cloned animals (and approval is expected within the next 12 months), The Food and Drug Administration isn't planning to require any special labeling. Basically, the reasoning is that if the food's safe to eat, its source doesn't need to be identified.

The public comment period on the FDA's preliminary approval lasts until April 2, 2007, after which the FDA will review and assess the comments. "It's not inconceivable that a decision will be made before the end of 2007, but there are no promises at this point," said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, when the agency issued its findings late last year.

There will be at least one way that consumers will be able to make sure that they don't buy cloned products, according to the A.P. The green seal offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to foods that are produced organically will mean that the food is not cloned.

Caren Wilcox, who heads the Organic Trade Association, is quoted by the wire service as saying the green USDA seal will also mean the food is not cloned. "Organic animal products will not come from cloned animals," she is quoted as saying.


Bird Flu Outbreaks Reported on Poultry Farms in England, Japan

Avian flu eruptions among the world's poultry population continue unabated.

Two outbreaks of bird flu during the past two days in countries half a world apart indicate the resiliency of this strain, which scientists continue to monitor in hopes that it doesn't mutate into a type that could be transmitted between humans

More than 2,600 turkeys died on a farm in the Suffolk County region of England, according to United Press International, and health officials confirm that the flu virus was the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza. Because of the outbreak, U.P.I. reports, another 159,000 will be slaughtered to try and bring it under control.

No human cases of avian flu were reported in England, the wire service said. Worldwide, 270 incidents of humans contracting the disease have been reported, and 164 were fatal, according to the World Health Organization. However, scientists say there has been no evidence that any of the human cases were caused by person-to-person contact.

Meanwhile, a fourth outbreak of bird flu in the past week has occurred in Japan, according to the Associated Press. About two dozen chickens were affected in the same poultry farm area south of Tokyo that has already prompted the destruction of hundreds of thousands of birds.


Psychological Aftermath of Terrorist Attacks Endures, Study Says

The psychological after-effects of terrorist attacks last longer than one might imagine, a team of London researchers has concluded. And often, many people who should be receiving therapy for post traumatic stress aren't getting it.

BBC News reports that scientists from University College in London reviewed a number of studies about residual effects on the general population after terrorist attacks and concluded that they can last for years and that "victims" don't need to have been from the immediate area of the attack.

The researchers found that up to 13 percent of the general population may suffer widespread emotional repercussions from an urban terrorist attack, such as the 2005 London subway bombings, even if they weren't involved are even in the area.

For those who were there, the lasting effects are much worse, BBC News reports. As many 40 percent are likely to suffer from post tramatic stress, and two years later, the researchers found that at least 20 percent were still experiencing PTSD symptoms.

"One of the biggest challenges is to increase awareness within society to what people's reactions might be, what the natural course is and when and how to get help," the BBC quotes Dr Jonathan Bisson, senior lecturer of psychiatry at Cardiff University, as saying.


Drug Addiction Medicine May Offer New Crohn's Disease Treatment

Another possible use has been found for naltrexone, a medication already used to relieve symptoms of alcohol and drug addiction and also being tested as an appetite suppressant.

A news release from the Penn State College of Medicine says that a low dose of naltrexone may help relieve symptoms of Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the intestine. Researchers found in a pilot study that 89 percent of the participants showed an improvement -- easing of inflammation -- with naltrexone and therapy, and 67 actually had their Crohn's go into remission.

The findings, published in a early on edition of the American Journal of Gastroenterology, caused researchers to become hopeful about alternative treatments for Crohn's, which affects about 500,000 Americans. The disease has been typically treated with immune-suppressing steroids or corticosteroids, and this can cause dangerous side effects.

"This is a novel approach to treating a common disease, and it's simple, it's safe, and it costs far less than current standards of treatment," the news release quotes lead research Dr. Jill P. Smith as saying. "We don't yet know the exact mechanisms involved in how it works, but we're working on that, as well."


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.


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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