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Health Highlights: Feb. 11, 2002

Teen Ecstasy Use Becoming Mainstream, Campaign Warns Smokers' Heart Attack Risk Linked To Tar Levels Conventioneer in New Jersey Had Meningitis Kava Risks Probed By FDA Study: Treating Elderly Depression Can Prevent Disease N.Y. Woman, Mistakenly Declared Dead, Dies a Couple of Days Later

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

Teen Ecstasy Use Becoming Mainstream, Campaign Warns

Once known as the most popular of the club drugs, ecstasy is moving beyond the rave scene to become one of the most popular recreational drugs used by American youth, a new anti-drug campaign warns.

In announcing a new awareness campaign on the dangers of ecstasy today, the Partnership for a Drug Free America said the use of the drug has increased 20 percent in the past year, and a full 71 percent since 1999.

Marijuana still remains the most popular drug among teens, with 41 percent saying they'd tried it. Twelve percent admitted to having used ecstasy, according to the survey.

While the campaign features testimony from the parents of a 21-year-old Las Vegas woman who died after taking ecstasy a third time, there is some dispute over the health risks the drug actually poses, with some arguing that there is no evidence of risks from short-term or one-time usage.

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Smokers' Heart Attack Risk Linked To Tar Levels

There may be some advantage to smoking those 'ultra-light' cigarettes after all.

According to a new study, those who smoke cigarettes with the highest levels of tar appear to also have the highest risk of having a heart attack.

For the study, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers with the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia compared 587 smokers who had suffered a heart attack with 2,685 smokers who had not had heart attacks.

They found that compared to smokers of the ultralight cigarettes, smokers of light cigarettes were 86 percent more likely to have a heart attack, and smokers of regular cigarettes were a full 121 percent more likely to suffer attacks, according to wire reports.

And for smokers thinking they could get away with switching to lighter cigarettes but smoking more, the researchers found that the bottom line in the heart attack risk was the amount of tar consumed each day, not the type of cigarette, with the highest levels of tar correlating with the greater risk of heart attack.

"There is no such thing as a safe cigarette," author Dr. Stephen E. Kimmel of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was quoted as saying.

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NJ Conventioneer Had Meningitis

Meningitis afflicted a New Jersey conventioneer who fell ill and died over the weekend, the Associated Press reports. But her case doesn't appear to be part of a larger outbreak, the wire service says.

The illness killed the 45-year-old woman and made seven others sick at a banker's convention in Cherry Hill, a Philadelphia suburb.

Joanne Hemstreet of Kingston, Mass., died yesterday at a Cherry Hill hospital after being admitted with fever, headache, vomiting and shortness of breath. Her flu-like illness progressed to pnemococcal pneumonia and a second infection that is 70 percent fatal, the AP says.

About 500 people attended the Cendant Mortgage Convention at the Cherry Hill Hilton, which was briefly quarantined. About 80 people who may have come in contact with Hemstreet have been evaluated for any signs of the illness.

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Kava Risks Probed By FDA

No one knows for sure whether the popular herbal sedative can be directly blamed for causing liver toxicity, but the potential link has become enough of a concern that the Food and Drug Administration has placed the cases of 38 Americans under review, reports the Associated Press.

Once used mainly as a ceremonial drink in the South Pacific, kava in its pill form became increasingly popular about two years ago as an alternative to prescription anxiety medications, generating about $30 million in sales, the AP reports.

But links to potential liver problems have prompted a number of European countries to ban or suspend sales, and Canada is reportedly urging consumers not to use the supplement until more is known.

The FDA's investigation has reportedly uncovered several cases of youths becoming ill after taking high doses of kava or mixing the supplement with other drugs, prompting particular concern of the health risks to young people who abuse the supplement.

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Treating Depression in Elderly Can Prevent Disease, Study Finds

Treating even mild depression among elderly people can boost their immune systems and ward off disease.

HealthDay is reporting that new research from Ohio State University, published in the current issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, found older adults who had symptoms of depression also had decreased immune system function.

"Even a mild level of depressive symptoms can have important implications for older adults and their health outcomes," says lead researcher Lynanne McGuire, who is now a post-doctoral fellow in the Behavioral Medicine Clinic at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

About 2 million Americans over the age of 65 are believed to have diagnosable depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. However, the new study says another 12 percent to 20 percent in this age group could have milder cases of depression.

"On average, people with depressive symptoms showed poorer T-cell responses," McGuire says, which means depressed patients would be more susceptible to infectious diseases and probably some cancers.

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N.Y. Woman, Mistakenly Declared Dead, Dies a Couple of Days Later

It turns out that Francis Foster's death was declared a couple of days prematurely.

She died at a New York hospital Monday, some 48 hours after paramedics mistakenly first declared the 77-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., woman dead. She had suffered a stroke Saturday and was found unconscious on her bathroom floor, according to the Associated Press.

The mistake was discovered hours later as the medical examiner's office prepared to load Foster into a body bag. She was later hospitalized in critical condition.

Paramedics reported that Foster was "cold to the touch" when she was found, and that one of her legs was bent and wouldn't straighten. This led the paramedics to conclude that rigor mortis had set in and that Foster was dead, according to a paramedics' spokesman.

The paramedics had been sent to Foster's apartment after her daughter hadn't heard from her in several days.

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