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Health Highlights: Feb. 16, 2002

Obesity and Malnutrition Can Co-Exist in Poor Countries Bioengineered Low-Nicotine Cigs On the Way Artificial Heart Recipient Dies Ineffective Hepatitis A Vaccine Given To Thousands Around World, Says Maker Schoolhouse Rash Seen in Seven States Working Moms Make Up For Lost Time With Baby on Weekends A Cat Fight With a Twist

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

Obesity and Malnutrition Can Co-Exist in Poor Countries

While some nations continue to starve, obesity is ironically becoming as widespread, if not even more of a global problem, experts declared today.

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, researchers said that in some parts of the world the two dietary problems are even co-existing, with starving populations experiencing malnutrition while growing middle classes in the same regions have obesity problems, the Associated Press reports.

In one South African example, researchers noted that 12 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys in Cape Town were considered overweight, while in a poorer rural region 300 kilometers away, just 1 percent of boys and 2 percent of girls were considered overweight.

"The recognition that this is a worldwide problem is very recent," the AP quoted Marquise Lavelle of the University of Rhode Island, as saying.

The researchers said high-calorie foods and less physically demanding jobs were often to blame for the obesity rates.


Bioengineered Low-Nicotine Cigs On the Way

The ongoing quest for a "healthy cigarette" has finally arrived where many undoubtedly expected it would -- in the hands of genetic alteration.

A new, as yet unnamed brand of cigarettes due out this spring will be among the first to use bioengineered tobacco that has been altered to be very low in nicotine, according to the Associated Press.

The cigarettes will be made by Vector Group, the parent company of cigarette maker Liggett Group.

The decision to use the tobacco was made after a study by the Agricultural Department showed that the biotech tobacco had low levels of nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes.

The study showed that the Vector tobacco of about 400 to 1,000 parts of nicotine per million. Conventional tobacco has 20,000 to 30,000 parts per million.

The study also determined that the tobacco would not pose a risk to the environment, but tobacco farmers said they feared the altered tobacco could possibly become mixed in with conventional leaf and jeopardize the nation's tobacco export industry.


Artificial Heart Recipient Dies

The world's third recipient of an experimental, fully self-contained artificial heart, died yesterday after suffering a stroke.

Bobby Harrison, 69, had received the experimental pump called AbioCor in a six-hour procedure last Sept. 26.

The artificial heart is unique because it's fully enclosed in the chest, with no external wires. The device has an internal battery that is recharged through the skin.

Four of the six patients who have received the device have died.

The Associated Press reports that Harrison suffered a stroke Feb. 1 and died at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston Friday from complications.


Ineffective Hepatitis A Vaccine Given To Thousands Around World, Says Maker

Tens of thousands of people in as many as 27 countries may need new hepatitis A vaccines because of a defective batch of the vaccines used around the world, according to wire reports.

Under pressure by the Brazilian media to respond to reports of ineffective vaccines in that country, vaccine maker Merck & Company announced yesterday that as many as 60,000 Brazilian youth alone may require new shots to be effectively vaccinated.

The company says an unknown number of people in other nations may also need new vaccines. The ineffective batches of pre-filled vaccination syringes include both the VAQTA K vaccine for children and the VAQTA vaccine for adults.

Hepatitis A is spread by poor sanitation and can cause liver damage. Unlike hepatitis B or C, however, the virus is only rarely severe or fatal.

Merck officials said that while the vaccines are not effective, they are not harmful to people's health.

Yesterday's announcement follows a recall of some of the pre-packaged vaccines by a French subsidiary of Merck in December, due to the same problem.


Schoolhouse Rash Seen in Seven States

A mysterious rash affecting children that closed several Pennsylvania schools last week now has experts in seven states scratching their heads.

The Associated Press reports that in addition to Pennsylvania, students in West Virginia, New York, Virginia, Ohio, Oregon and Washington have complained about similar red, itches rashes that appear on the face, arms, legs and body.

In most cases, the rash disappears when the students leave their school buildings.

In Pennsylvania, nearly 170 students at nine schools in the Quakertown Community School District were confirmed to have the rash. And on the opposite side of the country, more than 50 students and teachers at the Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor, Wash., complained about a rash.

Some health officials suspect that the rashes may be the work of a virus that is simply not yet recognized.

One Quakertown school official said he suspected that a level of hysteria may have contributed to some having a psychosomatic response.


Working Moms Make Up For Lost Time With Baby on Weekends

Working moms may spend the bulk of their weekdays separated from their babies, but new research indicates that they make up for lost time on the weekends.

A new study shows that even though working moms may spend more than 40 hours a week in the workplace, they typically spend 26 hours per week with their infants, only 12 hours less than non-working mothers, who spend an average of 38 hours.

The study, which appears in the February issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, also shows that at the age of 15 months, infants of working mothers were no different in terms of mental development, communication, attachment and other factors than infants of mothers who did not work.


A Cat Fight With a Twist

She's soft and cuddly and less than 2 months old. But CC, the world's first cloned cat, is already sparking an ethical furor over the possibility of cloning deceased pets for grieving animal lovers, reports HealthDay.

The researchers who created CC stress that people can't expect cloning to resurrect a lost pet, particularly its personality.

Still, experts worry that companies that one day might specialize in cloning could prey on grief-stricken owners.

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, says he's also concerned that cloning could lead to a devaluation of animal life, or to the creation of many sick cloned animals.

CC, short for "CopyCat", was born Dec. 22 at Texas A&M University. She joins the ranks of cloned species that include sheep, mice, cattle, goats and pigs.

The details of her creation and birth appear in the Feb. 21 issue of the journal Nature, which was released early once word of the cloning spread.


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