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Health Highlights: Feb. 5, 2002

Hippocratic Oath Gets an Update Hormone Therapy: Not for Every Woman Survey Shows Docs' Links With Drug Companies Human Form of Mad Cow Disease Turns Up in Italy Gov't Stocks Up on Nuclear Terrorist Attack Drug Most People With Kidney Disease Don't Know It, Study Says Radioactive 'Seeds' Can Work On Uterine Cancer

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

Hippocratic Oath Gets an Update

A new professional code of conduct for doctors was unveiled in London today, a code that updates the 2,500-year-old Hippocratic oath to help doctors meet the needs of patients in the 21st century.

The new code of ethics, according to wire reports, aims to restore public confidence in a medical profession badly bruised by cases of misconduct, to help doctors cope with ethical problems in the modern world and to reaffirm the their commitment to putting the needs of the patient first.

The charter is a joint American-British collaboration launched by the American Board of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine and the European Federation of Internal Medicine. It sets out responsibilities to ensure patient care by commiting doctors to improve access and quality of care for patients and to maintain confidentiality and honesty with them. It also urges doctors to maintain a level of professional competence, to keep up with scientific advances and to avoid conflicts of interest.

Professor George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians in London, described the charter, published jointly in The Lancet and the Annals of Internal Medicine journals, as a guide to modern medical practice. "The role of the professional is being questioned more and more by the public, by the government and by the media. I think we need to reassert what it means to be a professional," he said.

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Hormone Therapy: Not for Every Woman

Hormone replacement therapy improves the mental outlook for postmenopausal women who have hot flashes, but a new study says it doesn't help -- and may physically harm -- women who don't have that classic symptom, HealthDay reports.

"These mixed results suggest hormone therapy does not have a general benefit for postmenopausal women with heart disease; rather, it improves quality of life only when there are symptoms related to menopause," says a report appearing in tomorrow's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The new study reports on more than 2,700 women, average age 67, who were given either a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin or a placebo as part of a long-running study.

A minority of those women, 434, had hot flashes. The study compared their physical health and mental outlook with that of women who did not have hot flashes.

The women with hot flashes who got HRT had fewer symptoms of depression and improved mental health, compared to those who got the placebo. However, women without hot flashes got no such benefits and they experienced greater-than-average declines in physical energy.

In addition, the changes in quality of life due to hormone therapy were overwhelmed by those related to diabetes, high blood pressure, chest pain and heart failure, the study found.

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Survey Shows Docs' Links With Drug Companies

A new study raises questions about just how much influence drug companies have on doctors' treatment recommendations, the Associated Press reports.

According to the study, to be published in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association, most doctors who had authored treatment guidelines for common conditions admitted to having links with pharmaceutical companies.

Among respondents to a survey on the issue, 58 percent said that drug companies had provided them with research funding and 38 percent said they'd even served as employees or consultants.

In addition, 59 percent said they had relationships with drug companies whose products were considered when writing the guidelines.

Yet most doctors did not feel the relationships influenced their guidelines, with only 7 percent indicating that they thought the ties affected their treatment guideline recommendations

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Human Form of Mad Cow Disease Turns Up in Italy

Mad cow disease in humans appears to be traveling south, with Italy today announcing its first suspected case of the brain-ravaging disease, the Associated Press reports.

Although the patient hasn't been identified, Italian news agencies indicate that she may be a young Sicilian woman who was admitted to a Palermo hospital last month.

Most other cases of the human form of the virus, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, have been seen in Britain and a few cases were reported in France.

The disease is believed to be contracted through consuming meat that has been contaminated by mad cow disease.

There have been a reported 53 cases of the disease in Italian cows over the past year.

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Gov't Stocks Up on Nuclear Terrorist Attack Drug

In a chilling sign of the government's concern of a possible terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has contracted to purchase as many as 6 million doses of a drug that protects against thyroid cancer from such an attack.

The Associated Press reports that the $1 million contract with the New Jersey-based Anbex, Inc., was signed last week for the provision of potassium iodide pills.

While the drug does not protect against all illnesses that can emerge from radiation exposure, the consumption of one pill is believed to protect an adult's thyroid gland from radiation for about 24 hours.

The deal follows the purchase in December of 1.6 million doses of the drug by the Department of Health and Human Services, also as protection against possible attacks on nuclear power plants.

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Most People With Kidney Disease Don't Know It, Study Says

Most of the 20 million Americans who suffer from chronic kidney disease don't know it, according to a new study by the National Kidney Foundation. And roughly an equal number are at risk of contracting it, according to the report cited by the Associated Press.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing the disease, which often is fatal. The problem is that there are usually no warning signs until severe damage has already occurred.

The foundation's report, published in this month's American Journal of Kidney Diseases, recommends simple urine and blood tests that can be performed in a doctor's office.

People at greatest risk of kidney disease are the elderly and people with diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of the illness.

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Radioactive 'Seeds' Can Work On Uterine Cancer

The same radioactive "seed" therapy that has helped men beat prostate cancer may help women with uterine cancer, HealthDay reports.

Researchers at Seattle's Swedish Medical Center say the therapy often is less toxic, has fewer complications, and is cheaper than traditional radiation treatments.

The researchers have applied a technique known as brachytherapy, which is used following traditional surgery to help destroy lingering cancer cells. Tiny radioactive "seeds" are placed directly into the vagina, where they emit low levels of radiation for a set period of time before becoming inactive.

The study involved 164 women, all of whom received the extensive surgery for varying stages of uterine cancer.

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