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Health Highlights: Feb. 6, 2002

Signs of Ebola Spread Concern Officials Don't Drink and Drive? Binge Kids Don't Care Docs Reattach Fisherman's Hand 24 Hours After Accident Popular Herb May Lead to Unplanned Pregnancies Deadly Bird Flu Could Spread to People, Expert Warns Tanning Beds Tied to Skin Cancers

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

Signs of Ebola Spread Concern WHO Officials

Another death from the Ebola virus in the Republic of Congo has public officials concerned that the disease might be spreading throughout a region of Central Africa.

The Associated Press says the most recent death reportedly is a child in the Mbomo district. The fatality brings the number of confirmed deaths from Ebola in the Republic of Congo to 13.

The World Health Organization says it's waiting on lab results of six others in the region believed to have also been caused by Ebola.

In the neighboring Gabon, 23 others have died from the virus since last October. WHO officials had believed the Ebola outbreak was under control since people who had been in contact with the victims had cleared the 21-day incubation period without contracting the virus. But the latest deaths indicate that the spread of the virus is not contained.

Because it kills anywhere from 50 per cent to 90 percent of those who come in contact with the virus, Ebola is of great concern to public health officials. The virus attacks the internal organs, causing bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Many victims die within two weeks from a loss of blood.


Don't Drink and Drive? Binge Kids Don't Care

University of Arkansas researchers who found that young adults -- particularly those characterized as "binge drinkers" -- were likely to ignore drinking-and-driving warnings, particularly when they were coupled with bar promotions offering reduced-rate drinks, reports HealthDay.

The researchers showed fictitious promotions to almost 200 local college students and asked them to assess how they'd respond to different messages. After these assessments were completed, the students were asked about their alcohol consumption during the past two weeks. Those who reported consuming five drinks in one sitting were classified as binge drinkers. Others were classified as non-binge drinkers.

The study consisted of two parts. The first looked at whether bar promotions touting beer and wine price reductions, and the amount of time the special prices would be available, had any effect on students' attitudes and inclinations to drink. This part of the study involved 189 students.

In the second part, the researchers examined the effect on 164 participants of bar promotions coupled with so-called "personal responsibility messages" like "Don't drink and drive."

"Not surprisingly, the students thought they would drink more when prices were lower or when promotions, like 'All you can drink,' were offered," says Scot Burton, one of the lead authors of the study and a marketing professor at the University of Arkansas.

The study findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.


Docs Reattach Fisherman's Hand 24 Hours After Accident

Surgeons have replaced the hand of an Alaska fisherman that had been severed 24 hours earlier on a fishing boat that has been 100 miles offshore, the Associated Press reports.

Patrick Laulu was reportedly aboard the 238-foot "Alaska Juris" trawling for mackerel in the Aleutian Islands when a wave hit the boat, causing a fish rake to sever his hand.

Crew members, following the instructions of a Coast Guard flight surgeon over a radio, treated Laulu with morphine and placed the severed hand on ice while waiting for a Coast Guard helicopter to travel through high winds and snow from 500 miles away.

Laulu reached Seattle's Harborview Medical Center 15 hours later, where surgeons successfully reattached the hand.

Doctors said that while such surgeries are usually unsuccessful after a few hours, Laulu's was probably able to be completed because of the clean cut of the razor, plenty of ice to preserve the hand, and, they said, a lot of luck.


Popular Herb May Lead to Unplanned Pregnancies

Sweden's pharmaceutical regulators are warning that the popular herb St. John's Wort may counter the effects of some contraceptives, leading to unplanned pregnancies.

The edict was issued after two Swedish women who were using contraceptives and St. John's Wort became pregnant, BBC News reports.

St. John's Wort has become a popular method of self-treating mild depression without a doctor's prescription. But research has shown that it counters the effects of some drugs, including hormone-based contraceptives, drugs to treat HIV or AIDS, and medications that thicken the blood, BBC News says.

Since February 2000, British doctors have accounted for seven unplanned pregnancies among women who took St. John's Wort, according to the report.


Flu Virus Could Spread from Chickens to Humans, Expert Warns

A flu virus that has killed thousands of chickens in Hong Kong could pose a deadly threat to humans, according to an expert quoted by the Associated Press.

Dr. Ken Shortridge, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, reportedly told Hong Kong radio listeners that although the avian virus does not pose an immediate threat to humans, it is mutating quickly and could eventually become deadly to people.

Hong Kong authorities recently ordered the slaughter of 170,000 chickens to prevent the virus from spreading, the AP said. Some 30,000 birds have already died of the disease.

While bird viruses normally do not pose a danger to people, a bird flu strain crossed over to humans in 1997, killing six, the AP reports.


Tanning Devices Pose Skin Cancer Risk, Study Finds

Ultraviolet light emitted by mechanical tanning devices could cause two forms of skin cancer, HealthDay reports.

A study published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is the first to link the devices to squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas, which together account for more than a million cases every year.

Some 28 million Americans use tanning beds annually, according to industry figures. The devices are particularly popular among high school girls; roughly half of them say they visit tanning booths at least four times a year.

The American Academy of Dermatology has recommended that minors not be allowed to use the devices without permission from a parent or guardian.

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