Health Highlights: Jan. 19, 2006

Malaria Drug's Effectiveness Under Threat: WHO Caffeine Boosts Female Rats' Sex Drive Strangulation Hazard Prompts Recall of Fisher-Price Chairs Lawsuit Seeks to Halt Junk Food Advertising to Young Children Face Transplant Patient Starts Smoking Human Cases of Bird Flu in Turkey Should Soon Decline: WHO

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

Malaria Drug's Effectiveness Under Threat: WHO

The malaria drug artemisinin may become ineffective because of the way that some drug companies market it in poor nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Improper use of artemisinin -- developed in China from the wormwood plant -- may enable the malaria parasite to develop resistance against the drug. The same thing has occurred with all previous malaria treatments, the Associated Press reported.

Resistance to artemisinin would be a disaster.

"If this occurs, we will have no drugs that can cure malaria anywhere for the next 10 years," WHO malaria specialist Dr. Pascal Ringwald told the AP.

A combination therapy of artemisinin and older medicines is 95 percent effective in curing malaria. This combination therapy is called ACT and most organizations that fund malaria treatments in developing nations only pay for ACT.

The WHO is concerned about the use of artemisinin on its own. This type of monotherapy can enable the malaria parasite to develop resistance much more quickly, the AP reported.

In poor countries, some doctors dispense artemisinin alone because it's cheaper for patients who are unable to afford the $2 cost of ACT. In addition, artemisinin monotherapy often includes written instructions to take the drug in five days.

Five-day treatment with artemisinin alone won't cure malaria, Ringwald said.

In an effort to halt this problem, the WHO issued a call to more than a dozen manufacturers to stop selling artemisinin monotherapy, the AP reported.

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Caffeine Boosts Female Rats' Sex Drive

Coffee may put a little more sizzle into the female sex drive, according to a study with rats conducted by researchers at Southwestern University in Texas.

They gave 108 female rats a moderate dose of caffeine before mating and found that it increased the rodents' libido. The caffeine shortened the amount of time it took the females to return to the males for another round of mating, BBC News reported.

This boost in sexual behavior was caused by caffeine's stimulation of the part of the brain that regulates arousal, the researchers said. They're not sure caffeine would have the same effect in humans.

"These rats had never had caffeine before. In humans, it might enhance the sexual experience only among people who are not habitual users," lead researcher Dr. Fay Guarraci told BBC News.

The study appears in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.

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Strangulation Hazard Prompts Recall of Fisher-Price Chairs

Fisher-Price is recalling about 614,000 Laugh & Learn Musical Learning Chairs that pose a strangulation hazard.

Children can get lodged between the seatback and side table of the chair, which could lead to entrapment of their neck and possible strangulation. So far, Fisher-Price has received three reports of children getting their necks trapped between the seatback and side table. A child who received a welt on the neck is the only reported injury.

The recalled chairs have model numbers H4609, H7167 through H7173, H8157, H8998, and J0272 through J0275. The model numbers are located on the underside of the chair seat. The chairs were sold across the United States from May 2005 through January 2006 for about $27.

The recalled chairs should be taken away from children. Consumers can contact Fisher-Price for a free repair kit that prevents the possibility of child entrapment. Contact Fisher-Price at 1-866-552-3914 anytime.

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Lawsuit Seeks to Halt Junk Food Advertising to Young Children

In an effort to stop junk food marketing to young children, some parents and advocacy groups plan to sue cereal maker Kellogg Co. and the Nickelodeon TV network, the Associated Press reported.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the companies from marketing junk food when 15 percent or more of the audience is eight years old or younger. This would include commercials, contests, toy giveaways, Web sites and other marketing methods.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), one of the groups involved in the legal action, studied food advertising on Nickelodeon and during Saturday-morning television shows, and on food packaging and in magazines, and found that most of the ads involving Kellogg and Nickelodeon were for nutrition-poor foods, the AP reported.

The lawsuit against Kellogg and Viacom Inc. (the parent company of Nickelodeon) will be launched in state court in Massachusetts. The required 30 days' notice was filed Wednesday.

In response to the proposed legal action, both companies said they are committed to promoting healthy lifestyles.

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Face Transplant Patient Starts Smoking

The French woman who received the world's first partial face transplant has started smoking again. Her doctors are worried that, because smoking impairs blood flow to tissues, this could slow her healing and increase the risk of tissue rejection.

"It is a problem," admitted Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, leader of the surgical team that conducted the transplant on November 27, 2005.

At a medical conference in Tucson, Dubernard and his colleagues made their first scientific presentation on the groundbreaking transplant. They said the 38-year-old woman had suffered some tissue-rejection last month but is now doing well, the Associated Press reported.

During the transplant, the woman received a new nose, chin and lips. Her face had been disfigured by her pet dog.

At this week's conference, some American doctors said there's no longer any point in debating the ethics or wisdom of this first transplant. They said the focus now should be on making face transplants as safe as possible and offering them to patients, the AP reported.

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Human Cases of Bird Flu in Turkey Should Soon Decline: WHO

The number of humans infected with bird flu in Turkey may increase in the immediate future but should soon start to drop as people heed government warnings and mass slaughters of domestic fowl continue, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

"As the virus is now known to be present in birds in many parts of the country, some additional human cases should be anticipated in the immediate future," the WHO said on its Web site. "The number of these cases is, however, expected to decline as high-risk behaviors become less common and culling operations, which are presently under way, reduce the number of infected birds."

About a million domestic birds have been slaughtered.

So far, 21 people in Turkey have been confirmed to have contracted the potentially deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, including four children who have died, Agence France Presse reported.

All four victims were from the worst-hit area in eastern Turkey. They were the first people to die of bird flu outside of Southeast Asia.

The latest confirmed human case of bird flu in Turkey is a four-year-old boy who was exposed to sick birds before the government launched a major public education campaign, AFP reported.

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