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Health Highlights: Jan. 20, 2007

Almost 300,000 South Korean Poultry To Be Killed Following Bird Flu OutbreakMore Than Half of All Americans Now Living With Non-Smoking Laws Global Fund Would Subsidize Malaria Drugs for Africans Chlorinated Water Increases Bladder Cancer Risk: Study World's Oldest Woman Dies at 115 Global Measles Death Toll Cut by 60 Percent

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

Almost 300,000 South Korean Poultry To Be Killed Following Bird Flu Outbreak

Yet another massive poultry kill is being scheduled in the wake of the discovery of an outbreak of avian flu.

This time, the Associated Press reports, the virus was discovered for the fifth time in the past three months in South Korea. After being quarantined, 273,000 poultry will be killed to head off the spread of the strain of H5N1 flu, the type of bird flu that has caused the deaths of millions of birds worldwide.

The latest outbreak occurred earlier this week on a chicken farm about 60 miles south of Seoul, the wire service quotes a Korean Ministry of Agriculture as saying.

There may be another 386,000 chickens and ducks killed within the next day or two, the official told the A.P., in order to eliminate the outbreak from the South Korean poultry population.

Since avian flu was first identified, 160 humans have died, but health officials say that all of them contracted the disease from contact with birds and not from other humans.

Still, the World Health Organization and other medical agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to monitor outbreaks for any mutation that could cause a human pandemic.


More Than Half of All Americans Now Living With Non-Smoking Laws

More than half of the American population now live in states that have at least one law restricting where a person can smoke.

The Associated Press reports that with the passing of a Nevada law in December 2006, 50.2 percent of all Americans live where smoking has been banned in public places, such as office buildings, bars or restaurants.

"We think 100 percent of Americans will live in smoke-free jurisdictions within a few years," the wire service quotes Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights as saying.

In all, the A.P. says 22 states and 577 municipalities have some sort of smoking restriction law.


Global Fund Would Subsidize Malaria Drugs for Africans

Delegates to an international forum sponsored by the World Bank have proposed a global fund to subsidize the purchase of a new generation of anti-malaria drugs for people in Africa, where malaria kills about 1 million people a year.

The new drugs -- artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) -- are needed to replace chloroquine and other older drugs that have become ineffective. Currently, ACTs are too expensive for most Africans.

The proposed fund would require about $80 million to $100 million from donor countries in the first year, increasing to about $250 million per year after that, the Associated Press reported.

The malaria drugs would be distributed by government health officials and by local stores.

ACTs are based on Chinese herbal medicine for malaria, but contain a combination of ingredients meant to make it difficult for the malaria parasite to develop resistance to the new drugs, as happened with the older generation drugs, the AP reported.


Chlorinated Water Increases Bladder Cancer Risk: Study

People who drink or bathe, shower and swim in chlorinated water may be at increased risk for bladder cancer, says a Spanish study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers compared 1,200 people who were exposed to chlorination byproducts known as trihalomethanes (THM) to a similar number of people who weren't exposed, The Australian reported.

People who lived in areas where THM concentrations in the water were more than 49 micrograms per liter were twice as likely to develop bladder cancer than people who lived in areas where concentrations were less than 8 mcg per liter.

The study also found that people who were exposed to more than 35 mcg of THM a day through drinking water had a 35 percent increased risk of bladder cancer, The Australian reported.

People who showered or bathed in chlorinated water were 83 percent more likely to develop bladder cancer, and people who swam in chlorinated pools were 57 percent more likely to develop the disease.


World's Oldest Woman Dies at 115

A Canadian citizen believed to be the world's oldest woman died Thursday at the age 115, CBC News reported.

Julie Winnefred Bertrand, who was born Sept. 16, 1891, died in her sleep at a Montreal nursing home where she'd lived for the past 35 years. Bertrand, the eldest of six children, never married.

In the past two years, she had never left the sixth floor of the nursing home. On Wednesday, she asked to be pushed in her wheelchair to visit the front lobby, dining room and chapel, CBC News reported.

Bertrand became the world's oldest woman when 116-year-old Elizabeth Bolden of Tennessee died on Dec. 11, 2006. The world's oldest living person is Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, who was born 26 days before Bertrand.


Global Measles Death Toll Cut by 60 Percent

The number of children killed by measles around the world decreased by 60 percent from 1999 to 2005, thanks to a massive global vaccination campaign, according to a report in The Lancet journal.

In 1999, there were 875,000 deaths (the majority in Africa) and in 2005 there were 345,000 deaths caused by measles, BBC News reported.

In Africa, the death toll was reduced by about 75 percent through the efforts of national governments and health agencies, the study found.

In 2001, a joint campaign to fight measles was launched by a number of organizations, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the American Red Cross, BBC News reported.

"Immunizing children is clearly saving lives. Reducing measles deaths by 60 percent in just six years is an incredible achievement," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.

The study authors said the results of the vaccination program suggest that it may be possible to eradicate measles around the world.


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