Health Highlights: Jan. 21, 2009

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

Kennedy Released From Hospital After Inaugural Collapse

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was released from hospital Wednesday morning after collapsing at President Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon in the Capitol on Tuesday.

Media reports said he was in "good spirits" on his release and was urged by his doctors to get some rest.

Tests at Washington Hospital Center late Tuesday showed that Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor last spring, had suffered a seizure as a result of "simple fatigue," his doctor said, according to the Boston Herald.

Dr. Edward Aulisi, chairman of neurosurgery at the hospital, said late Tuesday night, "Sen. Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends, and feeling well. He will remain. . . overnight for observation."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D-W. Va.), told reporters that at the Congressional luncheon, Obama noticed when Kennedy, 76, became ill, and rushed over to his table, the Associated Press reported.

"There was a call for silence throughout the room," Rockefeller said. "The president went over immediately. The lights went down, just to reduce the heat, I think."

Obama then spoke briefly of Kennedy's latest health problem in his remarks to the luncheon guests, the New York Times reported. "Right now, part of me is with him," Obama said. "This is a joyous time, but also a sobering time. Our prayers are with him and his wife, Vicki."

Kennedy had been outside all morning to attend the swearing-in and listen to Obama's inaugural address.


Many Children Have Mild Autistic Symptoms: Study

A new U.K. study says many children have mild autistic traits, such as difficulty communicating with peers and teachers, but their problems aren't severe enough to attract special attention.

But these mild traits could impair development, said the authors of the study, which included 8,000 children, BBC News reported.

The findings suggest "that drawing a dividing line between those with autism and the rest of the population involves making an arbitrary decision," said Prof. David Skuse, one of the study authors.

"Clinicians and those involved in education need to be aware that there are children who do not have autism but who nevertheless have somewhat elevated levels of autistic traits -- our research suggests that these children are at slightly greater risk of developing behavioral and emotional problems," Skuse told BBC News.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.


Early Pregnancy Drinking Boosts Pre-Term Birth Risk

Heavy drinking early in pregnancy greatly increases a woman's risk of premature delivery, says a study that included more than 4,700 Australian women.

Those who drank heavily in the first third of pregnancy and then stopped had an almost 80 percent higher risk of premature delivery. There was no evidence of increased risk for women who drank low levels of alcohol throughout pregnancy, BBC News reported.

"The risk of pre-term birth is highest for women who drink heavily or at binge levels," said study leader Dr. Colleen O'Leary, of the University of Western Australia. "Women should be advised that during pregnancy, drinking alcohol above low levels increases the risk to the baby and that the safest choice is not to drink alcohol during pregnancy."

A sudden halt to drinking may trigger inflammation that could harm the developing fetus in some way, the researchers suggested.

The study was published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.


China Reports Third Bird Flu Death This Year

A 16-year-old male student in central China's Hunan province died of bird flu Tuesday, the third bird flu death in the country this year.

A provincial government official told the Xinhua news agency Monday that the student fell ill two weeks ago in Guizhou, the provincial capital. He tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, and reportedly had had contact with poultry.

The teen is one of four confirmed human bird flu cases in China so far this year.

On Saturday, officials said a 27-year-old woman in east China's Shandong province died of the virus, while a two-year-old girl was infected in northern Shanxi province.

The girl is in the hospital in critical condition, the Associated Press reported. Her family members and others who came in close contact with her were under medical observation.

The first victim of the year, a 19-year-old woman, died in Beijing earlier this month, after being in contact with ducks in a market, the wire service said.

The AP said that World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show this strain of bird flu has killed 248 people worldwide since 2003, when it was first reported to have infected humans. Twenty-one of those deaths have been in China, with a total of 32 cases reported.

None of these cases has been found to be spread by human-to-human contact, according to WHO medical experts, but rather by close contact with different species of birds, especially poultry and fowl.

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