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Health Highlights: Jan. 23, 2007

FDA Weighs New Birth-Control Pill Standards French Doctors Perform New Face Transplant Quarantine Urged for New TB Strain Flu Tests Cut Hospitals' Antibiotic Use Some Shouldn't Take Statins to Prevent Heart Disease: Study Microwave Ovens Sterilize Kitchen Sponges

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

FDA Weighs New Birth-Control Pill Standards

Modern birth-control pills, while safer than their early predecessors, often are less effective and may require new minimum standards, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

In documents posted on the FDA Web site, the agency said some modern birth-control pills have at least twice the failure rate as earlier contraceptives, most likely because they contain lower doses of hormones that prevent ovulation, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA has convened a panel of experts this week to decide whether new minimum standards of effectiveness are needed, the wire service reported.

Older birth-control pills carried risks of blood clots and cardiovascular problems, experts told the AP. While the newer pills are thought to be safer, some allow more than two pregnancies for every 100 women years of use, compared to pills approved in the 1960s that allowed less than one pregnancy per 100 women when taken for at least a year.

Some 11.6 million U.S. women between ages 15 and 44 use birth-control pills as contraception, the AP reported.

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French Doctors Perform New Face Transplant

The world's third partial face transplant has been performed on a man whose face was marred by severe tumors, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

In a 15-hour operation, doctors at the Henri-Mondor hospital in the Paris suburb of Creteil replaced the 29-year-old man's nose, mouth, chin, and part of his cheeks, the wire service said.

The man has a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis, causing tumors to grow throughout his body. He's had some 30 to 40 operations over the past decade to improve the appearance of his face, the AP reported.

Doctors say they must now wait months to see if the tissue is accepted by the man's body, if his facial nerves function correctly, and if he is able to psychologically accept his new face, the wire service said.

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Quarantine Urged for New TB Strain

People with a new deadly form of tuberculosis should be quarantined -- even against their will -- to prevent the disease's spread, scientists argued Tuesday in a the medical journal Public Library of Science Medicine.

The new form of the disease, known as XDR-TB, is drug-resistant and virtually untreatable, Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper reported.

In September, the World Health Organization counted 53 cases of XDR-TB in South Africa, and 52 of the patients had died, the newspaper said. In all, 300 cases have been reported worldwide.

The Canadian and African journal authors said patients who are quarantined should be compensated to ensure they do not remain in the community.

TB is a bacterial illness that in most forms can easily be cured with antibiotics. But antibiotic misuse has led to bacterial mutations that render the drugs virtually useless, the newspaper said

People with HIV/AIDS have depressed immune systems, making AIDS-ravaged Africa particularly susceptible to these super strains of TB, the Globe and Mail said.

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Flu Tests Cut Hospitals' Antibiotic Use

Rapid flu tests can decrease the use of antibiotics among adult hospital patients, says a U.S. study published online in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Antibiotics are not effective against influenza and other viruses. The overuse of antibiotics can lead to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, experts say.

Previous research found that flu tests that provide results within minutes helped reduce the use of antibiotics in children, but it wasn't clear if this would also be true in adults, CBC News reported.

In this new study, researchers at Rochester General Hospital in New York reviewed the cases of 166 adult patients with confirmed influenza. Of those patients, 86 tested positive for flu on rapid diagnostic tests, while 80 tested negative or did not have the test.

Of the patients who tested positive for influenza, 86 percent received antibiotics, compared with 99 percent of the other patients, CBC News reported.

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Healthy Women, Older Men Shouldn't Take Statins to Prevent Heart Disease: Study

Healthy women and healthy older men should not take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs in an attempt to prevent heart disease, suggests a U.S.-Canadian study in the current issue of the The Lancet medical journal.

The researchers analyzed data from eight previous studies that compared statins with placebo in people at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. They found that statins did reduce overall risk of heart attack or stroke but did not reduce total deaths, reported the National Post newspaper in Canada.

When the researchers analyzed data from specific groups, they found that statins did not reduce the risk of heart attacks in healthy women or in healthy men older than 69 years.

"Our analysis suggests that lipid-lowering statins should not be prescribed for true primary prevention in women of any age or for men older than 69 years," the researchers wrote.

"Most people have the impression that statins are going to make them live longer. For primary prevention, there hasn't been demonstrated to be any survival advantage," study co-author Dr. Jim Wright, a professor at the University of British Columbia, told the Post.

He noted that, in rare cases, statins can cause muscle damage that results in muscle pain and weakness. The drugs can also cause nerve damage that leads to numbness and pain in the feet.

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Microwave Ovens Sterilize Kitchen Sponges and Cleaning Pads

Microwave ovens can be used to quickly kill harmful bacteria and viruses on kitchen sponges and plastic scrubbers, say University of Florida researchers.

They found that two minutes in the microwave destroyed most of the bacteria and other bugs that can cause food poisoning and other illnesses.

"People often put their sponges and scrubbers in the dishwasher, but if they really want to decontaminate them and not just clean them, they should use the microwave," study co-author Gabriel Bitton, professor of environmental engineering and an expert on wastewater microbiology, said in a prepared statement.

For their study, the researchers soaked sponges and scrubbing pads in raw wastewater that included fecal bacteria, viruses, protozoan parasites and bacterial spores. They then used a normal kitchen microwave to zap the sponges and scrubbing pads.

Two minutes on full microwave power killed or inactivated more than 99 percent of all the pathogens on the sponges and pads. It took four minutes to totally inactivate certain bacterial spores.

The study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Environmental Health, the most recent issue of the journal.

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