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Health Highlights: Jan. 25, 2007

Indonesia Reports Sixth Bird Flu Death This Year Squirrel Hunters in N.J. Town Warned About Lead Threat Many Dangerous Distractions for Teen Drivers: Study Queen Elizabeth 2 Cruise Ship Hit by Norovirus Prostate Cancer Treatments Can Cause Penis Shrinkage Heart Meds Costliest Class of Drugs in 2004: U.S. Report

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

Indonesia Reports Sixth Bird Flu Death This Year

Indonesian officials announced Thursday that a young girl has died of bird flu, making her the country's sixth victim of the H5N1 virus so far this year and the 63rd since 2005, Agence France Presse reported.

The eight-year-old girl from central Java died on January 19. Laboratory tests confirmed she died of infection with the H5N1 strain.

Indonesia has been hardest hit by a recent resurgence of bird flu that's also seen outbreaks in Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea and Japan, AFP reported.

Most of the human cases of bird flu in Indonesia were the result of close contact with infected poultry. Measures being taken by the Indonesian government to fight bird flu include a plan to eventually ban backyard poultry everywhere in the country.

Experts fear that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans, resulting in a pandemic that could kill millions, AFP reported.


Squirrel Hunters in N.J. Town Warned About Lead Threat

Squirrel hunters and others in Ringwood, N.J. should limit their consumption of the animals because they may be contaminated with lead from a toxic waste dump, say state officials.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Ford Motor Co. dumped toxic waste, including paint sludge, in the area. The company is currently removing tons of waste from a 500-acre former mining property there, the Associated Press reported.

Many residents of Ringwood are members of the Ramapough Mountain Indian tribe who hunt and fish in the region.

About two months ago, a lead-contaminated squirrel was found in the area. That prompted the state Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Environmental Protection to send out warning letters that advise adults to eat squirrel no more than twice a week. Pregnant women and children should eat even less, the AP reported.

Lead can damage the kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cell production.


Many Dangerous Distractions for Teen Drivers: Study

More and more American teens face driving distractions that contribute to thousands of fatal crashes each year, concludes a study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Co.

Distractions include cell phones, passengers, fatigue, or worries about grades or relationships, the Associated Press reported.

The study, released Thursday, did find that teens are heeding warnings about the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Researchers surveyed more than 5,600 high school students in 2006. The teens were asked about the types of unsafe things that happen when their peers drive, the AP reported.

The study found that 90 percent of the teens said they rarely or ever drive after using alcohol or drugs. But the same percentage reported seeing peers talk on cell phones while driving and more than 50 percent said they'd seen peers use hand-held video games, listening devices, or send text messages while driving.

In addition, about 75 percent of the teens said they'd seen peers driving while tired or dealing with strong emotions, such as concerns about relationships or grades, the AP reported. More than 90 percent said they'd seen other teens speed and about 50 percent said they sometimes drive at least 10 mph over the speed limit.

U.S. teens have a traffic fatality rate four times higher than drivers aged 25 to 69, based on miles driven, according to U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. In 2005, about 5,600 American teens were killed in traffic crashes and about 7,500 were driving cars involved in fatal crashes.


Queen Elizabeth 2 Cruise Ship Hit by Norovirus

More than 300 passengers and crew on the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship became ill during a recent cruise. It's believed that the highly infectious norovirus, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea, was the cause.

The outbreak occurred after the ship completed a voyage from Southampton, England and docked in New York City on January 8. It's believed that the norovirus was brought on the ship by a passenger who boarded in New York, BBC New reported.

In total, 17 percent of the people (276 passengers and 28 crew members) on the luxury ship were affected -- an unusually large outbreak, health officials said.

After stopping in New York, the ship sailed down the U.S. east coast before heading to the west coast and docking in San Francisco. Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention boarded the Queen Elizabeth 2 in Acapulco, Mexico, BBC News reported.

"The whole cleansing regime has been upgraded. People have been advised on measures they should take," a Cunard spokesman said. "We have encouraged handwashing. Where people display symptoms they are kept confined in their cabin until the symptoms subside."

After stopping in San Francisco, the ship departed for Hawaii.


Prostate Cancer Treatments Can Cause Penis Shrinkage

Hormone and radiation therapy for prostate cancer can cause penis shrinkage, notes a study in the Journal of Urology.

Turkish researchers studied 47 prostate cancer patients who received the treatments. They found that the average stretched length of their penises decreased from 14.2 to 8.6 centimeters over 18 months, BBC News reported.

It's not clear how hormone and radiation therapy affect penis length, but the treatments may have an effect on penis tissue, the researchers said. They recommended that patients should be warned before they receive these treatments that they may experience penis shortening.

Dr. Chris Hiley, head of policy and research at the Prostate Cancer Charity in the U.K., said it's vital for prostate cancer patients to be alerted about this possible side effect.

"Men can be caused needless worry by unexpected changes in their body which impact on their quality of life. These must always be taken seriously," Hiley told BBC News.

"We would urge men not to be put off seeking treatment or advice about prostate cancer because of this, but to make sure they talk to their doctors in detail about all the possible side effects of a particular treatment," Hiley said.


Heart Meds Costliest Class of Drugs in 2004: U.S. Report

American adults spent $32 billion on cardiovascular drugs in 2004, making them the costliest class of prescription drugs for people age 18 and over, according to a U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) report released Wednesday.

The other classes of drugs in the top five were: hormones ($25 billion); central nervous system drugs used to treat pain and control seizures ($24 billion); cholesterol-lowering medications ($22 billion); antidepressants and other psychotherapeutic drugs ($18 billion).

In total, these five classes of drugs accounted for two-thirds of the $181 billion spent by American adults on outpatient prescription drugs in 2004.

The AHRQ also found that the top five classes of drugs prescribed for Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older in 2004 were: cardiovascular drugs ($17 billion); cholesterol-lowering drugs ($10 billion); hormones ($8 billion); central nervous system drugs ($7 billion); gastrointestinal drugs ($6 billion).

Spending on these drugs accounted for about 75 percent of the $65 billion spent on all prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older in 2004.


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