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Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2009

California Octuplets in Stable Condition Few Postal Workers Took Anthrax Vaccine: Study Non-White Americans Getting Happier: Study Mixed Reactions to Medicare's Coverage of Off-Label Cancer Treatments

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

California Octuplets in Stable Condition

Southern California octuplets delivered by Caesarean section Monday are in stable condition and breathing on their own, doctors at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center said Tuesday.

Two of the eight infants (six boys and two girls) were initially put on ventilators, but their breathing tubes have been removed, the Associated Press reported. The babies weighed between 1.8 pounds and 3.4 pounds when they were born with the help of 46 doctors, nurses and assistants.

The unidentified mother checked into the hospital seven weeks ago, when she was in her 23rd week of pregnancy. Hospital officials wouldn't reveal whether she'd used fertility drugs.

This is only the second time in recorded history that octuplets have survived more than a few hours. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the world's first live octuplets were born in March 1967 in Mexico City, but all of them died within 14 hours.

In 1998, octuplets were born in Houston, Texas, but the smallest of those babies died a week after birth. The surviving siblings turned 10 in December, the AP reported.


Few Postal Workers Took Anthrax Vaccine: Study

Fears about being "guinea pigs," disagreements among public health experts, and a belief that they had a low risk of infection are among the reasons why most U.S. postal workers decided not be vaccinated against anthrax when the deadly germ was sent through the mail in 2001.

Physician advice and conflicting media reports were other reasons cited in a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study that included postal workers in Trenton, N.J., New York City and Washington, D.C., United Press International reported.

During the attacks, which caused five deaths, a two-month dose of antibiotics was given to 10,000 postal workers and others known or suspected to have been exposed to anthrax. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then advised that people who failed to complete the regimen, or those at high risk for exposure, should take antibiotics for an additional 40 days with or without a supplemental anthrax vaccine.

But the researchers found that only 11. 5 percent of postal workers who took the additional 40-day dose of antibiotics also decided to receive the anthrax vaccine, UPI reported.

The study appears in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science.


Non-White Americans Getting Happier: Study

Since the early 1970s, the happiness gap between white and non-white Americans has decreased by two-thirds, according to University of Pennsylvania researchers who analyzed 1972 to 2006 data collected by the University of Chicago's General Social Survey.

The analysis revealed that, overall, Americans are no happier than they were three decades ago. However, the gap between happy and unhappy people has narrowed significantly, United Press International reported.

In 2006, non-whites were much happier than they were in the early 1970s, while whites were a bit less happy. Women have become less cheerful, while men are a bit more chipper. The study appears in the Journal of Legal Studies.

"Americans are becoming more similar to each other in terms of reported happiness. It's an interesting finding because other research shows increasing gaps in income, consumption and leisure time," study co-author and economist Betsey Stevenson said in a news release, UPI reported.

While it's difficult to determine the reason for the narrowing happiness gap, money doesn't appear to be a factor, the researchers said.


Mixed Reactions to Medicare's Coverage of Off-Label Cancer Treatments

Medicare's decision to pay for unapproved drugs to treat cancer is being met with both praise and criticism.

Cancer doctors demanded the move because it enables cancer patients to receive the most up-to-date care and, in some cases, these off-label treatments may represent a patient's last hope, The New York Times reported.

Supporters of the decision, announced late last year, also say it will improve understanding of which treatments work against various types of cancer.

However, critics contend the use of drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration may waste money and needlessly expose cancer patients to side effects without offering them any benefits.

A cost analysis of the changes was canceled by Medicare, so it's difficult to determine how much the new policy will add to the $2.4 billion Medicare paid in 2007 for cancer drugs, the Times reported.

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