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Health Highlights: Jan. 7, 2007

R.I. Schools to Reopen, No Link Found in Latest Meningitis-Type CaseOprah Takes AIDS Test in South Africa at Her Leadership Academy Warm Weather in Northeast Prompts Early Allergy ReturnFashion Group Issues Guidelines to Guard Against Models' Eating Disorders FDA Considers Osteoporosis Claims for Supplements U.S. Approves First Drug for Obese Dogs

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

R.I. Schools to Reopen, No Link Found in Latest Meningitis-Type Case

Schools in three Rhode Island communities are scheduled to reopen Monday after health officials determined that the case of a Coventry student stricken with meningitis-like symptoms was not connected to similar cases earlier reported in Warwick and West Warwick. All of the cases involved inflammation of membranes that protect the brain.

The Providence Journal reports that the schools in the three communities, which were closed last week while health officials investigated the highly contagious illnesses, will reopen Monday.

"The children in Warwick and West Warwick had encephalitis," the newspaper quotes state Health Department Director Dr. David R. Gifford as saying at a Saturday news conference. "This child [in Coventry] had features that were similar. Out of an abundance of caution, we closed the schools. Now we have the information and we're confident the schools can open."

The two earlier cases were attributed to mycoplasma bacteria. One death earlier in 2006 also was caused by the same inflammation, the Journal reported.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island and U.S. health officials will continue to investigate the cause of the outbreak. "We will look at information we collected over the last several days," Dr. Matthew Moore of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the newspaper. "I think as a public health agency, we try to learn from every situation."


Oprah Takes AIDS Test in South Africa at Her Leadership Academy

Re-enforcing her style of being out front, Oprah Winfrey took an HIV test in Capetown, South Africa Saturday during a visit to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, emphasizing that AIDS is a scourge in Africa that must be stopped.

The Associated Press reports that Winfrey encouraged all 152 students at the academy to take the HIV test, which can detect the virus that causes AIDS. Almost five-and-a-half million of South Africa's 48 million population have AIDS, the wire service reports, and Winfrey told the students that the sign of a good leader is one who leads by example.

"Part of leadership is having the courage to demonstrate true action," the A.P. quotes Winfrey as saying. "Today I have taken the test to demonstrate why it's so important."

The results of Winfrey's and the students' HIV tests won't be publicly revealed, the wire service reported, and the test, offered for free, was not mandatory.


Warm Weather in Northeast Prompts Early Allergy Return

In addition to the somewhat startling appearance of spring plants and flowers sprouting in unfrozen ground, the unusually warm winter weather in the Northeast has also brought an unwelcome early seasonal visitor -- allergies.

The Associated Press reports that doctors' office are being swamped with people who are sneezing, whose eyes itch and run, and whose post-nasal drip is causing coughing.

It's not the cold or the flu, experts say. According to the A.P., mold spores, which usually don't multiply until April or May, have begun to appear, and the changing temperatures may also irritate nasal passages.

"It's an explosion of people who are realizing that they may have allergies," the wire service quotes Manhattan allergist Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, vice chairman in charge of public education of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, as saying.

What to do? First, check with your physician to make sure your symptoms actually are from an allergy. Then, if your doctor approves, take the allergy medication you would be taking three months from now, and wait for the cold weather finally to make its presence felt.


Fashion Group Issues Guidelines to Guard Against Models' Eating Disorders

Scientific studies have shown that teenagers -- especially females -- are significantly influenced by the size and shape of fashion models.

And because so many of those young women who show off the latest apparel on the runway and in magazines are very thin, the New York Times reports that one fashion industry umbrella organization has issued guidelines to promote healthy behavior among fashion models.

Some health and nutrition professionals had hoped for more than the guidelines from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Times reports. Those guidelines recommend fittings for younger models in the daytime rather than at night, that designers be alert to models who may have eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia and improvement in the nutritional content of the food offered by caterers backstage at fashion shows.

Fashion designers in Milan and Madrid have banned using the services of overly thin models the newspaper said, following the death last year of 21-year-old model Ana Carolina Reston, whose death was attributed to complications from anorexia. European design companies have adopted a height-to-weight ratio, the Times reports.

But American designers aren't ready to go that far. "I feel like we should promote health as a part of beauty rather than setting rules," the newspaper quotes Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the designers' council, as saying.


FDA Considers Osteoporosis Claims for Supplements

The makers of dietary supplements containing calcium and vitamin D would be given greater leeway to promote the products as helping to prevent osteoporosis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed Friday.

Responding to a petition filed by a division of the Coca-Cola Company, the agency said it would consider allowing manufacturers to cite a reduced risk of the bone disease from consumption of products containing both calcium and vitamin D.

The agency said it would also consider dropping a decade-old requirement that supplement makers include specific label references to a person's sex, age and race, since the benefits of vitamin D and calcium apply to all consumers.

"All persons lose bone with age, and the loss can influence an individual's risk of developing osteoporosis," said Robert Brackett, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Nutrition. "Maintenance of an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D in all stages of life can help lower one's risk."


U.S. Approves First Drug for Obese Dogs

Recognizing that overeating isn't limited to beings with two legs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the first prescription drug to manage obesity in dogs.

Pfizer's Stentrol (dirlotapide) reduces appetite and a dog's ability to absorb fat, the agency said. The FDA cited surveys showing that up to 30 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight and about 5 percent are obese (more than 20 percent above ideal weight).

Overweight pets, like people, are at higher risk of health problems ranging from cardiovascular conditions and joint problems to diabetes, the FDA said.

To discourage use of the medication by people, Stentrol's label will warn that the drug is not intended for human use, should be kept away from children, and may cause adverse reactions in people, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, nausea and vomiting.


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