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Health Highlights: Jan. 3, 2003

Study: Air Ionizers Fight Infections FDA OKs Asthma Drug for Hay Fever Houston Three-Peats as Fattest U.S. City Study Planned on Effects of Trade Center Debris Parents of Alleged Cloned Baby Waiver on Testing

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

Study: Air Ionizers Fight Hospital Infections

Hospital infections caused by the bacterium acinetobacter have been eliminated by installation of negative air ionizers, British researchers tell the magazine New Scientist.

"We were absolutely astounded to find such clear cut results," reports researcher Clive Begg at the University of Leeds.

Ionizers produce negative ions that collide with suspended germs in the air, causing the charged germs to clump together and fall out of the air, and stopping the transmission of infection, the researchers speculate.

Acinetobacter infections are difficult to treat because the bacterium is often resistant to many antibiotics, the magazine reports. The germ poses no real threat to healthy people but can cause serious infections in people with weakened immune systems.

The team is expanding its research to see if ionizers can be used against other airborne germs, including tuberculosis, New Scientist reports.

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FDA OKs Asthma Drug for Hay Fever

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Merck asthma drug Singulair to treat seasonal hay fever, medically known as allergic rhinitis. The approval of the once-daily medication extends to children as young as two years of age.

Unlike most anti-allergy medications that block a chemical called histamine, Singulair blocks leukotrienes, compounds that influence lung inflammation and allergic reactions. Singulair, which Merck says is now the most widely prescribed asthma controller among allergists and pediatricians in the United States, has been on the market since 1998.

Some 26.1 million Americans suffer from hay fever and 14.6 million Americans have asthma, the American Lung Association says. Other estimates put the number of U.S. hay fever sufferers as high as 50 million.

In clinical trials, Singulair was effective in treating hay fever symptoms, including nasal congestion, itchy nose and eyes, and sneezing. While it was not associated with sleepiness -- a common result of many antihistamines -- Singulair's most frequent side effects included headache, ear infection, sore throat and upper respiratory infection, Merck says.

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Houston Three-Peats as Fattest U.S. City

Houston, we still have a weight problem.

For the third straight year, Houston leads the United States as the fattest city, according to Men's Fitness magazine. Next on the 2003 list of America's 25 "fat cities" are Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, St Louis, and Cleveland.

The magazine ranked 16 factors, including fruit and vegetable consumption, junk-food habits, participation in exercise/sport activities, and the number of overweight/sedentary residents.

"We do not relish the title bestowed upon us by Men's Fitness," Houston mayor Lee Brown told the Associated Press in a statement. Brown vowed to "improve the overall health and fitness of the city's residents."

On the flip side, the magazine's top five fittest cities for 2003 are: Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, Colorado Springs, and San Diego.

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Study Planned on Effects of Trade Center Debris

The U.S. government and New York City are planning a study of some 200,000 people exposed to the ash and dust from the destruction of the World Trade Center, reports The New York Times.

The long-term study -- its duration hasn't been specified -- will explore patterns in illness and recovery that individual doctors can't establish. But even its supporters say delays in beginning the study are proving detrimental.

"People move away," says U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), a study backer. "How are we going to track down these people after so much time [has passed since Sept. 11, 2001]."

Another sensitive issue is how to account for the different levels of exposure, the newspaper reports, from a single day's worth to that experienced by rescue personnel and volunteers who worked at Ground Zero for weeks after Sept. 11.

Finally, there's the inevitable issue of money. Some $20 million has been pledged to launch the effort, but it's unclear where funding for future years may come from, the Times reports.

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Parents of Alleged Cloned Baby Waiver on Testing

Amid skepticism that a baby born to American parents last week was cloned, the head of the company that claims to have cloned the child says her parents have postponed DNA testing that could confirm the claim, CNN reports.

Brigitte Boisselier, chief executive of Clonaid, says the 31-year-old mother and her husband felt pressured by a Florida lawyer's lawsuit this week that asked a state court to appoint a legal guardian for the baby, nicknamed "Eve."

Eve was reportedly born somewhere in Europe, and was to have been flown to the United States on Monday, Boisselier said earlier. It has not been confirmed that the baby arrived in the United States.

Boisselier, a member of a religious sect called the Raelians that believes space aliens are responsible for human life on earth, said yesterday that a second cloned baby is to be born somewhere in Europe in the next few days.

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