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Health Highlights: July 14, 2006

Tests Confirm Indonesia's 41st Bird-Flu Death Fertility Method No More Effective Than Natural Way: Study Canada Reports New Mad Cow Case Number of Women Smoking Worldwide on the Rise: Report Single Women Bear Burden of Caring for Disabled Children Lawsuit Seeks to Block Effort to Find Blood Substitute

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

Tests Confirm Indonesia's 41st Bird-Flu Death

It's been confirmed that bird flu killed a 3-year-old Indonesian girl, making her that country's 41st victim of the virus, Agence France Presse reported.

The cause of death was confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. A sample taken from the girl was sent there by the World Health Organization. The girl came into contact with a neighbor's infected chickens, an official with Indonesia's health ministry told AFP.

Only Vietnam, with 42 victims, has a higher bird flu death toll than Indonesia, which has been accused of moving too slowly to halt the spread of the virus.

The world's first cluster of human-to-human transmission of bird flu occurred in Indonesia earlier this year. However, the WHO said the strain of virus that caused those seven human deaths was a genetic "dead end" that could not have sparked a pandemic, AFP reported.


Fertility Method No More Effective Than Natural Way: Study

A common fertility technique -- intrauterine insemination with controlled ovarian hyperstimulation -- is no more effective for some infertile couples than trying to get pregnant the natural way, says a Dutch study published in the The Lancet.

The study included 253 couples with unexplained infertility who'd been trying to conceive for more than a year, BBC News reported. Unexplained infertility refers to situations where no obvious abnormalities can be found.

Half the couples were told to try conceiving naturally for six months and half were assigned to receive intrauterine insemination (ICI) with controlled ovarian hyperstimulation. This involves using drugs to make the ovaries produce eggs and the insertion of sperm directly into the womb.

There were 40 (32 percent) conceptions and 34 (27 percent) ongoing pregnancies among the couples trying to conceive naturally, compared to 42 conceptions (33 percent) and 29 (32 percent) ongoing pregnancies among the couples who received the fertility treatment, the report said.


Canada Reports New Mad Cow Case

Canada's second case of mad cow disease in as many weeks was confirmed Thursday. It's the seventh case of mad cow in Canada since 2003.

This latest case involved a 50-month-old dairy cow from a farm in western Alberta. An inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be sent to the province to assist in the investigation, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, Canadian officials announced that another cow in Alberta had died of mad cow disease.

After the first mad cow case was reported in Canada in 2003, shipments of cattle to the United States were halted. Last July, the United States opened its borders to shipments of Canadian cattle younger than 30 months, the AP reported.


Number of Women Smoking Worldwide on the Rise: Report

More women worldwide are taking up smoking -- even as rates for men decline -- and activists say tobacco-company marketing in the developing world is responsible.

Using data from the World Health Organization (WHO), a report issued by the International Network of Women Against Tobacco said about 12 percent of women worldwide smoke. That figure is expected to rise to 20 percent by 2025, according to the activist group, which released its findings at a Thursday press conference sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the Associated Press reported.

About 48 percent of men smoke, but that number is expected to decline, the report said.

Lorraine Greaves, project leader, said tobacco marketing pushed the female smoking rate up in developing countries, much as it did in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Greaves, who is executive director of the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women's Health, said billboard ads for cigarettes overseas often show attractive, modern-looking women smoking. Those same billboard ads have been banned in the United States since 1998, the AP reported.

World Health Organization officials also said Thursday that they plan to distribute internationally a California study that cites a causal link between secondhand smoke and breast cancer. The U.S. Surgeon general, however, has said there's not enough evidence to conclude a causal link exists, the AP reported.


Single Women Bear Burden of Caring for Disabled Children

Single women -- mothers, grandmothers or female foster parents -- are the chief caregivers for the nation's children with disabilities, and more needs to be done to help them, a new study says.

"In the patchwork of arrangements to care for children with disabilities, we have to realize that the system is also dealing with issues of gender equity," Philip Cohen, study leader and an associate professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a prepared statement. The study was published Friday in the quarterly Journal of Marriage and Family.

Using 2003 census data, the study looked at 2.3 million children ages 5 to 15, more than 130,000 of whom had mental disabilities, physical disabilities, or both. It found that while 62 percent of children without disabilities live with a married, biological parent in a two-parent home, only 46 percent of disabled children do, the Associated Press reported.

Single mothers cared for 17 percent of children without disabilities and 24.5 percent of those who were disabled. Fewer than 5 percent of disabled children live with a single father, about the same percentage of non-disabled children living with fathers, the report found.


Lawsuit Seeks to Block Effort to Find Blood Substitute

A last-minute lawsuit filed by a watchdog group has slowed efforts to develop substitutes for human blood that can be churned out regardless of donor availability and used in emergencies from highway accidents to battlefield injuries.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration canceled a closed-door meeting Friday to discuss a U.S. Navy-proposed experiment to use a product derived from cow blood on as many as 1,000 unsuspecting civilian trauma victims. The lawsuit, filed by the Public Citizen's Health Research Group, led the FDA to cancel the meeting, the Associated Press reported.

If the trial is ultimately approved, Hemopure , a product from Biopure Corp., would join another blood substitute, Polyheme, that is already being tested on patients who have lost dangerous amounts of blood. Researchers hope the substitutes could one day perform one of the vital roles that real blood plays -- carrying oxygen from the lungs throughout the body.

The FDA has blocked Hemopure trials three previous times since June 2005, citing safety concerns.

"Obviously, something is wrong. If it weren't wrong, they wouldn't have three times denied it," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen. The AP reported that it was not clear who had sought to keep the advisory meeting closed.

FDA spokeswoman Susan Bro said the agency plans to hold an open meeting to discuss Hemopure, but a date has not been set.

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