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Health Highlights: July 15, 2006

FDA Panel Doesn't See 'Bionic Eye' Just YetGovernment Orders Phaseout of Cleaning Solvent in Some Dry Cleaning Businesses 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

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

FDA Panel Doesn't See 'Bionic Eye' Just Yet

An important body part of Steve Austin is still going to exist only in fiction... at least for a while longer.

As with many recent technological developments, the bionic eye, an artificially-made super-orb implanted in the hero of the popular television series of "The Six Million Dollar Man," is very close to becoming a real device.

But according to the Associated Press a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel Friday rejected a company's application to market a device that implants a tiny telescope in the eyes of elderly patients.

The 10-3 vote to reject the pea-sized device was based on the panel's concerns about safety, the wire service reports. It cites clinical trial results that showed mixed results.

While the tiny telescope, made by VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies Inc., did indeed help magnify vision for some patients with macular degeneration, doctors also had to remove the device from a number of patients, and other patients reported a loss of visual acuity, the A.P. reported.


Government Orders Phaseout of Cleaning Solvent in Some Dry Cleaning Businesses

A solvent commonly known as "perc", which is used by dry cleaners, has created a time of decision for those who operate their cleaning establishments in residential buildings: move or change solvents.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has notified dry cleaners who run their businesses out of residential buildings that they have until 2020 to stop using perchloroethylene, or perc, which the EPA describes as a hazardous air pollutant that causes cancer.

In the East especially, many dry cleaning establishments occupy ground floors in apartment and office buildings, and many of them are using machines that aren't air tight, so the perchloroethylene leaks into the buildings, the Post quotes the EPA as saying. Federal law forbids new residential dry cleaners from using perc, so the new regulations are aimed at about 1,300 dry cleaning establishments currently in residential buildings.

There are also new regulations for dry cleaners in non-residential buildings, the Post reports. They must install detection devices that will alert operators of leaks so that perc emissions can be reduced.


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.


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