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Health Highlights: July 26, 2007

Astronauts Intoxicated Before Launch: Report TB Patient Discharged from Denver Hospital Carbon Dioxide Pollution Predicted to Rise Disney Bans Smoking in Its Films HMO Fined for Lax Complaint Investigations Cell Phone Towers Don't Cause Illness: Study

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

Astronauts Intoxicated Before Launch: Report

NASA astronauts on two occasions were so intoxicated before launch that agency medical experts said they posed a flight safety risk, yet they were allowed to fly anyway, Aviation Week & Space Technology reported Thursday on its Web site.

The astronaut alcohol consumption fell within the standard 12-hour "bottle to throttle" rule that prohibits such drinking, the magazine said. It cited the conclusions of a NASA panel reviewing health issues in the wake of Lisa Nowak's arrest in February on charges of allegedly stalking a woman who had been dating a fellow astronaut.

A NASA spokesman declined comment, except to say that a news conference had been scheduled for Friday afternoon, the magazine reported.

A member of the panel, convened by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, told the magazine that the report was still being drafted and would probably be released in August.

The panel's report apparently doesn't deal directly with the Nowak case and does not identify any other astronaut by name, the magazine said.


TB Patient Discharged from Denver Hospital

Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta attorney infected with tuberculosis who caused an international health scare when he flew to Europe for his wedding, was discharged from a Denver hospital Thursday, a statement issued by the National Jewish Medical and Research Center said.

"Treatment for Mr. Speaker went very well, and we were able to release him more quickly than we originally anticipated," said Dr. Gwen Huitt, director of the hospital's adult infectious disease unit.

Speaker was treated with several antibiotics since his arrival at the Denver hospital eight weeks ago, and had surgery July 17 to remove a diseased part of his lung.

The hospital said that although Speaker was no longer considered contagious, he avoided a trip on a commercial airline back to Georgia by taking a special air ambulance.

Speaker, 31, was instructed to begin two years of "directly observed therapy," in which health care workers would watch him take his medicines, the hospital said. He was met in Georgia by his parents and was driven to an undisclosed location to continue his recovery.


Carbon Dioxide Pollution Predicted to Rise

Carbon dioxide emissions from old and inefficient energy plants is expected to rise by up to 34 percent by 2030, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project.

Texas topped the nonprofit group's ranking of the 12 states with the dirtiest plants, followed by Pennsylvania, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia, Wyoming, Florida, Kentucky, and New Mexico.

"Power plants are major contributors to global warming, emitting billions of tons of carbon dioxide each year," the EIP said in a statement. Outdated plants also produce excessive amounts of other pollutants including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury, the Washington, D.C.-based group said.

The group called on energy companies to phase out the nation's oldest and dirtiest plants, and to help reduce the country's dependence on fuels whose production contributes to global warming, including coal.


Disney Bans Smoking in Its Films

Walt Disney Co. will ban smoking in any movie branded with the Disney name, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The first studio to announce such a move, Disney also plans to include anti-smoking public service announcements on DVDs of any of its films that include an actor smoking, the newspaper said.

The company will also "discourage" smoking in movies made by its Miramax and Touchstone subsidiaries, CEO Bob Iger told the Journal.

Disney's move follows recent efforts by the Motion Picture Association of America to discourage smoking in movies. In May, the MPAA suggested that smoking be included as a factor in assigning ratings to movies, in addition to criteria such as violence, sex and illicit drug use, the newspaper said.

Among other Hollywood studios, NBC Universal earlier this year said it would reduce the incidence of smoking in its movies, and Weinstein Co. has included anti-smoking announcements in major releases on DVD, the Journal said.


HMO Fined for Lax Complaint Investigations

Kaiser Permanente has been fined $3 million by the State of California for what regulators deemed insufficient investigations into patient complaints and performance by member physicians, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Last summer, California fined the HMO $2 million over allegations of a mismanaged kidney transplant program, the wire service said.

In the latest investigation, state inspectors examined 246 cases that involved complaints and quality-of-care concerns at five hospitals in Northern California and four in Southern California. The inspectors concluded that Kaiser "lacked the ability to verify consistent handling of complaints throughout its medical centers or to determine whether serious or chronic problems were being addressed."

The company operates 29 medical centers throughout California, the AP said.

The latest fine could be reduced to $2 million if the company makes changes to the way it handles complaints, a state regulatory official told the Los Angeles Times.


Cell Phone Towers Don't Cause Illness: Study

Cell phone towers aren't responsible for a collection of ills including anxiety, nausea and fatigue, a new British study found.

While University of Essex researchers conceded that people who thought they had the so-called "phone mast allergy" showed real symptoms, sufferers reported greater distress when they thought phone signals were actually being transmitted. This led researchers to conclude that the problem could be at least partly psychological, BBC News reported.

"Belief is a very powerful thing," study author Elaine Fox told the network. "If you really believe something is going to do you some harm, it will."

The study was funded by the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, a group with ties to the mobile phone industry, the BBC reported.

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