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Health Highlights: July 4, 2006

Canada Confirms 6th Case of Mad Cow Disease First Face Transplant Called a Success Young Drinkers More Likely to Have Alcohol Dependence Problems Later Obesity Increases Risk of Mood Disorders Flu Vaccine Maker Warned by FDA

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

Canada Confirms 6th Case of Mad Cow Disease

Canada has confirmed the country's sixth case of mad cow disease, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The government said it would find out where the cow was born and whether other animals had eaten the same feed. The animal was at least 15 years old, and was born before Canada enacted strict regulations on potentially contaminated feed in 1997. Mad cow disease is believed to spread through feed because cows can ingest the tissues of other cattle.

Humans can get a related disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease by eating contaminated meat. More than 150 humans have died this way, the AP said.

Two of the six mad cow cases in Canada occurred in animals born after 1997, but the government says the food supply is safe and the actual occurrence of the disease among cows is very low, given that there are 17 million cattle in that country.

In 2003, shipments of Canadian cattle to the United States were halted when the first case of mad cow disease was reported. Last year, trade in young animals resumed, although it is not clear when trade in older animals might resume. Last week, U.S. Agriculture Department spokesman Ed Loyd told the AP that U.S. officials have a "high degree of confidence in the safeguards and mitigating measures in place in the U.S. and Canada."

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First Face Transplant Called a Success

French doctors say that the world's first face transplant has been a triumph, the BBC reported Monday.

The physicians report in the July 3 issue of The Lancet that the 38-year-old woman whose face was mauled by her pet Labrador recovered sensation in her face only four months after the procedure was completed.

The French surgical team made history when it transplanted tissues, muscles, arteries and veins from a brain-dead donor onto Isabelle Dinoire's lower face in November 2005. A week later, she was able to eat and drink normally, although she is receiving physical therapy to recover full movement around her lips. Dinoire did experience a slight rejection of the new tissue, but immunosuppressant drugs were able to quell the reaction, the report said.

"The four-month outcome demonstrates the feasibility of this procedure," said Dr. Bernard Devauchelle, who led the surgical team that performed the operation. "The functional result will be assessed in the future, but this graft can already be deemed successful with respect to appearance, sensitivity, and acceptance by the patient."

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Young Drinkers More Likely to Have Alcohol Dependence Problems Later

Teenagers who start drinking before the age of 14 face a much higher risk of alcohol dependence during their lifetime, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Boston University, who report their findings in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, analyzed a national survey of more than 43,000 adults aged 18 and older.

Overall, 12.5 percent of all those surveyed and 19 percent of those had had ever drank alcohol experienced alcohol dependence at some point in their lifetime. However, 47 percent of those who began drinking before the age of 14 experienced alcohol dependence later, compared to 9 percent of those who did not drink until 21. The younger drinkers also were three times more likely to experience two or more episodes of alcohol dependence in their lifetime.

"Usually, each additional year earlier than age 21 years that a respondent begins to drink, the greater the odds that he or she would develop the alcohol dependence outcomes examined," the researchers wrote.

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Obesity Increases Risk of Mood Disorders

People who are obese are 25 percent more likely to have a mood disorder, but they are also 25 percent less likely to have substance abuse problems, a new study finds.

The research, published in the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, looked at more than 9,000 adults who were interviewed as part of a large, national survey on mental disorders. Of those questioned, 2,330 were considered obese because they had a body-mass index of 30 or higher. The findings were similar for both genders, although the link between obesity and mood disorders was strongest among non-Hispanic whites and those with higher levels of education.

"This calculation illustrates the public health importance of the association but does not indicate a direction for the causal relationship," the Seattle researchers wrote. "It is equally correct to state that more than one-fifth of cases of mood disorder in the general population are attributable to the association with obesity."

About 31 percent of all U.S. adults were obese in 2000, the study showed, which was an increase of 23 percent from 1990. Previous studies have indicated a risk between obesity and depression, and other research has repeatedly shown that obese adults are at a higher risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other harmful conditions.

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Flu Vaccine Maker Warned by FDA

Drug maker Sanofi Pasteur was issued a warning letter by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday following concerns that arose after some batches of the company's influenza vaccine failed sterility tests this spring.

According to the Associated Press, the FDA has inspected the company's Swiftwater, Pa.-based plant and none of the affected material was used in any vaccines. No further problems have occurred since then, the wire service reported.

However, the warning letter was issued because the source of the contamination has not been found, the FDA said.

Since the letter is only an advisory, Sanofi Pasteur can continue to make vaccine at the Pennsylvania plant, Dr. Karen Midthun, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told the wire service. The company said in a statement that it is working closely with the government to address any concerns, and it is still confident it can manufacture roughly 50 million doses of flu vaccine for the upcoming flu season.

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