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Health Highlights: July 5, 2007

Contractors Returning From Iraq Have PTSD Symptoms Children's Costume Jewelry Recalled for Lead Hazard Panama Reports 94 Deaths From Tainted Medicine Swans in France Died From Bird Flu U.S. Food Education Program Not Working: Survey

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

Contractors Returning From Iraq Have PTSD Symptoms

U.S. government contractors returning from Iraq show some of the same combat-related mental health problems as returning soldiers, The New York Times reports.

As many as 126,000 contractors work for the American government in Iraq. While many work alongside soldiers, most are on their own when it comes to accessing the civilian medical system when they return to the states, the newspaper said. They aren't eligible for care in the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) or military healthcare systems.

As a result, many contractors with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses aren't properly diagnosed, experts told the Times.

The federal government hasn't investigated the Iraq war's toll on private contractors, Pentagon and VA officials told the newspaper. "To my knowledge, it has not been looked at systematically," said Dr. Matthew Friedman, who directs the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In addition to mental illness, there's also a physical toll on civilians who have served in Iraq. About 1,000 contractors have died since the Iraq war began and nearly 13,000 have been injured, the Times said.

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Children's Costume Jewelry Recalled for Lead Hazard

Some 20,000 pieces of costume jewelry imported from China are being recalled because they contain high levels of the lead, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday.

The products, branded "Essentials for Kids," are imported by Future Industries, of Cliffwood Beach, N.J. They include a necklace, bracelet and pair of earrings made of green, blue or pink plastic beads. The necklaces have painted metallic pendants in the shape of shoes, girls, blackboards with "ABCD," or school buses. Other sets include seven pendants, one for each day of the week.

The products were sold at gift stores, dollar stores and discount stores nationwide from August 2005 through April 2007 for about $1.

recalled jewelry

Lead is toxic if ingested by small children. The products should be taken away immediately from children and returned to the store where purchased for a refund.

Contact Future Industries at 800-929-0006 for more information.

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Panama Reports 94 Deaths From Tainted Medicine

At least 94 people in Panama have died from medicine contaminated with diethylene glycol, the same chemical found in Chinese-made toothpaste that has been recalled in the United States, a Panamanian prosecutor told the Associated Press.

The deaths have continued in Panama this year, despite domestic recalls on the tainted medicine that were ordered since October, prosecutor Dimas Guevara told the wire service.

Panamanian authorities previously had confirmed only 51 deaths from the medicine, the AP said.

Diethylene glycol, which can be deadly if ingested in even trace amounts, is commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid products. It's a chemical cousin of glycerin, a sweetener frequently used in medicines and food.

Diethylene glycol was found in Panamanian drugs including cough syrup, antihistamines, calamine lotion, and rash ointments, the AP said. Investigations revealed that the chemical had been made by a Chinese company and illegally passed off as glycerin.

At least 293 more possible cases of poisoning from the tainted medicines have been identified in Panama, but haven't been confirmed by forensic tests, the wire service said.

In the United States, some 900,000 tubes of toothpaste containing the deadly chemical have been found in institutions for the mentally ill, hospitals, prisons, and juvenile detention centers in Georgia and North Carolina, recent news reports said. Officials in those states have no reports of illness from the tainted tubes, which have been replaced with domestic products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned Americans not to use any Chinese-made toothpaste, regardless of brand.

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Swans in France Died From Bird Flu

Three swans found dead in the Moselle region of France have tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu, the government said Thursday.

The Agriculture Ministry said its response included the segregation of nearby domestic birds and a ban on bird-related activities, including pigeon-racing competitions, the Associated Press reported.

Recent positive bird flu tests on fowl also have been reported in Germany in Bavaria and Saxony, the wire service said.

While it remains difficult for people to acquire bird flu, at least 191 people worldwide have died from the disease in recent years, the AP reported, citing the World Health Organization.

Experts worry, however, that the virus will mutate into a form that's more easily passed between people, sparking a human pandemic.

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U.S. Food Education Program Not Working: Survey

The U.S. government's nutrition education program of more than $1 billion is failing, a survey by the Associated Press reveals.

The money spent on videos of dancing fruits and vegetables, Web site emphasis on snacking on carrots and celery, and repeated instruction on how eating well makes a person feel good are all coming to naught, the wire service says.

The AP reviewed 57 scientific studies that looked at the effectiveness of the federal program and found that only four showed any measurable success in changing the way children ate.

Here are the major obstacles that come into play, the wire service reports:

Parents. If parents don't practice proper nutrition, most times their children won't, either.

Poverty. Less healthful food -- especially fast food -- is cheaper and more often eaten by poor children, the researchers found.

Advertising. Not one of the almost 9,000 television ads for food products aimed at children between ages 8 and 12 in the study promoted fruits or vegetables.

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