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

Latest Report: AIDS Making Millions of Children Orphans

The AIDS epidemic is taking its toll on the world's children, with 13.4 million children in the developing world having lost at least one parent to the disease, says a new report.

Even worse, say experts, is that figure is expected to rise to 25 million in the next eight years.

The report is the most disturbing to yet come out of the weeklong International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, said U.N. AIDS agency executive director Peter Piot.

Authors of the report say there were less than a million orphans in the world because of AIDS as recently as 1990. By 1995 there were more than 4.5 million children in the developing world who'd lost one or both of their parents. In 2001, there were 13.4 million, reports the Associated Press.

Another report issued by the Swiss-based advocacy and research group Association Francois-Xavier Bagnoud had an even grimmer prediction - - that the number of orphans who've lost parents to AIDS may rise to as many as 100 million by 2010.


Brits to Ease Marijuana Laws

With heroin and other drug abuse problems stretching police resources, the British government announced today plans to relax its marijuana laws.

The action stops short of making marijuana legal, but lowers it from a "class B" to a "class C" drug, meaning most who are caught with pot will have the drug confiscated and get off with just a warning.

Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that he supports the action in order to allow police to focus time and effort on fighting harder drug use, such as cocaine and heroin.

In response to suggestions that he was becoming soft on drugs, Blair said arrests would still be made in "aggravated" marijuana cases, such as when the drug was being smoked when children were around, reports the BBC.


Senate Committee Okays Colon Cancer Screening Bill

A Senate committee today approved recommendation of a bill that would require health insurers cover the cost of colon cancer screenings for people over 50 who are at a high risk for the disease.

In arguing in favor of the bill, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., reminded the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that President Bush himself just had a colonoscopy and urged Americans over 50 to do the same.

Several Republicans said they feared the bill would drive up health costs and open the door to mandating that insurers pay for other health screenings as well, reports the Associated Press.

A companion bill introduced in the House has not been acted on yet.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of all cancer deaths, claiming the lives of 56,600 Americans, according to the American Cancer Society.


Florida Attorney General Probes Prozac Mailing

Florida's Attorney General has issued subpoenas to Eli Lilly & Co. and a number of other companies and individuals to see if laws were broken when about 150 state residents received unsolicited one-month samples of the anti-depressant Prozac through the mail.

The action came a week after a woman who received the medication filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit against the drugmaker, the local Walgreen's pharmacy that dispensed the medication, and her doctor.

John Newton, senior assistant attorney general, tells the Associated Press that the parties could be cited under the state's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Earlier this week, Lilly suspended between 5 and 10 unnamed workers with ties to the mailings, the AP says. While apologizing for the incident, the company said it was not part of any corporate-wide marketing strategy.


Northeasterners Pay More for Health Care

Northeast residents pay an average of 15 percent more on personal health care than the rest of the nation, according to government figures cited by the Associated Press.

The Department of Health and Human Services survey compared 1998 health care costs in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island with those of the rest of the nation. But the agency cautioned that although Northeasterners were paying more, the quality of their health care was not necessarily better.

The survey conducted by HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited higher incomes and greater costs of living in the Northeast, particularly in urban areas. The poll measured health care costs including hospital care, physician services and prescription drugs.

Massachusetts led all states with an average annual cost of $4,810 per resident. The average in New York was $4,706; Connecticut, $4,656; and Rhode Island, $4,497. On the flip side, Utah had the nation's lowest annual per capita cost, $2,731.


Dairy Queen Introducing Irradiated Beef

Dairy Queen says it will begin introducing irradiated ground beef in its burgers at several Minneapolis/St.Paul stores this week, reports the Associated Press.

The company is among the first of the fast-food giants to sell ground beef that is irradiated, a process that kills harmful food-borne bacteria.

Dairy Queen says it will pass out information to customers at affected stores and ask for comments, which it will evaluate after 60 days. The company says franchisees will pay about 5 cents more per pound for the irradiated meat, but won't immediately pass the increase on to customers.


Minnesota Clinic Warns of Ruined Vaccines

Some 3,400 people who received vaccinations from a Minneapolis clinic may have to be be re-inoculated because the original vaccines were stored in improper temperatures, clinic officials say.

The vaccines, administered at several locations by the Park Nicollet Clinic, included polio, booster shots, hepatitis A and B, and the Prevnar vaccine for infants and toddlers, reports the Associated Press. They are supposed to be stored at 35 to 46 degrees, but the patients received the inoculations on days when temperatures in storage rooms fell below freezing, the AP reports.

The problem affected at least nine Park Nicollet clinics in the Minneapolis area. Park Nicollet says it's spending $300,000 to provide replacement shots. A clinic spokesman told the AP that there was no negative in patients receiving a second shot, except for the possible return of a sore arm for a day or two.


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