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Health Highlights: July 27, 2002

Study Links Autism With Smoking in Early Pregnancy Boy Sickened by Lake Bacteria Still in Critical Condition Meat Recall Delay Jeopardized Public: Lawmakers Mideast Conflict Impacting Palestinian Kids' Health: Report West Nile Found in S. Dakota Obese Man Sues Fast Food Chains

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

Study Links Autism With Smoking in Early Pregnancy

A new report shows that women who smoke regularly during the early stages of pregnancy can increase the risk of their child developing autism by as much as 40 percent.

The findings, published in the journal Epidemiology, come from a Swedish study of more than 2,000 children.

The researchers, with the Karolinska Institutet, in Stockholm, note that previous research on animals has shown that exposure to nicotine while in the womb can cause physical and behavioral effects and that smoking in early pregnancy is known to influence fetal grown and a child's birthweight.

Still, the researchers say they were surprised to see smoking in early pregnancy as an independent risk factor for autism, which has not been seen before, reports the BBC.

Autism is a developmental condition that can cause learning disabilities and adversely affect how people communicate and interact with others.

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Boy Sickened by Lake Bacteria Still in Critical Condition

A 15-year-old boy who was one of two youths who contracted infections after swimming in separate Florida lakes remained in critical condition today.

Authorities say the unidentified boy, who is ill with a rare bacterial infection caught from the lake, is in the same hospital -- Florida Hospital-Orlando -- where the other boy, a 12-year-old, died yesterday.

In that case, the unidentified boy had developed meningeal encephalitis, a combination of meningitis and encephalitis, which causes the brain to swell, reports CNN.

The illness was believed to have come from an amoeba in the Conway chain of lakes near Orlando, where the boy had been swimming.

Amoebas enter the body through the nose and can then travel directly to the brain and into the spinal fluid, which can cause brain swelling and death. While such incidents are often fatal, they are also very rare. The majority of the 20 or 30 such cases reported in this country have been in Florida, where the hot, humid conditions are ideal for amoebas to thrive.

The 15-year-old boy had been swimming in Florida's Lake Talmadge, and reportedly contracted a bacteria called chromobacterium violaceum, which entered his body through a cut in his leg.

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Meat Recall Delay Jeopardized Public, Lawmakers Charge

Thousands of consumers were exposed to potentially deadly bacteria because the Agriculture Department was slow to investigate evidence that tainted meat had entered the U.S. marketplace, which possibly contributed to some illnesses, members of Congress said yesterday.

Though federal law requires daily inspections, there was an almost-100 day lapse between the time ConAgra Beef meat was found to be contaminated with E. coli in mid-April and last week, when the department announced the second-largest meat recall in U.S. history, Democrats in the House and Senate said.

"The long delay between contamination and recall is striking," the Democrats, including Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

According to The New York Times, the lawmakers characterized the delay as a "red flag for our nation's food safety system."

The criticism was issued as the scope of the E. coli outbreak continued to expand. At least 28 people in seven states have fallen ill from the meat, 9 more than initially reported when the 19-million-pound recall was announced, the Times reports. Seven people have been hospitalized.

Meanwhile, Colorado state officials confirmed that prison inmates had been fed ground beef that authorities knew had been recalled.

Department of Corrections officials say the reason why hundreds of inmates were fed the estimated 2,500 pounds of meat was because they felt that by properly cooking and serving the meat, it could be safely consumed, reports the Associated Press.

There were no reports of any of the inmates becoming ill after eating the beef. The meat was reportedly served to prisoners and possibly some guards at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex, the Delta Correctional Center and the Rifle Correctional Centers, all state prisons.

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Mideast Conflict Impacting Palestinian Kids' Health: Report

A soon-to-be-released report by the U.S. foreign aid agency shows increased levels of malnourishment among Palestinian children living under the hardships of the ongoing conflict with Israel.

Early figures from a report by the U.S. Agency for International Development indicate that about 30 percent of Palestinians under age 6 suffer from chronic malnutrition, compared to just 7 percent reported two years ago, before intensified fighting in the region began.

The preliminary findings were posted on the Web site of a Palestinian non-governmental organization, reports the Associated Press.

The findings showed that almost half of children under 6 and half of childbearing-age Palestinian women suffered from mild to moderate anemia, a red blood cell deficiency in which the amount of oxygen in the body is reduced.

The worsening conditions are largely blamed on travel and economic restrictions imposed by the Israeli government since new fighting began 22 months ago. Palestinians say the restrictions prevent many from traveling to jobs in Israel and the economy is suffering.

Criticism over the situation prompted Israel to this week permit 4,000 Palestinian laborers into Israel and to release $42 million in tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority.

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West Nile Found in S. Dakota Crow

A dead crow has been found infected with the West Nile virus in South Dakota, the farthest west the disease has been detected.

The bird was found July 22 in Aberdeen in northeastern South Dakota, state epidemiologist Dr. Lon Kightlinger said yesterday. The virus has now been detected in 32 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Associated Press. Since its detection in New York City in 1999, the virus has infected more than 150 people nationwide and 18 have died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The virus has spread south and west over the past three years.

Because the virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, authorities advise people to use mosquito repellent and wear long-sleeved clothes.

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Obese Man Sues Fast Food Chains

Fast food has been blamed for many a bulging belly, and now a New York man is taking the issue to court, suing several leading fast food chains for allegedly causing his obesity.

In a suit filed July 24 in Bronx Supreme Court, 56-year-old Caesar Barber names McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken as parties that contributed to his various weight and health problems.

The 5-foot-10 maintenance worker weighs 272 and had heart attacks in 1996 and 1999, reports the Associated Press.

In addition, Barber has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He claims that for decades he ate fast food regularly under the belief that it was good for him, and only learned otherwise when his doctor made him aware.

An industry representative called the suit baseless and a blatant attempt to capitalize on recent reports of increasing rates of obesity.

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