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Health Highlights: July 29, 2002

New Case of Childhood Leukemia Adds to Nevada Cancer Cluster British Birth Control Pill Lawsuit Dismissed Elderly Ex-Drivers Will Face a Transportation Roadblock Positive Thinking Can Extend Life, Study Finds Tick Disease May Threaten Blood Supply Med Students May Be Tested for Bedside Manner

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

New Case of Childhood Leukemia Adds to Nevada Cancer Cluster

Another case of childhood leukemia is being reported in the northern Nevada town of Fallon, where a cluster of 15 other such cases has scientists baffled and residents frightened.

The most recent case of acute lymphocytic leukemia was diagnosed in a 2-year-old former resident of Churchill County, reports Nevada's State Health Division.

With leukemia typically occurring at an average rate of about three childhood cases per 100,000 children, a case would normally be expected to be seen once every five years in the Fallon area, which has a population of 26,000, reports the Associated Press.

The 16 cases linked to Fallon have all been reported since 1997. Two of the children have died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been investigating possible environmental causes for the cluster since September 2001.

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British Birth Control Pill Lawsuit Dismissed

A lawsuit filed by about 100 British women who claimed they had been harmed by taking the latest generation of birth control pills has been dismissed by that country's High Court.

The women had argued that research showed that their chances of developing deadly blood clots were increased two-fold over earlier-generation pills.

But the companies being sued argued that the research was flawed, and the risk was no greater than with pills developed earlier, reports the BBC.

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Elderly Ex-Drivers Will Face a Transportation Roadblock

Each year, some 600,000 Americans age 70 and over hang up their car keys for good and turn to friends, relatives, or public transportation for help getting around, according to HealthDay.

But that number is sure to grow as the population ages, and the nation is unprepared to deal with the burdens it will place on the country's mass transit system, according to a new report by government researchers.

"Our public transportation services are not well suited for older people because the reasons they quit driving are health-related and won't be compatible for [travel] on buses and subways," said Dan Foley, an epidemiologist at the National Institute on Aging and lead author of the study, which appears in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The situation is similar to what American long-term care looked like 20 or 30 years ago, said Foley: a one-lane road.

"Decades ago, when older people were very sick the only option they had was institutional care. We managed to do pretty well with plugging in community based long-term care services for older people," he added.

When it comes to making transportation systems more adaptable for the elderly and infirm, "I suspect we can have the same success," he said. "It's just a matter of recognizing that there's a large demand that's looming on the horizon."

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Positive Thinking Can Extend Life: Study

People with an optimistic outlook on their remaining years live longer than those who constantly worry, reports HealthDay.

Those with a positive view of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than those who reflect negatively on the passing years, say the researchers, led by Dr. Becca Levy of Yale University. A positive outlook has more of an effect on adding years to your life than lowering your blood pressure or keeping your cholesterol down, Levy says.

In addition to the psychological harm attributed to a negative outlook, a major physical factor that can shorten your life is stress and its effects on the heart, the researchers say. Another contributing factor is the poor attitude toward the elderly often found in Western societies.

The researchers studied information about 660 volunteers over age 50. The results are published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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Tick Disease May Threaten Blood Supply

A sometimes fatal disease spread by the same ticks that carry Lyme Disease may be infiltrating the nation's blood supply, reports United Press International.

Babesiosis, most often a non-fatal illness with symptoms similar to those of malaria, can be fatal if left untreated, especially among those with weak immune systems. Carried by Ixodes scapularis, commonly known as the deer tick, the disease has largely been confined to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and Long Island, N.Y. But infections also have been documented in New Jersey and Connecticut, reports UPI.

The disease, for which there currently is no screening test, is fatal in about 5 percent of cases. And there are more than 30 documented instances of it being transmitted via a blood transfusion, the wire service says. Experts say that number may actually be much higher, since the disease often goes unrecognized and unreported.

The American Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are both studying how prevalent the disease is and how much of a risk it poses to the nation's blood supply, UPI says. The Red Cross says it bars anyone from donating blood who has ever had the disease.

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Med Students May Be Tested for Bedside Manner

If you think your doctor lacks any bedside manner, take solace in knowing that your children or grandchildren may be more fortunate. A pilot program that essentially has med students "playing doctor" with pretend patients may soon be a requirement for a medical license, reports the Associated Press.

The clinical skills program is being tested at three Philadelphia hospitals, and other cities are likely to follow. The National Board of Medical Examiners could make the program a licensing requirement as early as 2004, the AP says.

The American Medical Association (AMA), however, says the current $1,000 price tag plus any travel expenses may be too steep for already overburdened medical students to afford. The AMA has asked the board to hold off on making the test a requirement until the effectiveness of the test is proven and published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Presumably by then, the price would also come down.

Some medical schools already have a clinical skills test, but the pilot program would set a national standard, according to experts quoted by the AP. Such a test was once required nationwide for a medical license, but the test was dropped in 1964 amid questions about its reliability.

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