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

Smallpox Plan May Involve More Vaccines Than Thought

A plan to vaccinate teams of medical and emergency workers who are designated to be the first to respond in a smallpox biological attack may involve many more vaccinations than has been estimated, a federal health adviser said today.

Experts have anticipated that the plan, recommended by the panel that sets the nation's vaccine policy, would involve vaccinating about 10,000 to 20,000 first responders in an attack.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is now considered the plan. But Dr. Donald A. Henderson, a scientific adviser to Thompson, told the Associated Press that if there were, for instance, 2,000 hospitals with response teams set up, that would mean about 500,000 health care workers requiring vaccinations.

The panel had considered reintroducing the smallpox vaccination to the general public, but decided against that due to concerns about side effects that can claim the lives of about one in every million who are vaccinated.

A decision on whether to adopt the recommendations should be made by Aug. 1, said Henderson.

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Caribbean Nations to Get Discounted AIDS Drugs

Fifteen Caribbean nations will have access to substantially discounted AIDS drugs under a new plan announced today by officials with the Caribbean Community.

Under the deal, six major pharmaceutical companies will provide drugs discounted by as much as 90 percent to help control AIDS in the region, reports the Associated Press.

Companies participating in the deal include the U.S.-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Merck & Co., and Abbott Laboratories.

The Caribbean region has the second highest HIV infection rate in the world, trailing only sub-Saharan Africa. About 2 percent of the population, or 500,000 people, are HIV-positive.

Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of HIV-infected people in the nations cannot afford drugs to control the condition.

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Wait Longer Before Treating HIV, Say New Guidelines

New guidelines on the treatment of HIV call for a prolonged waiting period before AIDS drugs are introduced.

Previous guidelines had recommended that doctors introduce AIDS-fighting drugs to HIV-infected patients once CD4 white blood cell levels dropped to about 350 per cubic millimeter.

But the new guidelines, recommended by an International AIDS Society-USA panel, assert that doctors should wait until CD4 levels drop to between 200 and 350.

While it's possible that the drugs may help some patients with higher counts, the risks of serious side effects -- such as raised cholesterol and disfiguring body-fat changes -- are generally considered to outweigh the benefits of earlier introduction, reports the Associated Press.

The guidelines, appearing in the July 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, will be announced at the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

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Survey: Americans Support African AIDS Assistance

Americans favor offering financial assistance to help Africa's battle against AIDS, but most are pessimistic on just how much change it will bring about, says a new survey.

The survey, conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University, indicates that nearly three out of four members of the public favor a plan by the Bush administration to spend an additional $500 million over the next three years to help prevent the transmission of AIDS from African mothers to their babies.

But the poll also shows that most don't blame inadequate funding for the epidemic. Instead, they attribute the crisis to unsafe sex practices, poverty, and government corruption.

The survey was released early to coincide with the opening tomorrow of the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

An estimated 70 percent of people in the world infected with AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa, and in some nations as much as 11 percent of the population is infected, reports the Post.

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Fire Ants on Northward March

Fire ants, once believed to be incapable of surviving in winter weather, are unexpectedly marching their way into cooler regions and pose a threat to crops, wildlife, and even humans, reports the Associated Press.

Experts say they are surprised to see the aggressive South American ants popping up in areas in the north Georgia mountains. The ants have in fact spread to all of the state's 159 counties, despite the belief that they could only survive in southern areas of the state.

By feeding on crop seedlings and building mounds that damage machinery, the ants are an unwelcome site on farms, and if disturbed, they can repeatedly sting newborn deer and quail, killing such wildlife.

And while the stings are merely an uncomfortable nuisance to most human, those who are allergic to the ants' venom can die from such exposure.

Since they have no natural enemies in the U.S., the ants have been able to proliferate. But scientists with the United States Department of Agriculture, who traveled to South America, say they've come up with some natural diseases and enemies that may be able to control the pests.

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FDA Approves New Sweetener

A non-nutritive sweetener said to be 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration yesterday to be marketed as an additive in candies, soft drinks and various other products.

Like other familiar sweeteners, Neotame is a white crystalline powder that dissolves in water. It is made by Monsanto, which also makes NutraSweet's sweetener Equal. Neotame is approved for use in baked goods, nonalcoholic beverages, chewing gum, confections, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams, jellies, fruit, juices, toppings and syrups, reports the Associated Press.

The FDA declared the product to be safe for consumption after reviewing more than 113 animal and human studies, some of which looked at any possible links with cancer-causing or neurological side effects.

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Child Disability Rates Increased Over Decade

Figures from the latest census show a dramatic increase in the numbers of U.S. youths with mental or physical disabilities during the past decade, with about 5.2 million, or about one in every dozen children or teens, having such handicaps.

Experts say there are a wide variety of explanations for the increased numbers, including improvements in health care saving low birth-weight babies, medical advances allowing some people with spinal cord injuries or Down syndrome to live longer and even increased rates of diabetes that are attributed to rising childhood obesity, reports the Washington Post.

In addition, the definition of disability itself has broadened, and with greater benefits and less stigma attached to many conditions, more are coming forward and being diagnosed as disabled, says the article.

The Post says metropolitan areas with the highest child disability rates -- at least 10 percent -- include Lewiston-Auburn, Maine; Huntington, W.Va.; and Dothan, Ala. All areas have above-average poverty. Those with the lowest rates were, conversely, areas with low poverty rates, including Hunterdon County, N.J., Stamford, Conn., and the university areas of Charlottesville, Va., and Boulder, Colo.

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