Health Highlights: June 24, 2009

South Pole Doctor Who Treated Own Breast Cancer Dies Only Four Shots Needed for Rabies Protection Insurance Improves Odds of Having a Doctor: Report Air Pollution Increases Cancer Risk For Many Americans: EPA Swine Flu Virus Likely Came From Asia: U.S. Officials

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

South Pole Doctor Who Treated Own Breast Cancer Dies

The American doctor who diagnosed and treated her own breast cancer while on a research mission at the South Pole in 1999 has died of cancer.

Dr. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, 57, was the only doctor at the National Science Foundation Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station when she found a lump in her breast. Weather conditions made a rescue impossible, so she performed a biopsy on herself and then treated herself with anti-cancer drugs for months until she was taken back to the United States.

Her cancer remained in remission until August 2005. She died Tuesday at her home in Southwick, Mass., her husband, Thomas FitzGerald, said Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

Neilsen FitzGerald described her South Pole ordeal in a best-selling book that was made into a TV movie. During the last decade, she traveled the world to speak about how cancer had changed her life. She also worked as a roving emergency room doctor at hospitals in the northeastern United States.


Only Four Shots Needed for Rabies Protection

People exposed to a rabid animal need only four vaccinations, not the five currently recommended, a U.S. immunization advisory group has decided.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted Wednesday that four shots given within the first 14 days of exposure to rabies provides sufficient protection, the Associated Press reported.

Each year, between 20,000 and 40,000 Americans are in contact with a rabid animal. About 1,000 get just three or four shots and none have come down with rabies, which was a factor in the committee's decision, the AP said.

The committee advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which prepares official guidelines for doctors.

Until the 1970s, people had to have 14 shots in the abdomen after exposure to rabies, but improved vaccines led the government to ease that requirement.


Insurance Improves Odds of Having a Doctor: Report

Young American adults who don't have health insurance are about half as likely as those with coverage to have a regular doctor (36 percent vs. 70 percent), says a federal government report released Wednesday.

About five million adults ages 19 to 23 didn't have health insurance for the entire year in 2006, and 30 percent said they didn't think coverage was worth the cost, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

More than two-thirds of young adults without insurance for the entire year did not see a doctor. Men were more likely than women to be uninsured -- 30 percent vs. 18 percent.

The AHRQ also said that 46 percent (2.2 million) of uninsured young adults worked full time and 26 percent (1.3 million) worked part time. The majority -- about 81 percent -- of the five million young adults without coverage through all of 2006 were not full-time students.


Air Pollution Increases Cancer Risk For Many Americans: EPA

Millions of Americans live in neighborhoods where high levels of toxic air pollutants greatly increase their risk of cancer, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report to be released Wednesday.

People in the nearly 600 neighborhoods have a more than 100 in 1 million risk of cancer, compared to the national average risk of 36 in 1 million.

"If we are in between 10 in 1 million and 100 in 1 million, we want to look more deeply at that. If the risk is greater than 100 in 1 million, we don't like that at all ... we want to investigate that risk and do something about it," Kelly Rimer, an environmental scientist with the EPA, told the Associated Press.

The highest cancer risk in the nation -- 1,200 in 1 million and 1,100 in 1 million -- are in parts of Los Angeles, Calif., and Madison County, Ill., according to the EPA. Two neighborhoods in Allegheny County, Pa., and one in Tuscaloosa, Ala., had the next highest rates of cancer risk from air toxins.

The lowest risk levels are in Coconino County, Ariz., and Lyon County, Nev., the EPA said. The lowest levels of toxic air pollution are in Kalawao County, Hawaii, and Golden Valley County, Mont., the AP reported.


Swine Flu Virus Likely Came From Asia: U.S. Officials

The swine flu pandemic likely originated in pigs in Asia, not on factory farms in Mexico, and was brought to North America by an infected human, say U.S. agriculture officials.

They said there's no evidence that the new swine flu virus -- a combination of North American and Eurasian genes -- has ever circulated in North American pigs. However, there is proof that a closely related "sister virus" has circulated among pigs in Asia, The New York Times reported.

But the agriculture officials added there's no way to prove their theory, which has only sketchy data to support it. As the virus spreads and pigs are infected by humans, it becomes more difficult to determine the origin of the pandemic.

"To tell whether a pig is newly infected by a human or had the virus before the human epidemic began really can't be done," Dr. Kelly M. Lager, a U.S. Agriculture Department swine disease expert, told the Times.

Since the swine flu pandemic began, the popular assumption is that it originated in Mexico. The pandemic has now reached more than 90 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

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