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Health Highlights: June 22, 2002

Fitness Campaign Has Bush On the Run Nuke Plant Releases Didn't Cause Thyroid Diseases: Govt. Study Heartburn Drug Recommended for Over-the-Counter Use Smallpox Vaccine Recommendations Raise Concerns Polio Eradicated in Major 'European Zone': WHO Ultrasounds Contributing to China's Gender Imbalance

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

Fitness Campaign Has Bush On the Run

In an effort to raise awareness on the importance of fitness, President Bush hit the pavement today, challenging hundreds of White House staff members in a foot race.

The "President's Fitness Challenge Run and Walk" was conducted with the messages to get physically active every day, to eat well, receive preventive screenings and not to smoke, drink too much or use illegal drugs.

The 55-year-old president typically runs a mile in less than seven minutes, and his routine includes a "hard run" on Sundays in which he runs three miles in about 20 minutes, reports the Associated Press.


Nuke Plant Releases Didn't Cause Thyroid Diseases: Govt. Study

Washington state residents living downwind of the Hanford nuclear reservation when radioactive iodine was released several decades ago appear to be at no greater risk of suffering from thyroid diseases than the general public, a federal study has concluded.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle were ordered by Congress to conduct the study after the Department of Energy revealed secret documents indicating that large amounts of the radiation had been released from the central Washington facility between 1944 and 1957.

A group of so-called "downwinders" has filed a lawsuit, claiming that the releases caused significant health problems among those living near the site, said they did not trust the results, reports the Associated Press.

Officials said if there was an increased risk of thyroid disease among residents, it was too small to detect, but they added that the study also doesn't not prove that the radiation releases from Hanford had no effect on residents' health.


Heartburn Drug Recommended for Over-the-Counter Use

The popular heartburn prescription medicine Prilosec may be headed for the over-the-counter shelf at your local drug store under government recommendations made yesterday.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted 16-2 to make the drug available without a prescription, but only under the condition that the drug's maker, AstraZeneca, conduct more research into improving Prilosec's labeling.

Specifically, the committee said it wanted to make sure consumers were aware of who should use the pill and when.

Unlike antacids such as Tums or acid reducers like Pepcid, Prilosec takes a few days to build up strength and inhibit acid. For instance, it's not ideally used after a spicy meal, but is instead recommended for a 14-day period for people who suffer frequent or persistent heartburn, reports the Associated Press.

A final approval of the drug for non-prescription sales would only be considered after label change proposals were presented by the manufacturer, said the committee.


Smallpox Vaccine Recommendations Raise Concerns

Significant ethical and health concerns are emerging with the government's recommendation this week that smallpox vaccination be reintroduced for thousands of people across the nation selected to be "first responders" in a bioterror attack, reports the New York Times.

Doctors warn that history has shown that certain people who come in contact with those who've received the vaccine could suffer serious and even deadly complications.

The vaccination actually infects recipients with a live form of a virus similar to smallpox. Recipients then can shed that virus, offering protection to some, but complications to others.

People who may be at increased risk include those with a history of common skin conditions like eczema, and those with compromised immune systems, such as people with the AIDS virus or patients who are receiving cancer treatments.

Since some of those recommended to receive vaccines include some workers at hospitals designated to receive smallpox patients in case of an attack, preventing exposure to those susceptible to complications in such settings could be difficult.


Polio Eradicated in Major 'European Zone': WHO

The World Health Organization announced yesterday that a third major "zone" of the world -- its European zone -- has been officially declared free of the polio virus.

The European zone includes 51 countries, including former Soviet republics, and 873 million inhabitants. The last region to have reported cases of polio in the zone was southeast Turkey near the border with Iran, where the final case was reported in November 1998.

Polio was certified as eradicated in the Americas in 1994 and in the Western Pacific three years ago, reports the Associated Press.

UNICEF has reportedly provided regions in the European zone with 177 million doses of the oral polio vaccine in the past three years.

The disease, which can cause paralysis and even death, still exists in Afghanistan, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, the AP reports.

Global health organizations, including the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are part of an initiative to eradicate polio worldwide by 2005.


Ultrasounds Contributing to China's Gender Imbalance

High technology is making its way into Chinese villages as the latest tool in a cultural bias for sons over daughters.

According to an article in The New York Times, ultrasound scanners have become widely available to allow people to find out the gender of their child so they can have an abortion if the fetus is female.

Because the technology is inexpensive -- sometimes as low as $4 for a scan -- it's becoming increasingly popular, even though it is discouraged by the Chinese government for use in gender bias.

Nevertheless, many couples opt for abortion if the gender is found to be female.

One reason for the bias is the tradition in rural parts of China that daughters move in with their husband's families at marriage, often leaving parents with no children to offer assistance as the parents age.

China has the largest gender disparity for newborns of any nation in the world; in some parts of the country there are 144 boys born for every 100 girls.


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