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Health Highlights: March 26, 2002

Enhanced Baby Food's Effectiveness Questioned Pill Linked to Cervical Cancer in STD Presence CDC Launches Anti-"Supergerm" Campaign Study Reveals St. John's Warts Bush Chooses Candidates for Surgeon General, Chief of NIH

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

Enhanced Baby Food's Effectiveness Questioned

The good news is, there's now baby food on the market that's said to have much of the nutritional value of breast milk. But the bad news is, some say that by the time babies begin eating baby food, those breast milk nutrients may not have much beneficial effect.

Marketing efforts for the baby food, called First Advantage and made by the Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., begin tomorrow and boast the product's inclusion of the ingredient DHA.

DHA is one of two fatty acids found naturally in breast milk and linked to the healthy development of the brain and vision, reports the Associated Press.

Several baby formulas already are enhanced with DHA and the other fatty acid, AA, but such formulas are for use during the earliest months of life. The First Advantage baby food, however, is made for babies at least six months of age and some experts say that by that time, the stage of development in which DHA and AA have the greatest impact is fading.

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Pill Linked to Cervical Cancer in STD Presence

Being on birth control pills can accelerate the rate at which a common sexually transmitted disease could develop into cancer, says a new study.

The research, conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, found that if women have the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV), taking oral contraceptives could in fact promote the rate at which the virus becomes cancer.

HPV is actually very common and infects almost all sexually active women sometime during their life, but the immune system usually fends off the virus.

In looking at data on 3,769 women, about half of whom had cervical cancer, the researchers found that women infected with HPV who had used oral contraceptives for five years or more were almost three times more likely to develop cervical cancer than those who had the infection but had never been on the pill, reports the Associated Press.

And women who had taken the pill for 10 years or more were four times more likely to get the disease than those who had not taken it.

Doctors say the research supports suspicions that there is a link between birth control pills and cervical cancer.

The study was due to be published tomorrow on the Web site of The Lancet medical journal.

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CDC Launches Anti-'Supergerm' Campaign

So called "supergerms," which are drug-resistant bacteris that cause an estimated 1 million hospital infections each year, are the target of a new campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The campaign, launched today, urges hospitals and doctors to take important measures to prevent such germs from developing resistances to drugs, reports the Associated Press.

Among key measures: don't overuse antibiotics, especially vancomycin, used to fight staph infections, because about a half of all staph infections are becoming resistant to such antibiotics.

In addition, the CDC urges, limit the use of catheters and vaccinate more patients against the flu in order to avoid infections.

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Study Reveals St. John's Warts

What you see may not be what you get, and what you get may not be what you need -- when shopping for the popular herbal supplement St. John's wort.

That's the finding of a new study that reports sizeable discrepancies in label claims and compounds found in eight popular brands of the popular yet controversial herb commonly used to treat mild-to-moderate depression, reports HealthDay.

In research published in the new edition of the American Journal of Health System Pharmacists, scientists from the University of Southern California's School of Pharmacy report that manufacturers of at least some versions of St. John's wort may be concentrating their formulas on the wrong components of the herb. Also, these same companies may not be so accurate in listing the percentages of the compounds the products contain.

"Most manufacturers test their products for levels of hypericin, while ignoring the compound hyperforin, even though there is good evidence that hyperforin may have the most therapeutic benefits," says lead study author Gerlie de los Reyes, a researcher at USC's Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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Bush Chooses Candidates for Surgeon General, Chief of NIH

President Bush has chosen Dr. Richard Carmona, an Arizona trauma surgeon, to be the next U.S. Surgeon General. At a White House gathering today, the president also nominated Dr. Elias Zerhouni, executive dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, as the next chief of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Both nominations require Senate approval.

"These are distinguished physicians who have worked tirelessly to save lives and to improve lives," Bush told the audience at an East Room ceremony.

The current surgeon general, David Satcher, is a Clinton appointee. He announced last month that he was leaving the post he's held for four years.

The 52-year-old Carmona, who also has police experience, inspired a made-for-TV movie by once dangling out of a helicopter to rescue a person stranded on a cliff. In 1985, the former Army Green Beret created the first trauma care system in Arizona, the Associated Press reports.

Zerhouni, 50, has a background in radiology. The NIH, which has been without a director for two years, conducts and finances medical research. Hoping to thwart potential threats of bioterrorism, Bush has proposed the biggest-ever increase in funding for the agency.

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