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Health Highlights: March 27, 2003

Airlines Need Check Passengers for SARS, Says WHO Maytag Gas Ranges Recalled for Burn Hazard Researchers Study Benefits of Double Cochlear Implants FDA Approves Drug for Chemo Side Effects FTC Eyes False Claims About LASIK Surgery New York State Snuffs Out Most Indoor Smoking

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

Airlines Need Check Passengers for SARS, Says WHO

World health officials are now recommending that airlines check passengers for signs of illness in the cities in Asia and Canada that have been hardest hit by the global respiratory illness.

In its first confirmation of what has become apparent as the incidents of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) increased, the World Health Organization advised the airlines to question passengers at check-in for signs of flu or symptoms consistent with SARS.

"If the passengers are sick, health workers will be recommending to the airline that they not board the plane," Dr. David Heymann, WHO's infectious diseases chief, told the Associated Press Thursday.

The advice is directed at flights leaving cities where the infection rate is spreading locally: Toronto; Singapore; Hanoi, Vietnam; Hong Kong; Taiwan; Beijing, Shanghai and the Chinese province of Guangdong, which had the earliest cases of SARS.

Meanwhile, thousands of people are being quarantined in Hong Kong and Singapore. And officials in Canada, which has 28 infected and three deaths, are also advising hundreds of people in Ontario to quarantine themselves as part of a health emergency declared Wednesday.

Hong Kong's government has ordered a quarantine for 1,080 people believed to have been in contact with SARS victims, the AP reports. The number of people hospitalized in Hong Kong with SARS symptoms shot up Thursday to 367, when officials announced 51 additional cases. Hong Kong has closed all schools for nine days.

Singapore, with its second death in two days, has ordered almost 800 people quarantined and also has shut down all its schools.

In the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, officials have declared a full medical alert after five employees of a major engineering company were suspected of being infected, AP says. The five had recently traveled to mainland China, where an outbreak mainly in Guangdong killed 34 people and sickened more 800.

The WHO, which began including Guangdong in its official tally Thursday, now reports the global toll at 1,408. There have been 54 deaths. The United States' count has increased to 51 people in 21 states, with 12 in California and six in New York, according to the latest government tally.

In Hong Kong, only 19 of the 367 who are infected have been released from hospital so far, The New York Times reports; 11 have died.

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Maytag Gas Ranges Recalled for Burn Hazard

About 23,000 gas ranges are being recalled by Maytag Corp. because of a potential delayed ignition flashback fire in the upper oven, which poses a fire and burn hazard to consumers.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says there have been nine reports of flashback fires involving the gas ranges, resulting in three minor burn injuries and singed hair or clothing.

The recall affects all Maytag Gemini Gas Ranges with a model number of MGR6772 and a serial number with the alpha characters AJ through AX or CA through CC. Both are located on a flip-up serial tag behind the upper left corner of the control panel.

The ranges, manufactured in the United States, cost between $1,300 and $1,500 and were sold from July 2002 through February 2003.

Consumers are advised not to use the upper oven self-clean and broil features and should not use the upper oven and lower oven at the same time. Those who have these ranges should contact Maytag at (866) 580-9177 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday to arrange a free, in-home repair.

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Researchers Study Benefits of Double Cochlear Implants

British researchers plan to study whether the benefits of double cochlear ear implants for deaf people are worth the extra cost and extra surgery.

The standard approach now is to use only one cochlear ear implant. But the researchers say that deaf people who have had a cochlear implant put in each ear are able to hear in "3-D" and better able to pinpoint the source of a sound, BBC News Online reports.

Cochlear implants act as a mechanical alternative to parts of the ear that don't work properly. The implant is placed in the skin behind the ear. A wire connects it to the inner ear.

"The way that we hear usually involves two ears, so it is hardly surprising that two cochlear implants work better than one and have a very positive effect on the individual's well-being," lead researcher Mark Lutman told the BBC.

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FDA Approves Drug for Chemo Side Effects

A new drug that helps control nausea and vomiting in cancer patients on chemotherapy has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Emend (aprepitant), made by Merck & Co.'s , is part of a three-drug therapy that combats the nausea and vomiting by blocking NK1 brain receptors.

It's the first drug to prevent the debilitating symptoms experienced by people more than 24 hours after receiving chemotherapy, the FDA says.

Clinical trials involving more than 1,000 cancer patients found that Emend reduced symptoms better than standard anti-vomiting treatments.

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FTC Eyes False Claims About LASIK Surgery

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says it has settled with two of the country's largest providers of LASIK eye surgery over FTC claims of false and misleading advertising.

LASIK is designed to improve the focusing power of the eye by using a laser to change the shape of the cornea. The agency alleges that The Laser Institute LLC and LasikPlus made unproven claims that the surgery would permanently eliminate the need for contact lenses or glasses -- including reading glasses and bifocals. One of the firms also falsely claimed that the surgery was safer than wearing glasses or contacts, the FTC says.

The settlements prohibit either firm from making future claims without scientific proof.

"Companies offering any medical procedure shouldn't need glasses to see this clearly: If you over-promise, the FTC will act," Howard Beales, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

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New York State Snuffs Out Most Indoor Smoking

New York State is now the third state in the nation to make smoking illegal in almost every restaurant, bar and workplace, The New York Times reports.

Gov. George Pataki signed the bill into law Wednesday, despite heavy opposition from some fellow Republicans and the tobacco, liquor and restaurant industries. The state law, which takes effect in 120 days, applies to localities that have not already passed anti-smoking legislation, but would not apply to those that have already passed stronger laws.

The bill's passage comes just four days before New York City begins enforcing its own ban.

Under the state legislation, smoking is restricted to a few indoor locations like private hotel rooms, cigar bars and membership clubs with no paid employees. California and Delaware have passed similar laws.

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