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Health Highlights: May 13, 2006

Cases of Bird Flu in Southeast Asia this year: Zero Tibetan Yoga to be Focus of Breast Cancer Study Disgraced Korean Stem Cell Scientist Indicted for Fraud Asthma Attack, Not Peanut Kiss, Killed Quebec Girl World Cup Fans Warned About Measles

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

Cases of Bird Flu in Southeast Asia this year: Zero

It may be too early to arrive at a conclusion, but the region where the deadly avian bird flu first erupted in 2003 has had no new human cases reported this year, leading health officials speculate that the virus may indeed have an end point.

The New York Times reports that the virus H5N1 hasn't been reported in any part of Southeast Asia in humans during the past 12 months, and no cases in poultry for the past six months, where it was first reported and claimed most of its victims, both avian and human.

The newspaper quotes Dr. David Nabarro, the United Nations' chief pandemic flu coordinator as saying, "In Thailand and Vietnam, we've had the most fabulous success stories." But Nabarro stopped short of saying the virus was dying out, the newspaper reported, adding he said he was "cautious in interpreting these shifts in patterns" because too little is known about how the disease spreads.

This news is particularly significant for these two countries, because Vietnam had almost half the human cases of avian flu worldwide, and there hasn't been a single reported case in either humans or poultry this year, the newspaper reported. Thailand, also particularly hard-hit, hasn't had a human case reported in nearly a year or an avian case in six months, the Times said.

A second significant development, the Times reports, is that birds migrating during the spring from Africa to Europe have not so far carried the H5N1 virus into Europe.

Since bird flu appeared in 2003, more than 100 people have died worldwide, and health experts say that all of them died after having been in contact with birds. This has led to the belief that the virus has not yet mutated to cause human-to-human infection.


Tibetan Yoga to be Focus of Breast Cancer Study

Can a routine of yoga help ease the side effects of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients? Possibly.

The U.S. government's National Cancer Institute (NCI) has decided to spend $2.4 million to find out. The NCI has given the money to the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to expand research it began in 2004 to determine if practicing a particular discipline called Tibetan yoga will help breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

According to a news release from the Anderson Center, its 2004 research, published in the journal Cancer found that practicing Tibetan yoga improved the sleep of lymphoma patients, and a smaller study revealed that breast cancer patients had a better attitude toward their disease if they practiced Tibetan yoga.

What is Tibetan yoga? "Like other types of yoga, Tibetan yoga involves breathing, physical movements and meditation, but it puts greater emphasis on meditation and visualization," the press release quotes Alejandro Chaoul, an expert in the discipline who will help conduct the study, as saying.

Lorenzo Cohen, the director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M. D. Anderson is the study's principal investigator. According to the news release, the study will involve comparing a Tibetan yoga routine with simple stretching or usual care in women who will be undergoing chemotherapy to treat their breast cancer.


Disgraced Korean Stem Cell Scientist Indicted for Fraud

Discredited South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk was indicted Friday on charges of fraud, embezzlement and bioethics violations in connection with faked research.

Prosecutors also indicted five members of Hwang's research team on lesser charges, the Associated Press reported.

If convicted, Hwang faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. It's expected the first hearing will take place in mid-June.

When Hwang's research was published it was regarded as a stem-cell breakthrough and raised hopes for new treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's. However, it was revealed late last year that he had fabricated key data.

Hwang is also alleged to have committed fraud by accepting $2 million in private donations based on the outcome of his faked research, as well as embezzling nearly $900,000 in private and government research funds. It's also alleged that Hwang bought human eggs for research -- a violation of South Korea's bioethics law, the AP reported.


Asthma Attack, Not Peanut Kiss, Killed Quebec Girl

A severe asthma attack, not a peanut-contaminated kiss from her boyfriend, killed a 15-year-old Saguenay, Quebec girl last year, a coroner announced Thursday.

Christina Desforges was severely allergic to peanuts but that had nothing to do with her death.

Coroner Michel Miron said she died of asthma-linked respiratory failure. He also noted that traces of the active ingredient of marijuana were found in her system, suggesting that she may have smoked some of the drug before she collapsed, CBC News reported.

Her boyfriend had eaten toast with peanut butter about nine hours before kissing her, but there was no way traces of peanut would have remained in his saliva for that long, Miron said.

Desforges' death was reported worldwide after officials speculated she may have died as a result of a peanut-tainted kiss. Miron went public in March to deny that account because he was concerned that misinformation was circulating about peanut allergies, CBC News reported.

He did not release Desforges' cause of death at that time because he was still waiting for test results and had not filed his final report.


World Cup Fans Warned About Measles

Soccer fans heading to Germany for the World Cup are being advised to get measles vaccinations to protect themselves against an outbreak in the state that will host 11 matches.

More than 1,100 people in North Rhine-Westphalia have been hit with measles in the past 10 weeks, state health officials said. The epidemic has caught the attention of the World Health Organization, which is said to be "concerned" about the situation, Agence France Presse reported.

Since measles is an airborne disease, there's a high risk of catching it in crowded soccer stadiums and at post-game celebrations, warned expert Emil Reisinger of Rostock University.

All World Cup visitors who haven't been vaccinated against measles should get vaccinated before they attend the tournament, said Heinz-Josef Schmitt, of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's leading center for disease control.

The World Cup runs from June 9 to July 9.


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