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Health Highlights: May 26, 2006

Grief Is Constant for Many Directly Affected by 9/11 Attacks Cheaper Cigarettes Entice Young Adults to Smoke: Study 2 More Bird Flu Deaths in Indonesia Infant Awaiting Heart Transplant Recovers Without Procedure FDA Approves Thalidomide to Treat Bone Marrow Cancer

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

Grief Is Constant for Many Directly Affected by 9/11 Attacks

Many people directly affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks still suffer constant grief, says an American Red Cross survey released Friday.

Nearly two-thirds of the 1,500 emergency responders, survivors and victims' relatives who took part in the survey believe that grief still interferes to a moderate or large extent in their lives, The New York Times reported.

Just over 40 percent said they still need additional services to help them recover -- including mental health services, financial assistance, and medical services.

Uniformed responders and people closest to the recovery efforts have been most affected by mental distress, the survey found. This link between mental health problems and proximity to the attacks was noted in a recently published study on survivors, the Times reported.

That study, conducted by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that people engulfed by the dust cloud caused by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers were more likely to be struggling with stress and other mental health issues, compared to those who got out of the buildings earlier.


Cheaper Cigarettes Entice Young Adults to Smoke: Study

Lower cigarette prices mean that more young adults, ages 20 to 24, are likely to start smoking, says a Canadian study that looked at the impact of tobacco tax cuts.

For a number of years, the Canadian government and several provinces increased tobacco taxes to discourage smoking. However, the federal government and five provinces reduced tobacco taxes in the early 1990s in an effort to counter cigarette smuggling. The tax cuts in the five provinces ranged from $14 to $21 (Canadian) per carton.

In provinces with the tobacco tax cuts, 10.5 percent of young people started smoking, compared with 8.5 percent in provinces that didn't lower their tobacco taxes, the study said.

The findings, which appear in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggest that tobacco price hikes could be used to counter tobacco advertising that targets people in their 20s.


2 More Bird Flu Deaths in Indonesia

Two more people in Indonesia have been killed by bird flu, according to preliminary test results.

The latest victims were an 18-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister from West Java. They died Tuesday within a few hours of each other less than a day after they were admitted to hospital in the city of Bandung, the Associated Press reported.

Initial tests showed that the two were infected with the H5N1 virus. The tests will be sent to a World Health Organization (WHO) laboratory for confirmation. To date, the WHO has confirmed 33 human deaths from bird flu in Indonesia and 124 deaths worldwide.

The two latest deaths come as experts continue to investigate a bird flu outbreak involving at least seven members of a family in the village of Kubu Sembelang in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Six of the family members died.

WHO officials said the cluster appears to be a case of limited human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus, the AP reported. All the family members were blood relatives who had close contact with each other.

On Thursday, WHO officials said the family cluster appears to have originated with one woman who then passed the infection to relatives. "We believe she may have had some contact either with dead or dying chickens in her household or through her activities as a vegetable grower and a seller in a market," Steven Bjorge, a WHO epidemiologist in Jakarta, told the AP. The woman also used chicken feces as garden fertilizer.

There is no sign that the virus has mutated into a form that's easily passed from person to person and no indication that the virus has spread outside the family to other people in the village, who are being monitored for flu-like symptoms, the AP reported.

Experts worry that if the H5N1 virus does mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans, it could spark a pandemic.


Infant Awaiting Heart Transplant Recovers Without Procedure

Doctors in California are puzzled and amazed by the case of a 10-month-old boy on a heart transplant waiting list in California who improved so dramatically that he was released from hospital Thursday without receiving a transplant.

Nate Draper and his twin brother Nick were both born with a potentially fatal heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart to swell so much that it's barely able to pump blood, the Associated Press reported.

The two boys were transferred from their home in Phoenix to the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. Nick received a heart transplant in February, while Nate remained on the waiting list.

About a month ago, Nate's heart function started to show marked improvement. His doctors recently took him off intravenous medication and concluded that he no longer needs a heart transplant, the AP reported.

"His heart is now strong enough to support himself," said Dr. Juan Alejos, medical director of UCLA's pediatric heart transplant program.

He and his colleagues say they don't know how Nate's heart recovered, but said his condition may not have been as severe as his brother's, the AP reported.


FDA Approves Thalidomide to Treat Bone Marrow Cancer

Thalidomide -- a drug banned in 1962 after it caused thousands of birth defects -- has been approved in the United States to treat bone marrow cancer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The drug can be used to treat newly diagnosed multiple myeloma, which affects cells in the bone marrow that play a critical role in fighting infection. The drug will be used in conjunction with dexamethasone, a standard chemotherapy treatment, the Associated Press reported.

Studies assessing thalidomide's effectiveness in treating multiple myeloma have produced mixed results. A study published in March concluded that the drug did not prolong patients lives, while a second study published around the same time said that thalidomide did help extend the lives of older patients, but caused serious side effects.

In 1998, the FDA approved thalidomide as a treatment for leprosy. Even before this week's approval, thalidomide was widely prescribed for multiple myeloma in so-called "off-label" use.

The FDA currently requires thalidomide labeling to carry severe warnings about the risk of birth defects. The new labeling will also warn about the risks of blood clots in the legs and lungs in multiple myeloma patients who take thalidomide in conjunction with dexamethasone, the AP reported.

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