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Health Highlights: May 28, 2006

2.3 Million Kids Have HIV, Global Report Says WHO Puts Tamiflu Maker on Alert Researchers ID New Options for Autoimmune Disease Treatment Grief Is Constant for Many Directly Affected by 9/11 Attacks Cheaper Cigarettes Entice Young Adults to Smoke: Study

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

2.3 Million Kids Have HIV, Global Report Says

More than 2 million children under the age of 15 are living with HIV, almost all in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new report by seven leading child advocacy organizations.

The organizations released a report Friday that showed that 700,000 children were infected with the AIDS virus in 2005, bringing the total to 2.3 million, and that 570,000 died of AIDS, The New York Times reported.

Less than 5 percent of HIV-positive children have access to the pediatric AIDS treatment they desperately need, the report said.

"We are failing children," said Dean Hirsch, chairman of the Global Movement for Children, which issued an urgent appeal to governments, donors and the pharmaceutical industry to recognize a child's right to treatment as fundamental.

Last year, world leaders at the U.N. summit and leaders of the seven richest industrialized nations and Russia pledged to come as close as possible to universal treatment by the end of the decade, the Times reported.

For this to happen, the new report said special efforts must be made for children, starting with providing drugs to pregnant women with HIV to prevent mother-to-child transmission -- the way 90 percent of children with HIV became infected.

"Without treatment, most children with HIV will die before their fifth birthday," the report said.

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WHO Puts Tamiflu Maker on Alert

The World Health Organization has now put the maker of the bird flu drug Tamiflu on alert after the suspected human-to-human transmission of the virus in a family in Indonesia.

But WHO officials stressed Saturday that there was no need for Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG to take further action, the Associated Press reported.

"We have no intention of shipping that stockpile," said Dick Thompson, WHO spokesman. "We see this as a practice run."

WHO officials said the move was part of standard operating procedure when the agency has "reasonable doubt" about a situation that could involve human-to-human transmission.

The WHO acted after the Indonesian Health Ministry on Monday reported on a human cluster in Kubu Simbelang village in North Sumatra in which six of seven members of one family died from bird flu.

Meanwhile, 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, AP 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.

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Researchers ID New Options for Autoimmune Disease Treatment

A rare genetic defect that can trigger a range of diseases, from type 1 diabetes to alopecia (hair loss), helps to explain the imbalance of immune-regulator and killer cells in autoimmune diseases, researchers are reporting.

A mutation in the Aire gene causes APS1, a disease that causes two of three problems -- an underactive parathyroid, yeast infection of the skin and/or mucous membrane, and adrenal gland insufficiency -- by the age 5, and up to 16 autoimmune diseases over a lifetime, the scientists from Medical College of Georgia said.

That same mutation causes a defect in what are called iNKT cells, a type of regulatory cell that helps the immune system fight infections while suppressing errant T cells that mistakenly attack the body, the researchers said.

The discovery offers new options for treating or preventing APS1, or autoimmune polyglandular syndrome type 1, and potentially other autoimmune diseases as well, the researchers said. They reported their findings in the June issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

"Aire controls the development and function of iNKT cells," said Dr. Jin-Xiong She, director of the college's Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine and co-senior author of the study. "This relationship means that iNKT cells are critical to most autoimmune diseases and manipulating the iNKT cell population is one possible way to cure autoimmune disease."

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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.

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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.

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