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Health Highlights: May 16, 2002

WHO Moves to Embrace Alternative Medicine Court Upholds Ruling Against Abortion Docs' Foes Patient Infections Linked to IV Drug Theft Kentucky Doc: I'm Close to Cloning a Human FDA Approves New 3-in-1 Vaccine Exercisers Recalled for Bad Handles, Cables

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

WHO Moves to Embrace Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine took a giant leap into the medical mainstream today with the World Health Organization announcing its first-ever global strategy on so-called "traditional" medicine.

The plan, announced today in Geneva, Switzerland, at the annual meeting of WHO's governing body, will accelerate research into the safety and effectiveness of alternative medicines and help nations include them in public health care, according to the Associated Press.

The policy will also include efforts to control the mass marketing of traditional remedies, to prevent such problems as patent manipulations by big businesses and the over-harvesting of medicinal plants.

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Court Upholds Ruling Against Abortion Docs' Foes

Anti-abortion groups that posted abortion doctors' names and addresses in Old West-style "wanted" posters on a Web site can be held liable because the postings did not amount to free speech, but instead constituted illegal threats, a federal appeals court ruled today.

The abortion groups were appealing a $107 million judgment that a Portland, Ore., jury had awarded four doctors in damages.

A Web site called the "Nuremberg Files" had listed information on Planned Parenthood and the doctors, and declared them guilty of crimes against humanity.

Lawyers for the physicians argued that the site violated a 1994 federal law that makes inciting violence against -- or threatening -- abortion doctors illegal.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's ruling, but did, however, order it to reduce the amount of the judgment.

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Patient Infections Linked to IV Drug Theft

Twenty-six critically ill patients at an unnamed hospital developed a blood infection after a respiratory therapist used a needle and syringe to steal drugs from narcotics bags hanging at the patients' bedsides, according to research described in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

The report says the infections occurred between 1998 and 1999 and possibly resulted from the therapist injecting some non-sterile liquid back into the intravenous bags to prevent nurses from noticing that the level had dropped too quickly, The New York Times reports.

The patients were all infected with a bacterium called Serratia marcescens while in the surgical intensive care unit of the 455-bed medical center.

The suspected therapist was apparently trying to steal the drug fentanyl, a narcotic that is said to be 80 times as potent as morphine and is popular with drug abusers. He was fired but not charged with a crime because the local district attorney's office did not think there was sufficient evidence against him.

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Kentucky Doc: I'm Close to Cloning a Human

A Kentucky physician expects to use a cloned embryo to impregnate a woman by the end of the year.

"This genie is out of the bottle and it keeps getting bigger by the hour," Dr. Panayiotis Zavos testified yesterday before a U.S. House of Representatives' government reform subcommittee. "There is no way that this genie is going back into the bottle. Let us find ways to develop it properly and disseminate it safely," he said.

Zavos expects the pregnancy to happen at one of two clinics he runs at undisclosed locations outside the United States. He says 12 couples have been identified as potential candidates, and some are American.

After hearing Zavos' remarks, conservative House members urged colleagues in both chambers of Congress to pass a strict, all-encompassing cloning ban.

"This is no time for half measures," Rep Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) told the Associated Press. The House passed a bill to ban cloning last year; the Senate has delayed debate on its version until June.

Congress is divided on how encompassing a cloning ban should be. Some members want an absolute ban on all types of cloning. Others want to allow cloning for research purposes, which scientists say could lead to treatments for a host of diseases.

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FDA Approves New 3-in-1 Vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new version of the 3-in-1 vaccine that protects children against tetanus, diptheria, and whooping cough. In recent months, the older version of the vaccine has been in short supply.

The new vaccine, Daptacel, and the older version, Tripedia, are both produced by the same company, Aventis Pasteur. Doctors began rationing the older version about a year ago, when two manufacturers quickly decided to stop producing the vaccine. That left Aventis as the sole supplier, reports the Associated Press.

While the FDA says both types of vaccine are safe and effective, they have never been directly compared, the AP reports.

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Exercise Machines Recalled for Faulty Handles, Cables

Fitness Quest is recalling 310,000 "Total Gym" exercise machines, which have faulty handles and cables that could detatch during use, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

The CPSC and the company have about 400 reports of the handles or cables breaking, causing 30 injuries, including cuts and bruises.

The recall involves Total Gym 1000 and Total Gym Pro model exercisers with serial numbers DK000001 through DK129350; models with the serial number prefixes XO or SM; and models without serial numbers. The serial number is found on the underside of the glide board.

The machines were sold at sporting good stores and through Web sites, catalogs and direct sales nationwide from June 1997 through October 2001 for $180 to $200.

Consumers should stop using the exercisers immediately and request a free repair kit. Contact Fitness Quest at (800) 321-9236 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Total Gym models sold on TV infomercials are not included in the recall.

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