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Health Highlights: May 3, 2002

Ethanol Plants Polluting, Says EPA Why Cancer Patients Can't Quit Smoking Birth Control Patch Takes a U.S. Bow Don't Put Babies in Adult Beds, Gov't. Warns Most Kids Ride Bikes Without Helmets: Survey Chicken Nuggets Pose Milk Allergy Hazard

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

Ethanol Plants Polluting, Says EPA

The gasoline additive ethanol is valued for reducing tailpipe emissions of carbon monoxide and preventing the use of another additive that pollutes water, but the plants that make ethanol are now under fire for causing pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that in the process of converting corn into ethanol, factories are releasing levels of carbon monoxide, methanol and some carcinogens at levels that are "many times greater" than promised, the Associated Press reports.

The EPA says it has informed the plants of the problems and plans to meet with factory representatives in five states to demand that the emissions be reduced.

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Why Cancer Patients Can't Quit Smoking

One out of four patients who undergo disfiguring head or neck surgery for smoking-related cancers still can't kick the habit.

That's the disturbing conclusion of a new study from the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Michigan, reports HealthDay.

In polling 81 patients with head and neck cancers from the Ann Arbor VA and the University of Michigan hospitals, the researchers found that 23 percent of the patients continued to smoke regularly after surgery, while 35 percent admitted to having smoked at some point in the six months preceding the survey.

And more than half of the group (46 patients) continued to drink alcohol, though the combination of drinking and smoking is known to increase the risk of head and neck cancers. Smoking and drinking were also associated with poor physical functioning and a lower quality of life.

So, if smoking caused their illness in the first place, why don't they quit?

Many of these people desperately want to, says lead researcher Sonia Duffy, but getting through the cancer surgery is often their main priority. And, ironically, she adds, smoking helps provide many with a coping mechanism.

The findings are published in the current issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

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Birth Control Patch Takes a U.S. Bow

American women now have another birth-control option, and it could be the easiest, most convenient form of contraception yet, according to HealthDay.

Just released into the marketplace: Ortho Evra, the first contraceptive skin patch to be sold in the United States. Manufactured by Ortho-McNeil, it is designed to mimic combination birth-control pills -- the ones containing synthetic estrogen and progesterone. A single patch works for a full seven days.

The patch, available only by prescription, measures about 1.75 inches square, with a self-adhesive backing. It can be placed on any one of several areas of the body, including the lower torso (front or back) or the outside of the upper arm. One patch stays put for seven days, and a new one is placed in a new location on the eighth day. The hormone-laced patches are used for three weeks and followed by one week without a patch, a regimen similar to most birth control pills.

Both the Pill and the patch work in similar ways to prevent pregnancy -- primarily by blocking ovulation. Although both are said to be about 99 percent effective, this can vary greatly with compliance.

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Don't Put Babies in Adult Beds, Gov't. Warns

Putting babies to sleep in adult beds poses serious risks of suffocation, falls, and entrapment between the bed and a wall or between a headboard or footboard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is again warning parents.

Between 1999 and 2001, at least 180 children under age two died after being placed in adult beds, the CPSC says, mostly from suffocation. Almost a third of the victims died because adults or another child rolled over on top of the infant.

The agency says pushing an adult bed against a wall or lining it with pillows may actually increase a child's risk.

The CPSC recommends the following safety tips:

  • Place babies to sleep on their backs in a crib that meets current safety standards and has a firm, tight-fitting mattress. If you use a portable crib or playpen, make sure it meets current safety standards. Use only the mattress or pad provided by the manufacturer.
  • Babies should be placed to sleep on their backs, not their stomachs, which could place them at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Don't place a baby to sleep on soft bedding.

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Most Kids Ride Bikes Without Helmets: Survey

More than half of America's "tweens" ages 8 to 12 say they ride their bikes without a helmet, putting them at risk of serious head injury, a new National Safe Kids Campaign survey finds.

In a poll of 332 youngsters conducted in February, only a third said they wear helmets while using in-line skates or skooters. Asked why they avoided the safety gear, most cited reasons like, "They don't feel comfortable," "I don't feel cool," or "My parents don't make me."

Approximately 47 percent of children hospitalized for bike-related accidents between 1994 and 2001 suffered a traumatic brain injury. The campaign says the leading cause of child death and injury could be reduced by as much as 88 percent if all kids wore helmets while riding on wheels.

About half the kids polled said they would wear helmets if it were a parental rule, or if it were a state law. Bike helmets are now required by 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to the non-profit Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

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Chicken Nuggets Pose Milk Allergy Hazard

Advance Brands is voluntarily recalling 20,000 pounds of cooked, frozen chicken nuggets because they contain undeclared milk products, the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says.

The nuggets pose a risk of deadly reaction to people with an allergy or sensitivity to dairy products.

The recall involves 12-ounce trays of "Fast Fixin', Hot & Spicy Chicken Breast Nuggets." Each package bears a 12-digit date code beginning with one of the following sequences: "F1172," "F1282," "G0013," "G0051," G0063," G0174," "G0212," and "G0252." Some of the packages also bear the establishment code "P2568" inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The nuggets were produced between Dec. 17, 2001, and April 17, 2002, and distributed to retail stores in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Ohio and Oregon. No illnesses have been reported.

For more information, contact Advance Brands at (877) 447 3279.

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