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Health Highlights: Nov. 25, 2002

Doctors to Debate Malaria Medications $2,000 Buys Day-Long Physical Exam Smoking Will Soon Kill Three Million Chinese a Year, Experts Predict Body Image Disorder Often Misdiagnosed Prosecutors Say Drug Dilution Hastened Woman's Death NY Firm Recalls Hamburger Meat

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

Doctors to Debate Malaria Medications

The world's malaria experts are ready to discuss the current anti-malarial medications and decide which drug is best for Americans traveling to regions rife with the disease.

Every year, about 800 Americans contract malaria during their travels abroad. The number has increased over the past decade, mostly because many people don't take the prescribed drugs. Either they don't know how to take the pills, or they fear the side effects, such as rare psychiatric symptoms associated with Lariam, the most-common anti-malarial medication, the Associated Press reports.

Currently, travelers have three options: Lariam, Malarone -- the latest and possibly the safest drug -- and the antibiotic doxycycline.

Dr. Bradley Connor, A New York travel-medicine specialist, said each drug has its pros and cons making it almost impossible to declare one as the optimum choice, the AP reports.

That's why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to debate the issue at its January meeting, before it "updates the government's official health advice for travelers."

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$2,000 Buys Day-Long Physical Exam

Patients in the United States, dissatisfied with routine medical screenings, are paying $2,000 to undergo a full battery of medical tests.

The day-long physical examinations involve teams of specialists and include blood tests, X-rays, scans, exercise tests, hearing and eye checks, and "lifestyle evaluations," CNN reports.

People who've paid the hefty price tag say the money also bought them more one-on-one time with specialists, and the comprehensive evaluations have sometimes uncovered problems that may otherwise have remained hidden.

But critics argue that the gold-class physicals merely cater to the anxieties of the rich, since family doctors usually administer many of the same tests anyway.

CNN quotes Dr. Vincenza Snow, with the American College of Physicians, who says she wouldn't have the "ultimate physical" even if someone else picked up the tag. People shouldn't "go looking for problems," she said. "I say, if it works, don't fix it."

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Smoking Will Soon Kill Three Million Chinese a Year, Experts Predict

Smoking-related diseases will soon kill about three million people in China each year, doctors warn.

Currently about one million people die annually from illnesses linked to smoking, and doctors say the numbers will skyrocket unless more is done to discourage the habit, the BBC reports.

It's estimated that two-out-of-three Chinese adults smoke. The country makes up 20 percent of the world's population with about 1.3 billion people, but its inhabitants consume 30 percent of the world's cigarettes, the BBC says.

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Body Image Disorder Often Misdiagnosed

As many as 5 million people in the United States may suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a condition that causes them to obsess about their body's appearance -- often for hours at a time, ABC News reports.

Mental health experts say the condition is characterized by extreme preoccupation with a slight or imagined body defect, usually causing the person to withdraw socially. It wasn't widely diagnosed until the late 1980s, and is often misdiagnosed as depression, psychotic disorder or eating disorder.

Ironically, the ABC report says, cosmetic surgeons are often the first to suspect the disorder, because a person with BBD often seeks plastic surgery to correct the perceived defect. The trouble is that even after the surgery, the patient often is left unsatisfied.

The condition is characterized by attempts to camouflage the perceived defect, avoiding mirrors or spending an unusual amount of time in front of one, excessively reading about the body part, avoidance of social situations in which the perceived defect might be exposed, and feeling anxious and overly self-conscious about one's body. Mental health professionals say it is very treatable with behavioral therapy and sometimes with medication.

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Prosecutors Say Drug Dilution Hastened Woman's Death

A Kansas City, Mo., pharmacist's deliberate dilution of cancer drugs hastened and may have even caused a cancer patient's death, federal prosecutors now say.

Robert R. Courtney, 49, has pleaded guilty to diluting two chemotherapy drugs -- Gemzar and Taxol -- for financial gain. He faces up to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole when sentenced on Dec. 5, reports the Associated Press.

In court papers filed last week, prosecutors said the 2001 death of 53-year-old Evelyn Coates from ovarian cancer came sooner than if she had been given full-strength doses of the drugs she had been taking. Courtney's lawyers deny any link between Coates' death and Courtney's actions.

Courtney first admitted diluting the drugs at least 158 times between March and June 2001, the AP says. He has since conceded that he began the practice as early as 1992, affecting as many as 4,200 patients, the wire service reports.

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NY Firm Recalls Hamburger Meat

Fairbank Farms, an Ashville, N.Y., establishment, is recalling 320,000 pounds of fresh ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service says.

No illnesses have been reported so far. The products bear the establishment code "EST. 492" inside the USDA mark of inspection, were produced Nov. 5 and 6, and were distributed to retail stores nationwide. They may be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration, especially among the elderly, very young, and people with weak immune systems.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Luella Sard, at 716-782-2000, ext. 201.

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