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Health Highlights: Nov. 28, 2002

Most Americans Feel Stuffed Already, Poll Shows Return Home Delayed for Surgically Separated Twins States Told to Speed Up Plans for Smallpox Vaccinations Cheesemaker Recalls Danish Slices Claritin Goes Over-the-Counter Face Transplants May Be in the Offing

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

6 in 10 Americans Feel Stuffed Already, Poll Shows

Here's some food for thought this Thanksgiving day.

Almost six in 10 Americans say they would like to lose weight, according to a Gallup poll released on the eve of the holiday.

Two-thirds of the women polled felt that way, and half of the men did. Twenty five percent said they are seriously trying to lose weight; 34 percent said they would like to stay at their current weight level, and 8 percent said they would like to put on weight.

About four in 10 say they consider themselves at least somewhat overweight, with 6 percent saying they were very overweight.

The poll of 1,001 adults was taken Nov. 11-14 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points, the Associated Press reports.

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Return Home Delayed for Surgically Separated Twins

Medical complications have delayed the return home of the Guatemalan twin girls who were once joined at the head.

Doctors at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital said the scalp of one of the sixteen-month-old girls, Maria de Jesus Quiej Alvarez, has not healed fully, the Associated Press reports.

The twins' medical team also discovered that Maria de Jesus's sister, Maria Teresa, is partially deaf in one ear, a possibly offshoot of the 23-hour separation surgery.

Despite the setbacks, the doctors said the girls were making good progress and would likely be back in Guatemala in time for Christmas.

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States Told to Speed Up Plans for Smallpox Vaccinations

The U.S. government has directed the states to speed up smallpox vaccination plans that would begin with the voluntary inoculation of 500,000 frontline healthcare workers.

The directive, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, urges that hospital employees be immunized "within 30 days of an announcement that could come as early as next week," the Washington Post reports.

State health officials are concerned about the timetable because they'd hoped to stagger the immunization of hospital workers over a 60-day period. This way they'd gain a clearer sense of the potentially severe side effects.

After the immunization of health care workers, states' vaccination plans - to be presented to the CDC on Dec. 9 - must then expand to 10 million emergency responders, followed by the rest of the population as early as 2004. The CDC has set a Monday deadline for states to come up with a general strategy outlining how their populations could be vaccinated within 10 days in the event of a smallpox outbreak.

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Cheesemaker Recalls Danish Havarti Slices

Cheesemaker Swiss-American is recalling cut pieces of Imported Danish Garden Danish Havarti Plain, Prima Della Imported Danish Havarti Plain and Schnucks Imported Danish Havarti Plain, because it has the potential to be contaminated with listeria monocytogenes.

The sliced cheeses were distributed through retail grocery stores in the continental United States. They come in random-weight packages of between 7 oz. and 10 oz. with the sell-by dates of Nov. 1, 2002, through Feb. 18, 2003.

Swiss-American, of St. Louis, Mo., was informed last week that one sample of this product contained listeria monocytogenes, and the company voluntarily ceased shipping the product to stores, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says. No illnesses have been reported to date. Listeria is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Consumers who have purchased the cheeses can return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Those who have with questions may call Swiss-American, Inc. at 1-800-325-8150.

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Claritin Goes Over-the-Counter

Claritin, the popular allergy medication, has been approved for over-the-counter sales, which is a money-saving boon for the uninsured but will likely leave consumers with prescription drug plans paying more out of pocket.

Schering-Plough, the antihistamine's manufacturer, initially fought against the over-the-counter switch. The company argued that the insurance industry was pushing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make the change as a way of saving insurers billions of dollars since they don't cover nonprescription medicines, the Associated Press reports.

But Claritin's patent expires in December and cheaper generic versions of the drug will then compete for sales, so earlier this year, Schering-Plough reluctantly changed its course.

Advocates for over-the-counter sales say that because Claritin is a non-drowsy medication, it's safer than the other nonprescription antihistamines that cause sleepiness, which can be particularly dangerous if people drive after taking them.

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Face Transplants May Be in the Offing

Face transplants will be surgically possible within the next six to nine months, but a leading plastic surgeon in the United Kingdom is calling for an ethical and moral debate before anyone undergoes the procedure.

Peter Butler, a consultant plastic surgeon at London's Royal Free Hospital, said the surgery could benefit people who've been seriously disfigured by cancer, burns, or accidents. But, he added, the issue is not merely, "'Can we do it?' but 'Should we do it?'"

Current reconstruction techniques, where skin grafts are taken from other parts of a person's body, do not allow for movement or sensitivity, creating a mask-like effect, Butler told the BBC.

Because face transplants involve muscle and nerves as well as skin, the procedure would allow recipients to convey emotions through changes in their facial expressions. Surgeons could transplant the lips, chin, ears, nose, skin, and bone from someone who has recently died. The donor would also provide facial blood vessels, arteries and veins.

Butler said he plans to complete his research before asking permission to carry out a face transplant at his hospital.

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