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Health Highlights: Oct. 14, 2002

Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise on Some Melanoma Patients WHO Calls for Global Cigarette Price Hikes MRI Predicts Heart Attack Risk Child-Insurance Funds Not Being Spent Massive Recall of Deli Meats Announced Insurer to Pay for Foreign Drugs Glaucoma Treatable If Caught Early

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

Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise on Some Melanoma Patients

A cancer vaccine that is custom-made for each patient from the cells of their tumors is showing promising signs of battling tumors.

The vaccine, developed by the New York-based biotechnology company Antigenics, virtually eliminated the tumors of 2 out of 28 patients with advanced melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, reports the New York Times.

An approved melanoma treatment called Interleukin-2 has a similar success rate of about 6 percent. But that treatment is extremely toxic, whereas experts say the Antigenics treatment has little toxicity. The vaccine is currently in phase 3 clinical trials, which is typically the last stage before approval.

The findings were published in Saturday's issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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WHO Calls for Global Cigarette Price Hikes

It's a tactic already well-practiced in some nations that impose hefty taxes on cigarettes, and now the World Health Organization is calling for global price hikes on tobacco and smokes.

The WHO is recommending governments around the world increase cigarette prices by at least 5 percent after inflation. Doing so could save as many as 10 million lives, it says.

The organization cities a recent World Bank report concluding that a 10 percent price rise in cigarettes would lead to 40 million people giving up smoking and would prevent many more from taking up the habit, reports the BBC.

Increases in cigarette prices would have a particular impact on poor nations where some of the highest smoking rates are found, says the WHO.

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MRI Predicts Heart Attack Risk

Is that chest pain a harbinger of a future heart attack? Magnetic resonance imaging can tell.

New research indicates that the scan, called MRI, can predict the odds of a heart attack or heart-related death in people with chest symptoms, even after accounting for conventional risk factors like high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes, reports HealthDay. Intriguingly, the device is able to detect reduced blood flow to the crown of the heart that dramatically magnifies the risk of these bad outcomes, say researchers.

"With the MRI, the pictures are clearer and the spatial resolution is higher" than conventional heart imaging, said Dr. W. Gregory Hundley, a radiologist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., and leader of the research team. "And one thing we found is the location within the heart of [the blocked blood] appeared to portend a poor prognosis," Hundley said.

The results of the study appear in tomorrow's issue of the journal Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

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Child-Insurance Funds Not Being Spent

Large chunks of federal monies that are supposed to go to children whose families lack health insurance are going unspent, reports The New York Times.

On the first of this month, $1.2 billion that had been unspent for four years by the states reverted back to the U.S. Treasury Department. President Bush's last budget proposal requested that Congress allow the funds be kept by the states until 2006, and several U.S. Senate bills to that effect are pending, the Times reports. Government officials in many states are also pleading with Congress to extend the deadline.

The Bush Administration says enrollment in the successful Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will fall by 600,000 kids nationwide if the monies aren't restored.

New York lost more than any other state -- $397 million -- while North Carolina and Indiana were next on the list at about $100 million each, the newspaper says.

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Massive Recall of Deli Meats Announced

In the largest meat recall in the history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wampler Foods has recalled all cooked deli products made since May at a suburban Philadelphia plant and stopped production because the meat is possibly contaminated with listeria.

The recall follows an Oct. 9 recall of 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken products at the plant in Franconia, Pa., the Associated Press reports.

"We want consumers to be aware of the recall because of the potential for foodborne illness," said Dr. Garry L. McKee, the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator. "Diners may also wish to ask if their meals contain the recalled products."

Each package being recalled bears the plant number P-1351 inside the USDA mark of inspection and a production date. The deli products were sold to consumers in "retail groceries, delicatessens and food service distributors under the Wampler Foods and select private labels," the AP says.

Consumers with questions can call the company toll-free at 877-260-7110 or the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 800-535-4555.

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Insurer to Pay for Foreign Drugs

UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest insurer, says it will reimburse members of the AARP seniors group for drugs they purchase in other countries, the Associated Press reports.

The insurer has sent a letter to 97,000 people who qualify. Drugs purchased in Canada or Mexico cost considerably less than if purchased at U.S. pharmacies.

The AARP says the group isn't advocating the purchase of drugs in other countries, calling the insurer's timing "unfortunate." Recent legislation that would have allowed people to import prescription drugs for personal use was defeated in Congress. U.S. law currently makes it illegal to import medicines that are available from domestic sources.

UnitedHealth says its letter did not reflect a change in policy, but a clarification. It denies recommending that anyone violate U.S. law.

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Glaucoma Treatable If Caught Early

The eyesight of thousands of people could be saved if glaucoma were detected and treated early, report researchers at the U.S. National Eye Institute and at the University of Lund in Sweden.

The co-sponsors, who report the results of their study in the Archives of Ophthalmology, say the disease's damage to the optic nerve can be detected during a routine eye exam. The damage is caused by increased pressure inside the eye, a condition that often goes undetected by the victim until it's too late.

The six-year study followed 255 patients with the most common form of the disease, open-angle glaucoma. It can be treated with medication or laser therapy, reports BBC News.

Open-angle glaucoma affects more than 4 million Americans, the online news service reports.

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