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Health Highlights: Oct. 15, 2002

Listeria Outbreak Traced to Turkey Deli Meat from Pa. Plant Risk of Smallpox Transmission More Likely: Report Wine May Help Prevent Dementia Study: Redheads Feel More Pain Males Have Biological Clocks, Too WHO Calls for Global Cigarette Price Hikes

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

Listeria Outbreak Traced to Turkey Deli Meat from Pa. Plant

An outbreak of listeria that has caused at least seven deaths and 39 illnesses in the Northeast is being traced to a suburban Philadelphia meat plant, reports the Associated Press.

Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the genetic strain of bacteria that caused the outbreak matches the strain found in a drain at the Wampler Foods plant in Franconia.

A CDC spokesperson said turkey deli meat from the plant was the likely source of the outbreak. The news follows a nationwide recall of 27 million pounds of turkey and chicken products from Pilgrim's Pride, the parent company of Wampler Foods, on Sunday. The recall was the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

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Risk of Smallpox Transmission More Likely: Report

Researchers studying the possible health risks that could result from the resumption of smallpox vaccinations for the general public say cases of newly vaccinated people transmitting the virus would likely be rare. But the numbers would be greater than during previous vaccinations.

In looking at data on mass smallpox vaccinations in the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden from 1947 to 1968, researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say such transmissions -- called contact vaccinia -- during that period were about two to six cases per 100,000 vaccinations.

But such factors as increased numbers of people with weakened immune systems, a reduced immunity in the population since vaccinations ended in 1972, and higher rates of the skin condition eczema -- which is linked to contact vaccinia -- make more transmissions likely, CNN reports.

The study results are published in a commentary in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Wine May Help Prevent Dementia

Something in wine, notably red wine, seems to help prevent progressive memory loss known as dementia, Danish researchers say.

Scientists at the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen say the key ingredients are probably flavonoids -- antioxidant-rich substances that have also been shown to protect the heart. Flavonoids are also found in grape juice and certain teas, and the researchers recommended that those substances be tested next.

People who said they drank wine weekly or monthly had less than half the dementia of people who didn't drink at all, the scientists tell United Press International. The wine drinkers also had less risk of dementia than people who drank beer or spirits.

The two most common causes of dementia are Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia -- the latter most often caused by stroke. Previous studies have shown that red wine appears to decrease a person's risk of stroke, the wire service reports.

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Study: Redheads Feel More Pain

People with naturally red hair are more sensitive to pain and require about 20 percent more anesthesia to knock them out, University of Louisville researchers say.

While conceding that their study was small, involving only 20 women, the researchers say a possible source is melanin -- a pigment responsible for skin and hair color. Redheads are known to have a defective receptor for the hormone that produces melanin, which may somehow be tied to brain cells that influence pain sensitivity. Blondes and brunettes don't have the defect.

The researchers didn't test more than a single type of anesthesia -- an inhaled anesthetic called desflurane, HealthDay reports.

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Males Have Biological Clocks, Too

The strength of a man's sperm appears to decline past his 35th birthday, University of Washington researchers in Seattle say.

The researchers examined 60 men between the ages of 22 and 60. All subjects had healthy sperm counts.

The scientists found that as a man ages, genetic damage to his sperm increases. And the sperm aren't able to repair the damage.

Also, aging men gradually lose their ability to weed out unhealthy sperm -- a process known as apoptosis. This leads to an increased chance of damaged sperm fertilizing a woman's egg, which in turn could lead to miscarriage or a child born with birth defects, reports BBC News Online.

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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 cites 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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