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Health Highlights: Oct. 5, 2002

Old Age Hearing Loss More Prevalent Than Thought Deli Turkey Blamed for Listeria Outbreak Smallpox Vaccination for General Public Under Review Program Aims to Cut Knee Injuries in Female Athletes Smoker Awarded $28 Billion in Tobacco Suit Researchers Find Clues to 'Foreign Accent Syndrome'

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

Old Age Hearing Loss More Prevalent Than Thought

Research looking at hearing loss among 3,753 older residents of a small Wisconsin town offers some surprising findings on the causes and nature of hearing loss.

Among the findings of the Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study, conducted by the University of Wisconsin, are that men have poorer hearing than women, even when they've been exposed to much more noise throughout life. Hearing tends to deteriorate rapidly after retirement age and about 90 percent of the population over age 80 has trouble.

In addition, the study found that about half of older Americans have the problem, whereas experts have estimated the figure to only be about one-third of Americans, reports the Associated Press.

Interestingly, the study of residents of Beaver Dam, in central Wisconsin, found that people who had a drink or two per day were about 40 percent less likely than nondrinkers to have hearing loss, yet smokers were about 70 percent more likely than nonsmokers to have hearing loss.

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Deli Turkey Blamed for Listeria Outbreak

Health officials say an unknown brand of sliced deli turkey meat appears to be behind an outbreak of listeriosis that has killed seven people, sickened another 40, and caused three miscarriages.

The cases, all of which required hospitalization, were concentrated in the Northeast U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fourteen cases were reported in Pennsylvania, 11 in New York City and three elsewhere in New York, four cases each in New Jersey and Delaware, two cases in Maryland and one each in Connecticut and Michigan.

In addition, the CDC says there have been another 30 "background" cases of listeria infection in the same states that are different from the larger strain and likely are linked to various other foods.

The initial symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. In the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns, the symptoms can be more severe. And if the infection spreads, symptoms such as a stiff neck, confusion or convulsions can occur.

The CDC is advising that those at high risk for listeriosis who live in the affected states can reduce their risk by avoiding sliced deli meats or fully heating them before eating.

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Smallpox Vaccination for General Public Under Review

Top U.S. health officials have said for the first time that they support offering the smallpox vaccine to the general public once health care professionals are vaccinated.

Discussion is well under way to work out plans for vaccinating millions of health care workers and others who would be among so-called "first responders" in a bioterror attack using smallpox.

But officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday for the first time that they favor a strategy that would offer the vaccine to the general public, even in the absence of the a bioterror attack and even though there are concerns over the risk of serious side effects, reports the New York Times.

The White House, which will make the final decision on vaccinating the public, says the issue is under review. If approved, a vaccine licensed for general use would likely not be available until 2004.

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Program Aims to Cut Knee Injuries in Female Athletes

Sports medicine experts have discovered that if female athletes are trained to run, jump, and pivot like males, they can prevent serious knee injuries, reports HealthDay.

Female athletes are two to eight times more likely to tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the major stabilizer of the knee. The National Institutes of Health says that each year, one out of 100 high school female athletes and one of 10 college female athletes experience an ACL injury.

Approximately 2,200 collegiate female athletes are expected to rupture their ACLs every year.

However, a special training program could cut down on those injuries. By teaching women soccer players to keep their knees bent and play lower to the ground, the program led to 88 percent fewer ACL tears.

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Smoker Awarded $28 Billion in Tobacco Suit

A Los Angeles jury has awarded a whopping $28 billion in punitive damages to a 64-year-old former smoker who sued Philip Morris Inc. on the grounds of fraud and negligence.

The plaintiff, Betty Bullock, started smoking at the age of 17 and later developed lung cancer that has spread to her liver. Bullock's lawyer, Michael Piuze, argued that the tobacco giant took part in a major campaign of disinformation on the dangers of smoking in the 1950s that was the "largest fraud scheme ever perpetrated by corporations anywhere," reports the Associated Press.

The jury responded by awarding the largest verdict ever awarded in such a case. In addition to the punitive damages, awarded Friday, the jury last month ordered the tobacco company to pay Bullock $750,000 in damages and $100,000 for pain and suffering.

Philip Morris had argued that Bullock was aware of the health risks of smoking and was repeatedly warned by her doctor over four decades. The company says it will appeal the verdict.

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Researchers Find Clues to 'Foreign Accent Syndrome'

One of the more unusual effects of a brain injury is the loss of the ability to speak in one's native accent, and now researchers say they may understand why.

Scientists at Oxford University say that in examining the brains of patients with the so-called "foreign accent syndrome," they found that a number of them had tiny areas of damage in various parts of the brain, reports the BBC.

The changes could explain subtle changes in patients' way of speaking, including lengthening of syllables, altered pitch or mispronounced sounds that can make a person's pronunciation sound like an accent.

While the changes can be disturbing, the researchers say that with time, it's likely that patients' speech will become more like it was before the injury.

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