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Health Highlights: Sept. 16, 2006

DDT Endorsed by World Health Organization to Fight Malaria AARP Campaigns for Foreign Drug PurchasesTeenage Cancer Patient Seems Better Even After Discontinuing Chemo Depression a Major Risk Factor for Suicide: Report Acupuncture Helps Back Pain: Study Too Much Lead in Toy Jewelry, Lawsuit Says

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

DDT Endorsed by World Health Organization to Fight Malaria

DDT, the pesticide long banned in the United States, has received a limited endorsement from an unlikely source - the World Health Organization (WHO).

In order to combat the growing scourge of malaria, which kills more than 800,000 African children annually, the health expert leading WHO's effort to combat malaria in Africa "unequivocally declared" that DDT should be used in small amounts on the inner walls of people's homes to kill the mosquitoes that carry the disease, according to the New York Times.

WHO's Dr. Arata Kochi was joined at a news conference by Adm. R. Timothy Ziemer, representing the Bush administration's $1.2 billion anti-malaria project. The Times quotes Ziemer as saying that spraying with insecticides was a method "that must be deployed as robustly and strategically as possible."

For almost 45 years, DDT's use as an insecticide has been questioned -- and sometimes banned -- after Rachel Carson's 1962 book "The Silent Spring" documented how massive sprating allowed DDT to enter the food chain and suggested it might be a cause for cancer and genetic damage.

According to the Times, an international nonprofit group, Beyond Pesticides, distributed news releases on Friday opposing WHO's change in direction. Dependence on pesticides like DDT "causes greater long-tem problems than those that are being addressed in the short-term," the group said.

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AARP Campaigns for Foreign Drug Purchases

Starting Sunday, AARP, the advocacy group for older Americans, will unveil a $500,000 advertising campaign in 14 states, designed to persuade the U.S. Senate to pass legislation that would let consumers buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

The Associated Press reported that the ads will appear in newspapers and on radio stations in cities such as Anchorage, Alaska; Baltimore; Des Moines, Iowa; and Indianapolis. AARP said the campaign will zero in on the home states of senators who've shown some support for cross-border purchases of U.S.-made medicines.

Price controls in other countries mean the drugs often cost less than in the United States. Drug companies say such price controls limit profits, threatening future drug development.

The bill backed by AARP, written by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has bipartisan support from 31 co-sponsors. It would allow consumers to buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and eventually from other countries, including Australia, Japan and nations within the European Union, the AP said.

While the new Medicare drug benefit has helped millions of seniors, AARP said millions more aren't yet eligible for the benefit.

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Teenage Cancer Patient Seems Better Even After Discontinuing Chemo

A month after he won a court battle to discontinue chemotherapy as part of his cancer treatment, 16-year-old Starchild Abraham Cherrix says he's feeling fine and has "a tremendous boost of energy."

The Associated Press reports that Cherrix, a Virginia resident with Hodgkins disease, which attacks the lymphatic system, appears to be improving since a court ruled in his favor in August and allowed him to pursue alternative therapies. Cherrix had been taking an alternative organic diet and herbal supplements from Mexico to treat the disease, but neither he nor his parents would comment Friday on what medicines he was now taking, the wire service reported.

"His tumor is shrinking very nicely and he's gaining energy and stamina," the A.P. quotes Dr. Arnold Smith, medical director and radiation oncologist at the North Central Mississippi Regional Cancer Center in Greenwood, as saying.

Cherrix and his parents had endured a series of court battles over his desire to discontinue chemotherapy. He claimed the chemo made him nauseated and weak. At one point in July, a Virginia judge had ordered the teenager to report to a local hospital to resume chemotherapy treatment, but that order was overturned in August.

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Depression a Major Risk Factor for Suicide: Report

Depression, particularly if combined with substance abuse, is a major risk factor for suicide, according to a new study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

About 10 percent of surveyed adults who had a major depressive episode actually attempted suicide, 14.5 percent made a plan to commit suicide, 40.3 percent thought about committing suicide, and 56.3 percent thought it would be better if they were dead, the agency said in a statement.

Add alcohol abuse to the equation, and the percentage of people who attempted suicide rose to nearly 14 percent, and nearly 20 percent among those who engaged in illicit drug use.

In 2004, 106,000 visits to the emergency room were attributed to suicide attempts, and if a mental disorder was diagnosed, depression was chief among them, SAMHSA said.

Nationwide, someone dies by suicide every 17 minutes. To mark Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 10-16, SAMHSA said it has awarded 46 grants totaling $25.7 million for a broad range of anti-suicide programs. These include efforts by states and colleges to diagnose and treat youth depression and prevent substance abuse, the agency said.

SAMHSA offers a toll-free suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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Acupuncture Helps Back Pain: Study

Acupuncture is an effective and cost-justified way to treat lower back pain, British researchers have found.

Doctors at the University of York and Sheffield University studied 241 adults, some of whom had up to 10 acupuncture treatments for lower back pain while others underwent traditional pain therapy, BBC Online reported.

Those who had acupuncture had less pain and used fewer painkillers than other participants in the two-year study, the researchers wrote in the online version of the British Medical Journal. While the pain score differences were small, use of acupuncture still offered a "clinically worthwhile benefit," the scientists said.

Two percent of the population in the United Kingdom is said to use acupuncture in any given year, BBC Online reported.

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Too Much Lead in Toy Jewelry, Lawsuit Says

An environmental group says excessive lead in toy jewelry can cause developmental damage in children and wants the U.S. Environmental Protection agency to crack down on the sale of these products, the Associated Press reported.

The Sierra Club has sued the EPA in federal court, and the attorneys general of California and Illinois have sent letters to the agency in support of the suit, the wire service said.

"I don't think parents realize that these pieces of jewelry have the potential to be harmful," said Sierra Club spokeswoman Jessica Frohman. She said children could be exposed to harmful lead levels if they sucked on or swallowed the jewelry.

The EPA refused direct comment on the court case, but said it had a "comprehensive set of regulations" to protect children from lead exposure. But the agency does not have rules that specifically govern toy jewelry, an EPA spokesman told the AP.

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