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Health Highlights: Sept. 27, 2002

Alarming Syphilis Rise Seen Among Gay Men Knowing That Your Memory Fails Is an Omen Bill to Limit Malpractice Suits Passes House 2 Families Swap Kidneys Feds Urge Seasonal Heat Inspections 3 Proteins May Explain Why Some With HIV Don't Get Sick

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

Alarming Syphilis Rise Seen Among Gay Men

There's been an alarming increase in the number of syphilis cases affecting gay men, reports The New York Times.

In New York City, syphilis cases increased more than 50 percent in the first six months of this year over the same period last year, to a total of 202 cases, according city health officials.

The majority of those cases have been among men who said they had male sex partners. About half in the group also are infected with HIV.

In San Francisco, the number of syphilis cases jumped from 22 in 1999 to 116 in 2001.

In a statement released yesterday by New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, authorities said many men who have contracted syphilis report having unprotected sex with multiple, anonymous partners.

Authorities say they are especially concerned because having syphilis makes people more susceptible to HIV.

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Knowing That Your Memory Fails Is An Omen

Joking about "senior moment" memory problems is common, even among people who aren't yet middle-aged. But new research suggests that very frequent complaints about memory failure may be an omen, reports HealthDay.

The higher the awareness of memory loss, the higher the risk of future memory decline, says Dr. Gary Small, the director of the UCLA Center on Aging, who will present his new research this weekend in Chicago at the First Annual Dementia Congress.

"To some extent, subjective awareness of memory changes predicts future decline in brain function in the memory centers," Small says.

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Bill to Limit Malpractice Suits Passes House

A measure to limit the amount juries can award malpractice suitors for pain and suffering has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans.

The bill, which passed by a 217-203 vote, faces an uncertain future in the Democratically controlled Senate, which has already rejected a similar measure. Opponents say it would only help health insurers, while doing little for patients.

The measure has the support of insurers, the White House, and physicians' groups like the American Medical Association.

The legislation would limit damages for pain and suffering to $250,000, reports the Associated Press. Punitive damages, designed to discourage future negligence, would be limited to twice the amount of economic compensation awarded (say, for loss of work), or $250,000, whichever is greater. The bill would also cap lawyers' fees.

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2 Families Swap Kidneys

Time seemed to be running out for two New Hampshire families both in need of donor kidneys -- until they discovered each other.

In two rare instances where recipients weren't compatible with their own relatives, Emily Smith donated a kidney to Sara St. Pierre, while St Pierre's father, Fred, returned the gesture for Smith's sister, Brittany.

The transplants, coordinated by the New England Organ Bank, took place Aug. 27 at two Boston Hospitals, reports the Associated Press. They are among a small number of family-to-family swaps, the AP says.

Sara St. Pierre, 22, had suffered from reflux nephropathy, a disease that leads to progressive kidney failure. Brittany Smith, 16, had suffered from meningitis, which caused her kidneys to fail.

Some 53,000 Americans are now waiting for a kidney transplant, reports the AP, and about 2,800 die each year because a donor organ isn't found in time.

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Feds Urge Seasonal Heat Inspections

To avoid deadly leaks of carbon monoxide (CO) in their homes, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is urging all Americans to have their heating systems professionally inspected before the cold weather sets in.

The agency says all furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, water heaters and space heaters should be checked for CO leaks, whether these appliances burn kerosene, oil, coal, natural gas or wood.

The inspection should include a check of chimneys, flues and vents for leaks or blockage. Every home should also have a CO alarm to detect the odorless, colorless gas, which can cause death in high concentrations. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.

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3 Proteins May Explain Why Some With HIV Don't Get Sick

Researchers say they may now understand why about 2 percent of those infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are unharmed and never become sick.

The secret appears to lie in three unique proteins -- called alpha-defensin 1, 2, 3 -- that inhibit the replication of HIV, hence protecting the carriers of the virus, reports CNN.

Researchers with the Aaron Diamond AIDS Researcher Center in New York City say the proteins are unique to so-called "long-term non-progressors" who do not develop AIDS, and there's hope that the proteins can be replicated and somehow given to others.

The research appears in the journal Science.

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