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Health Highlights: Sept. 30, 2002

Number of Uninsured Americans on Rise: Census Study: Cipro Overused for Pneumonia Lawsuit Blaming Cell Phone for Brain Tumor Tossed Out Old Smallpox Vaccine Still Good Cannabis Anti-Pain Drugs Yield Positive Results Lorenzo's Oil Does Seem To Work If Used Early Enough

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

Number of Uninsured Americans on Rise: Census

The number of Americans without insurance increased by 1.4 million people in 2001, to a total of 41.2 million, according to new Census Bureau figures.

The rise, from 14.2 percent of the population in 2000 to 14.6 percent the following year, is being blamed on such factors as job losses and unaffordable insurance rates, reports The New York Times.

And with fewer insured people, federal and state governments are becoming increasingly strapped to provide benefits due to recession-induced reductions in revenues.

The number of those covered by Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor, increased to 31.6 million people in 2001, up from 29.5 million in 2000.

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Study: Cipro Overused for Pneumonia

Doctors are over-prescribing Cipro and its kin when more modest treatments would be equally effective, and in the process they're exacerbating the problem of drug-resistant germs, according to a new study.

Researchers say they found that roughly one-third of pneumonia patients are discharged from the hospital with orders for Cipro and other fluoroquinolone antibiotics, even when the strain of lung bacteria they have would succumb to penicillin-like drugs, reports HealthScout News.

Ironically, the overuse doesn't appear to be making Streptococcus pneumoniae, a major cause of pneumonia, tougher to treat. But the researchers say it is having a major impact on the hardiness of several unrelated bugs, including E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common source of respiratory infections in people with cystic fibrosis.

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Lawsuit Blaming Cell Phone for Brain Tumor Tossed Out

An $800 million lawsuit filed by a Maryland doctor who claimed that cell phones caused his brain tumor has been thrown out by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that the suit, filed against cell phone maker Motorola and several cell phone carriers, did not contain evidence that was substantial enough to warrant a trial, reports the Associated Press.

The lawsuit was filed by neurologist Dr. Christopher Newman, who claimed he developed brain cancer as a result of using an analog cell phone from 1992 to 1998.

Blake said that although some research has shown that radiation from cell phones may cause cancer, there is much more evidence indicating that there is no relationship between cell phones and tumors.

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Old Smallpox Vaccine Still Good

More than 86 million doses of smallpox vaccine discovered last March are more than strong enough to use in case of a bioterrorism attack on the United States.

Health officials say that the vaccine, held in a freezer owned by the pharmaceutical firm Aventis Pasteur since the late 1970s, is strong enough to dilute 5-to-1, giving America more than enough to vaccinate the entire population, if necessary.

The Associated Press reports that Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the diluted vaccine has been tried on more than 100 volunteers to see if it still works. The results show this cache alone contains enough to vaccinate everyone in an emergency.

"This is very reassuring," Fauci told an infectious disease conference in San Diego sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology. The U.S. government has also contracted for more than 200 million additional doses of the vaccine to be made available within the next few months.

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Cannabis Anti-Pain Drugs Yield Positive Results

While debate in the United States centers around the legality of using marijuana for medicinal purposes, scientists in the United Kingdom have taken a different approach.

Using cannabis, the active ingredient that produces a marijuana "high" in drug form, British researchers say they've found that, indeed, the drug eases pain.

The clinical trials, financed by a British drug company, found that 28 of 34 subjects reported reduced pain, which allowed them to have uninterrupted sleep, according to the BBC. The patients had multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or other conditions that caused constant pain. Researchers say the next step is to expand the trials to large population bases, probably in 2003.

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Lorenzo's Oil Does Seem To Work If Used Early Enough

Ten years after the movie Lorenzo's Oil set off an international debate about the alleged intransigence of the scientific community, a large study indicates that the "miracle cure" can be effective.

As reported by ABC News, the medical community remained skeptical that children suffering from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) could actually benefit from the oil, made from a mixture of olive oil and grape seed derivatives.

But new research has found that giving the oil to children who have a family history of the disease or have a positive blood test can reduce the likelihood of contracting the condition by as much as 66 percent. ALD is a relative of Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS), all diseases that can strip away the electronic impulses the brain sends to the nerves. This can result in paralysis and death.

According to ABC News, two teams of researchers, one led by Hugo Moser of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Md., funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and another team based in Europe found that Lorenzo's oil is beneficial if given to children before they display any symptoms.

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