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Health Highlights: April 23, 2004

Blood Test May Predict Cancer Risk States Allowed to Work Together for Lower Medicaid Drug Prices Anti-Soft Drink Campaign Reduces Childhood Obesity China Reports 1st SARS Death Since July Calif. May Require Condoms in Porn Movies Study: Stay Home if You're Sick

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

Blood Test May Predict Cancer Risk

A British study says doctors may someday be able to use a simple blood test to identify people at risk of developing cancer.

Researchers at Christie Hospital in Manchester reviewed 21 studies that offer evidence that levels of certain hormones are higher in people with some cancers, BBC News Online reports.

Testing for these hormones could help identify people at risk of cancer, concluded the study, published in the journal The Lancet.

These hormones can be measured using simple and inexpensive laboratory tests. The researchers said there's huge potential in using such testing to reduce common cancers.

However, some experts said much more work is required before a simple blood test could be used to identify cancer risk in people, BBC News Online reports.

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States to Work Together for Lower Medicaid Drug Prices

A number of states have just gained a lot more bargaining power in their negotiations for better prices from drug makers.

The White House approved on Thursday plans by five states to combine their purchasing power to push for larger discounts on prescription drugs for more than 900,000 Medicaid recipients, The New York Times reported.

The five states -- Alaska, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire and Vermont -- could save more than $12 million in drug costs this year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It's reported that Hawaii, Minnesota and Tennessee are lined up to join the pool and that other states are likely to follow them.

This is the first time in the history of Medicaid that states have been allowed to work together in this way to bargain for lower drug prices.

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Anti-Soft Drink Campaign Reduces Childhood Obesity

A school program designed to discourage students from consuming soft drinks seemed effective in reducing obesity among the children, says a study in the British Medical Journal.

The one-year "ditch the fizz" program encouraged elementary students to reduce their intake of both diet and sweetened soft drinks. This is the first study to offer evidence that such programs are effective in reducing childhood obesity.

There was a 0.2 percent decrease in the number of overweight and obese children among the students taking part in the program, compared to a 7.5 percent increase in a control group of children who didn't take part in the program, the Associated Press reported.

Children in the program reduced their consumption of soft drinks by 0.6 glasses per day by the end of the study year, while students in the control group increased their soft drink consumption by 0.2 glasses per day.

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China Reports 1st SARS Death Since July

The Chinese Health Ministry confirmed Friday the country's first death from SARS since last July. It also acknowledged a diagnosed SARS case and one suspected case in the central province of Anhui.

Meanwhile, a suspected case of SARS reported Thursday in Beijing has been confirmed as a diagnosed one. And the city reported one more suspected case on Friday, Chinadaily.com reported, quoting ministry officials.

In response, the government said it would start disinfecting public buildings, and take the temperatures of travelers at all ports of entry, to try to prevent an epidemic.

The government of Taiwan Friday warned people against making unnecessary trips to Beijing and Anhui, according to Agence France-Presse.

SARS, a potentially fatal respiratory virus, first emerged in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong late in 2002. It then spread to Beijing, Hong Kong, and other countries -- most of them in East Asia -- infecting about 8,100 people and killing nearly 800.

China reported four SARS cases in Guangdong early this year. They were the first since the global outbreak was declared over last July. All four people have recovered, health officials said.

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Calif. May Require Condoms in Porn Movies

California and Los Angeles County health officials said they may force actors in adult films to use condoms after the disclosure last week that two actors were infected with the AIDS virus.

The Los Angeles Times reported that officials insist they have the authority to mandate condom use. Producers of adult films question that authority, however, and threaten to move the industry out of its Southern California home if the threat is carried out.

The issue came up again after the industry suspended filming in reaction to the disclosure, and officials say it's strictly a health-and-workplace issue.

"You couldn't imagine a construction company sending a person to a work site without a hard hat, and nor should we think of someone in an adult-film industry production company working without a condom," Peter Kerndt, director of the sexually transmitted disease program for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, told the Times.

While some producers have had actors use condoms, most fear the practice would drive customers away. "When you see an action movie and you see the hero jumping out the window, you don't want to see the wires holding him up," producer Mark Kulkis told the paper. "Nobody wants to see condoms. It's a fantasy."

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Study: Stay Home if You're Sick

A new study suggests that it's not worth it to drag yourself to work if you're not feeling well: You may be costing your employer less by staying home.

The Associated Press reported that people who go to work when feeling lousy cost their companies about $255 each per year -- and that doesn't take into account the cost of sickening fellow employees.

Cornell University researchers say the problem of "presenteeism" makes itself evident when sick employees have to repeat tasks, have difficulty concentrating, and are slow all-around. The study says this harms productivity.

The study doesn't quite define what "sick" is, but it "doesn't mean people should stay home sick at every sniffle," Ron Goetzel, director of Cornell's Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, told the AP.

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