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Health Highlights: Dec. 15, 2004

U.S. Disputes Research Touting the Pill's Health Benefits Singer James Brown Has Successful Prostate Surgery Married Adults Are Healthier Most U.S. States Ill-Prepared for Bioterror Crisis: Study Poisoned Ukrainian Candidate Has Record Dioxin Levels Flawed Heart Device Reveals FDA Limits: Report

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

U.S. Disputes Research Touting the Pill's Health Benefits

Two recent studies that suggested oral contraceptives reduced a woman's risk of heart disease and cancer seemed to take conventional wisdom and stand it on its head.

But on Wednesday, U.S. health officials were dismissing the research as flawed, saying a new analysis found no evidence the Pill cut the risk of heart disease or cancer, according to the Associated Press.

The studies, presented at an American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting in Philadelphia in October, generated headlines -- and controversy -- because they were based on Women's Health Initiative, the nation's largest women's health study. This was the same long-running study that found in 2002 that hormone replacement therapy increased a woman's risk of heart attack, stroke, invasive breast cancer and blood clots.

The research presented in October by scientists at Wayne State University in Detroit found that women on the Pill had lower risks of heart disease and no increased risk of breast cancer. That was contrary to the conclusions of many previous studies.

But Dr. Barbara Alving, acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which funds and oversees the Women's Health Initiative, said the work by the Wayne State researchers had not been reviewed by the WHI study's leaders or the government before it was presented, the AP said.

A new analysis by senior U.S. statisticians determined the heart findings were flawed and the cancer findings were also suspect, the news service reported.

John Oliver, vice president for research at Wayne State, said the university scientists would have no comment until they had completed a review of their research, AP said.

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Singer James Brown Has Successful Prostate Surgery

James Brown, the 71-year-old "Godfather of Soul," underwent successful surgery Wednesday to treat recently diagnosed prostate cancer.

"Mr. Brown has successfully undergone a localized prostate cancer procedure and is resting comfortably," Dr. James Bennett, his urologist, said in a statement. "We expect a full recovery. With proper follow-up and care, we can also expect a full cure."

Brown was released Wednesday afternoon from the Midtown Urology Surgical Center in Atlanta, the Associated Press reported.

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Married Adults Are Healthier

Marital bliss boosts your health, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found that married adults are healthier than those who are divorced, widowed or never married. The findings are based on interviews with 127,545 adults in the United States.

Married adults are less likely to be in fair or poor health and less likely to suffer health problems such as headaches and serious psychological distress. Married adults are also less likely to be limited in work or other daily activities.

The study also found that married adults are less likely to smoke, drink heavily or be physically inactive. But married men are more likely than other men to be overweight or obese.

And the study also suggests that living together isn't the same as marriage, at least when it comes to your health. Cohabitating adults were more likely to have health problems than married adults and more closely resemble divorced and separated adults in terms of health.

The association between marriage status and health was most pronounced in younger adults, but is evident in all age groups. The reasons for the link between marriage and better health couldn't be determined with the available data.

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Most U.S. States Ill-Prepared for Bioterror Crisis: Study

The United States is woefully unprepared to respond to a wide-scale bioterror incident or a public health crisis such as a flu pandemic, a new study concludes.

Despite federal outlays of $3 billion to improve preparedness since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, little progress has been made in identifying and tracking disease outbreaks, preparing for mass distribution of vaccines or antidotes, and equipping labs and hospitals to test for deadly germs, the nonprofit Trust for America's Health reported.

Just six states -- of which only Florida, Illinois and Louisiana are mentioned at their request -- are fully prepared to distribute lifesaving vaccines or antidotes, according to an account of the report in USA Today. Twenty states still don't have a formal response plan to deal with a flu pandemic, the report added.

Moreover, two-thirds of states don't meet federal standards for tracking disease outbreaks electronically. Lack of this capability means a slower national response to an emerging outbreak, experts predict.

"More than three years after 9/11 we've only made baby steps toward better bioterrorism preparedness," said former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker, the trust's board president.

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Poisoned Ukrainian Candidate Has Record Dioxin Levels

Dioxin levels detected in the blood of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko are among the highest ever recorded in humans -- more than 6,000 times the norm, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Last week, initial tests confirmed the reformist candidate had been poisoned with the cancer-causing chemical, which has disfigured his face. New tests reveal that he had levels of about 100,000 units per gram of blood fat, while the norm is between 15 units and 45 units, the AP said. The toxic chemical, often a by-product of industrial production, accumulates in low levels in the food chain.

Experts told the wire service that Yushchenko, who first became ill in September, may already have suffered the worst effects of the poisoning and should gradually recover with little loss of cognitive ability.

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Flawed Heart Device Reveals FDA Regulatory Limits: Report

Last month's recall of a Massachusetts company's entire stock of 18,500 heart defibrillators may reveal serious shortcomings in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ability to regulate medical devices, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Defibrillators are designed to shock an awkwardly beating heart back into its normal rhythm. But those defibrillators produced by Access Cardiosystems, a two-year-old company based in Concord, had a tendency to stop working during use. While the now-defunct firm insisted at the time that the problems were few and far between, a former company executive conceded last month that as many as 50 percent of the units may have been defective, the Times reported.

Ten months earlier, the company's former chief executive -- who had just been forced out -- wrote the FDA and accused the firm of distributing units that were potentially defective. The agency, which regulates everything from blood-oxygen monitors to artificial hips, visited the firm's factory and found no problems significant enough to warrant a recall, the newspaper said.

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