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Health Highlights: Feb. 10, 2004

Avian Flu Confirmed on 2nd Delaware Farm Diet Doctor Atkins Was Obese at Death: Report Few Americans With Heart Failure Get Quick Diagnosis Test Predicts Skin Cancer Spread to Other Organs Scientists Fail to Agree on Vaccines, Autism Link Hormone Therapy Not Approved for Dementia, FDA Says

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

Avian Flu Confirmed on 2nd Delaware Farm

Avian flu has been confirmed on a second central Delaware farm, state agriculture officials announced Tuesday.

Experts say the strain of avian flu found on this farm and another nearby farm, where a chicken flock tested positive last week, is different from the flu strain that has spread to humans in Asia and poses no health threat to people.

Even so, this could cause serious problems for Delaware's poultry industry, the Associated Press reports.

On Tuesday, before it was announced that the second Delaware flock had tested positive, China banned imports of U.S. poultry. Such bans had already been implemented by a number of countries, including Poland, Japan and South Korea.

In related news, the World Health Organization has asked two laboratories in the United States and one in Great Britain to develop a human vaccine against bird flu in case the Asian outbreak turns into a pandemic, CBC News Online reports.

There is no evidence that the bird flu in Asia has been spread from person to person. But the WHO wants to be prepared in case the bird flu virus combines with a dangerous form of human influenza, enabling it to develop in to a global pandemic.

So far, 19 people in Asia have been killed by the bird flu. Most of those deaths have been in Vietnam. More than 50 million chickens have been destroyed in an attempt to control the spread of the virus.

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Diet Doctor Atkins Was Obese at Death: Report

Dr. Robert Atkins, author of the popular anti-carbohydrate diet that bears his name, was obese when he died last April, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Atkins, 72, weighed 258 pounds at the time of his death, which the New York City medical examiner says was caused by a head injury from a fall on ice while walking to work, the newspaper reports. At 6-feet tall, Atkins' weight qualified him as obese, based on the body mass index calculator provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Journal reports.

Atkins also had a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure, according to the newspaper. The Journal says it obtained the medical examiner's report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group that advocates vegetarianism and has long been critical of the Atkins diet. Atkins Nutritionals, which markets Atkins food and information products, says it's investigating how the document was obtained.

Atkins followed his regimen throughout his life, which is why his personal health has been open to scrutiny, the Journal reports. Critics have long contended that replacing carbohydrates with fat-laden foods like meat and cheese puts users of the eating plan at risk for conditions like heart disease.

Atkins Physicians Council spokesman Stuart Trager tells the newspaper that Atkins' heart problems were related to a disease of the heart muscle called cardiomyopathy -- probably caused by a virus and mostly unrelated to his eating habits.

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Few Americans With Heart Failure Get Quick Diagnosis

A new nationwide survey says fewer than half of Americans with congestive heart failure (CHF) are diagnosed immediately, and many suffer symptoms for more than a year before they're finally diagnosed with the disease.

Regardless of when they're diagnosed, more than half of all people are first diagnosed with CHF after suffering an acute attack of disease symptoms, the survey found. These symptoms include shortness of breath, fluid retention (edema), swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen or lower back, fatigue, weakness and appetite loss.

CHF is characterized by a progressive loss of the heart's ability to pump blood. Early intervention is key to improving patient outcomes. About 5 million Americans have the condition.

The Harris Interactive poll, sponsored by Scios Inc., surveyed 261 CHF patients across the United States. It found that patients experiencing delayed diagnosis were suffering from nearly five symptoms of CHF and 46 percent were diagnosed in the emergency department or after being admitted to a hospital.

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Test Predicts Skin Cancer Spread to Other Organs

British scientists say they've developed a test to predict whether deadly skin cancers will spread to other organs. It measures the density of the lymph vessels around malignant melanomas.

If the findings, published in the British Journal of Cancer, are confirmed, it means that doctors could identify skin cancer patients at high risk of developing cancer in other organs. These patients could then be closely followed by doctors.

The researchers measured the density of lymph vessels around melanoma samples taken from patients. They then assessed how many of those patients developed secondary cancers within eight years, BBC News Online reports.

The researchers will conduct a larger study with hundreds of patients to determine if they can confirm their initial findings.

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Scientists Fail to Agree on Vaccines, Autism Link

Does a preservative used in some childhood vaccines increase a recipient's risk of autism? Researchers on both sides of the issue faced off Monday at a National Institute of Medicine (IOM) meeting investigating a possible connection.

While a host of scientists reported that large studies in the United States and Europe have failed to find a link between thimerosal and the poorly understood brain disorder, others said they were increasingly convinced of an association between the two, reports the Washington Post.

Autism is characterized by behavioral problems, including difficulty interacting with others, and repetitive, often self-destructive actions. More and more children are being diagnosed with the disorder, which has researchers wondering if diagnostic techniques are simply getting better or whether some environmental cause is to blame.

Vaccines are typically administered at the time autism symptoms often begin to show, the Post reports. Thimerosal, used as a preservative in some vaccines, contains mercury -- which some scientists believe can cause brain damage in certain children, according to the newspaper. These genetically susceptible children may have defects that prevent them from processing the mercury correctly, causing high levels of the metal to build up in their bodies, the theory goes.

The IOM panel that convened the meeting isn't expected to release its findings for several months, the Post reports.

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Hormone Therapy Not Approved for Dementia, FDA Says

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it wants hormone replacement therapy manufacturers to advise users that HRT has never been approved for common memory loss or more serious cognitive disorders like Alzheimer's disease. The female hormone combination of estrogen and progestin does not prevent mild age-related memory loss, the agency said Tuesday.

The FDA cited newly analyzed results of the broad Women's Health Initiative study conducted by the FDA's parent, the National Institutes of Health.

Previously published Women's Health Initiative results have shown that HRT use increases a woman's risk of breast cancer and heart problems.

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