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Health Highlights: Feb. 27, 2004

Asian Bird Flu Outbreak May Take a Year to Stop Experts Question Animal Medical Experiments Ohio Woman Delivers Sextuplets IBM Not Guilty in Workers' Cancer Trial Federal Court Upholds Use of Medical Marijuana Conn. Bill Would Require Wig Coverage for Cancer Patients

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

Asian Bird Flu Outbreak May Take a Year to Stop

It could take as long as a year to stop the Asian bird flu epidemic, according to animal health experts attending a conference on the disease being held in Bangkok, Thailand.

To date, the bird flu in Asia has killed 22 people and caused severe damage to the poultry industry.

One expert with the World Organization for Animal Health told the Associated Press that the bird flu epidemic in Asia is still not under control. Although the number of countries with bird flu did not increase in February, the expert says the virus is still circulating in countries already hit with infection.

He noted that the conference was told that it took six months for countries with abundant resources to bring the virus under control. Because there are fewer resources in the countries currently infected with bird flu, it will take them longer to rein in the problem.

Another expert, with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, offered a similar assessment, the AP reports.

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Experts Question Animal Medical Experiments

Some British scientists charge that many medical experiments done on animals offer little benefit in terms of finding ways to treat human diseases.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine scientists contend that much of the animal research is poorly conducted and not thoroughly evaluated, BBC News Online reports.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the scientists urge a systematic review of all existing animal research before any new animal experiments are conducted.

At the same time, the Royal Society, the U.K.'s national academy of science, published a guide that says scientific research on animals has provided tremendous benefits for humans.

According to the Royal Society, almost every medical accomplishment in the last century has relied, in some form, on the use of animals.

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Ohio Woman Delivers Sextuplets

Six proved to be an Ohio woman's lucky number on Thursday when she gave birth to sextuplets.

The three girls and three boys were delivered by caesarean section within one minute at Akron Medical Center. The mother, 29-year-old Jennifer Hanselman of Cuyahoga Falls, and the babies were all reported to be doing well, the Associated Press reports.

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reports that the mother turned down a doctor's advice to terminate some of the embryos.

"The speed at which the babies came out was overwhelming. It was like a popcorn popper," proud poppa Keith Hanselman said.

The babies, who ranged in weight from 1 pound, 9 ounces to 2 pounds, 10 ounces, were listed in critical condition. That's standard for premature births. They're all in the neonatal intensive care unit at Akron Children's Hospital. It's expected they'll remain there for about nine weeks.

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IBM Not Guilty in Workers' Cancer Trial

A superior court jury says IBM isn't at fault for cases of cancer among two workers at the company's disk drive factory in San Jose, Calif., the Wall Street Journal reports.

The verdict was returned late Thursday in San Jose after two days of deliberation. The suit had been brought by a 73-year-old woman who acquired breast cancer 11 years ago, and by a 62-year-old man who has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After the four-month trial, the jury found that the company wasn't responsible for the illnesses.

IBM still faces more than 200 other lawsuits by employees who worked in so-called "clean rooms" where toxic chemicals are used to produce semiconductors, the Journal says.

Under California law, workers can successfully sue only if they prove that their employers intentionally misled them about their illnesses in order to convince them to return to work, the newspaper reports.

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Federal Court Upholds Use of Medical Marijuana

Californians may continue to grow and use marijuana in certain cases to treat illness, a federal appeals court in San Francisco has decided.

The Ninth Circuit panel of three judges denied a request by the Bush Administration to review the court's own ruling made in December. Medical marijuana advocates say the move will allow Californians and people in six other Western states to continue to use marijuana to treat illness without fear of prosecution, The New York Times reports.

In the December decision, the judges voted 2-1 to allow personal medical use of marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation, saying it was not akin to drug trafficking.

The Justice Department refused initial comment on whether it plans to appeal the latest decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Times reports.

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Conn. Bill Would Require Wig Coverage for Cancer Patients

Under a bill pending in the state legislature, Connecticut would become the sixth state in the nation to require insurers to pay for wigs for cancer patients, the Associated Press reports.

The legislation, if passed, would require coverage up to $350 for people undergoing chemotherapy. Shedding much of one's hair during such treatments is a common side effect, and the cost of a wig can mean an additional burden for patients who already struggle to cover the costs of the expensive treatments.

Wigs can run anywhere from $50 to more than $1,000, depending on whether they're made from synthetic or human hair, the wire service says.

Similar laws are already on the books in Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma, the AP reports.

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