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Health Highlights: Feb. 7, 2004

Infant Girl With 2nd Head Dies After SurgeryNo Evidence Bird Flu Has Become More ContagiousBotox can stop excessive sweating U.S. Makes Ephedra Ban Official Different Doses of Aspirin Thin Blood With Plavix

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

Infant Girl With 2nd Head Dies After Surgery

An infant girl from the Dominican Republic has died after surgery to remove a partially formed second head, the Associated Press reports.

An 18-person medical team worked until Friday evening to remove the head. However, they had warned that 8-week-old Rebeca Martinez had been susceptible to infection or hemorrhaging. The baby died 12 hours after the surgery, believed to be the first of its kind, the wire service reports.

The second head, which doctors said threatened the girl's development, grew from the top of her skull and had its own partly developed brain, ears, eyes and lips. The surgical team worked in rotations to remove the undeveloped tissue and to close the skull with skin and bone grafts.

The operation was performed in Santo Domingo, and the surgical team was led by UCLA neurosurgeon Dr. Jorge Lazareff.

"We knew this was a very risky surgery, and now we accept what God has decided," the A.P. quotes Rebeca's father, 29-year-old Franklin Martinez, as saying."Rebeca is no longer with us physically, but no one will forget her."

The girl lost a lot of blood in the operation, which apparently caused her to suffer a heart attack, Dr. Lazareff said.

"This was not a failure or an error," he said. "When we left here last night at midnight the girl was in stable condition. At some point in the middle of the night, she started to bleed."

The girl's condition is so rare that there have only been seven cases reported in medical literature throughout history, the newspaper says. "This is the second child alive with this malformation. The last one was 200 years ago," says Dr. Benjamin Rivera of the CURE International Center for Orthopedic Specialties in Santo Domingo. CURE International paid for the surgery, estimated to cost $100,000, USA Today reports.

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No Evidence Bird Flu Has Become More Contagious

The so-called bird flu that has spread throughout southeast Asia and killed at least 18 people, apparently has not become more contagious.

The Associated Press reports that the World Health Organization has investigated the deaths of two Vietnamese sisters and found that the virus did not contain human genes, indicating that the sometimes fatal disease is still in its original form.

Scientists tested the women's blood, the wire service reports, "because experts suspected they may have caught the disease from their brother, who also died; but that link could not be proven because the brother's body was cremated. So far, there have been no known cases of person-to-person transmission in the current bird flu outbreak."

The new data is "reassuring" evidence that the H5N1 bird flu virus that's hitting Asia has not acquired that ability, the WHO said in a statement posted on its Web site Feb. 6.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese officials denied claims that pigs have been infected with the disease that has forced the slaughter of millions of chickens throughout Asia, and China's Agriculture Ministry reported bird flu in three more provinces Saturday.

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Botox can stop excessive sweating

Not only can Botox smooth your wrinkles, but also it can cut down on how much you perspire.

Those attending the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Washington, D.C., learned of the latest use of the substance, a weakened form of the deadly botulism toxin, which often causes fatal food-poisoning.

The Associated Press reports that scientists from the St. Louis University School of Medicine found a way to inject Botox into the armpits of people who suffer from hyperhidrosis, a condition that causes the body to produce four-to-five times more sweat than what is normal. Previous treatments had included everything from powerful antiperspirants to surgery.

Apparently, the Botox paralyzes a nerve that stimulates the sweat glands, the A.P. reports. The research seems to support this. Researchers gave 322 patients underarm injections of either Botox or salt water.

A month later, 75 percent of the Botox users reported a significant decrease in sweating, compared with a quarter of the placebo patients, the scientists say.

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U.S. Makes Ephedra Ban Official

The U.S. government made official on Friday what it had announced late last year -- that it is banning sales of the herbal dietary supplement ephedra, which has been linked to 155 deaths and dozens of strokes and heart attacks in the U.S.

The ban means that by April, ephedra will no longer be available on store shelves. It's the first time the U.S. government has banned a dietary supplement.

"This FDA rule reflects what the scientific evidence shows -- that ephedra poses an unreasonable risk to those who use it," Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson said in a statement. "The regulations prohibit the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra, and we intend to take swift action against anyone who puts consumers at risk by continuing to sell such products after the prohibition takes effect."

In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told consumers to stop using the supplement immediately. Publicity about the health dangers of the herb have caused sales to nosedive. Three states -- Illinois, California and New York -- have already banned Ephedra, which was once popular with bodybuilders and people seeking to lose weight.

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Different Doses of Aspirin Thin Blood With Plavix

Coated and baby aspirin are equally effective in thinning blood when taken with the prescription antiplatelet drug Plavix, says a Northwestern Memorial Hospital study.

The study of 69 patients found that aspirin type and dose may not matter when taken in combination with Plavix to thin blood in order to reduce the risk of stroke in people with cerebrovascular disease.

"While research has shown that the combined use of aspirin and Plavix provides an enhanced blood-thinning effect for patients trying to reduce their risk of vascular events, the optimal dose and formulation is unclear," study lead author Dr. Mark J. Alberts, director of Northwestern's stroke program, says in a news release.

This study found that taking any dose or formulation of aspirin in combination with Plavix offers an enhanced blood-thinning effect compared to taking either baby aspirin or coated aspirin alone.

The study found that the following groups experienced a good blood thinning effect: 70 to 74 percent of patients taking baby aspirin or full adult aspirin with Plavix; 70 percent of patients taking enteric-coated aspirin with Plavix; and 74 percent of patients taking uncoated aspirin with Plavix.

The study was presented at the ongoing American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in San Diego.

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