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Health Highlights: Jan. 5, 2005

Canada Drug Savings Decreasing, Survey Finds Nebraska Man Sheds More Than 450 Pounds Schizophrenia Signs Detectable Years Before Obvious Symptoms Brain Differences May Explain Why Women Prone to Eating Disorders Report Calls for Stricter Disciplining of Bad Doctors Listeria Poisoning Cases Rose in 2003

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

Canada Drug Savings Decreasing, Survey Finds

Americans buying drugs from online Canadian pharmacies saved less money last year than they did the year before.

The average discount dropped from 38 percent to 29 percent, and the average drug price on Canadian Internet pharmacies rose 23 percent from the first quarter of 2003 until the end of last year, a new survey found.

However, drug prices at American online pharmacies also rose, by 8 percent, according to PharmacyChecker.com, which tracks Internet pharmacy prices and released its results Wednesday.

A weak American dollar and higher acquisition costs by Canada's Internet pharmacies are responsible for the rising prices and dwindling savings, the Associated Press reported.

The pricing news comes amid political moves on both sides of the border to halt Americans' purchase of drugs from abroad, which is illegal under U.S. law.

The Canadian Health Minister may prevent Canadian doctors from signing prescriptions written by American physicians, which would essential kill the industry, AP reports. And in a report released last month, the Bush administration found that costs associated with allowing commercial reimportation would largely wipe away most savings.

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Nebraska Man Sheds More Than 450 Pounds

A Nebraska man who weighed more than half a ton when he checked into a South Dakota hospital in June has lost more than 450 pounds.

Patrick Deuel dropped about 420 pounds after hospital staffers put him on an exercise program and restricted him to a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet. That was in preparation for gastric-bypass surgery performed in late October. Since the operation, Deuel has lost about 40 additional pounds, the Associated Press reported.

He's still in the hospital recovering from an infection. It's expected he'll go home to Valentine, Neb., late this month. He'll receive regular checkups from a doctor and will have health aides at home to help him avoid resuming the overeating that caused him to grow so immense.

Deuel now weighs about 650 pounds and says he hopes to get down to 240 pounds. He weighed 1,072 pounds when he checked into the hospital.

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Schizophrenia Signs Detectable Years Before Obvious Symptoms

Subtle signs of schizophrenia can be detected in high risk people years before the development of obvious symptoms, say Edinburgh University researchers.

Those subtle signs include odd behavior, social withdrawal, lapses in memories of events, and feelings of being disconnected from reality. They can be detected using simple behavioral tests, BBC News Online reported.

The study included 163 people, aged 16 to 24, with two relatives with schizophrenia.

These early signs of schizophrenia had little impact on quality of life and caused little distress to the people who experienced them, the study said. The signs may only occur for a short time and then disappear for many years, the study added.

The researchers believe the study offers strong evidence that schizophrenia is linked to problems in the brain's temporal lobe and that these problems develop slowly over several years, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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Brain Response May Explain Why Women Prone to Eating Disorders

Women may be more likely than men to suffer from eating disorders because women's brains process information differently, says a Japanese study.

Hiroshima University researchers found that women's and men's brains show different responses when viewing words linked to body image, BBC News Online reported.

The study included 13 women and 13 men who were shown a set of unpleasant words that described body image and another set of neutral words. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to scan the volunteers' brains while they scanned the words.

The results showed that in women, the unpleasant words triggered a response in the amygdala, an area of the brain believed to become active when a person feels threatened.

There was little amygdala activity in the men. Their response to the unpleasant words was seen in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with rationalizing information, the researchers said.

"Our results suggest men processed the words more cognitively than emotionally. On the other hand, women processed them more emotionally," the authors noted.

Women are 10 times more likely than men to develop anorexia and Bulimia, the researchers said.

The study appears in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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Report Calls for Stricter Disciplining of Bad Doctors

If states cracked down on incompetent doctors, many of the problems linked to medical malpractice lawsuits would be alleviated, according to an expert panel retained by the Bush administration.

The study, done by the University of Iowa and the Urban Institute, is intended to help state boards of medical examiners more effectively discipline poor-performing doctors. Improved discipline procedures would help to hold down health insurance premiums for consumers and malpractice insurance for doctors, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

"There's a need to protect the public from substandard performance by physicians," said Josephine Gittler, a law professor at Iowa who supervised part of the study. "If you had more aggressive policing of incompetent physicians and more effective disciplining of doctors who engage in substandard practice, that could decrease the type of negligence that leads to malpractice suits."

The report acknowledged that several factors seem to hamstring medical boards. They typically have limited budgets and small numbers of workers to handle thousands of complaints annually. Also, revoking an incompetent doctor's license can take months or years and cost a great deal, Randall R. Bovbjerg, a researcher at the Urban Institute, told the Times.

President Bush has said establishing limits on malpractice lawsuits would be a focus of his second term.

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Listeria Poisoning Cases Rose in 2003

Cases of listeria food poisoning rose slightly in 2003, and a consumer group is accusing the Bush administration of stalling and then changing regulations aimed at keeping such contamination to a minimum.

The Consumer Federation of America, citing statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there were 3.3 cases of listeria poisoning for every 1 million people in 2003, the last year for which figures are available, compared with 2.7 cases per million in 2002, according to an Associated Press account.

Carol Tucker Foreman, who wrote the consumer group's report, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established rules that favor the meat industry. The rules are based on "science that's driven by industry convenience and political influence," the AP quotes her as saying. Although she didn't link the USDA to the rise in listeria poisoning, "I'm just saying that the two events occurred together," she said.

CDC officials told the wire service that the uptick in 2003 was nothing to be concerned about.

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