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Health Highlights: July 31, 2005

Congressional Override of Expected Bush Stem Cell Veto Difficult, at Best Lou Gehrig's Disease Drug May Help With Obsessive-Compulsive DisorderCicely Saunders, Founder of Modern Hospice Movement, Dies at 87 Lethal Bird Flu Strain Found in RussiaFootball Coaches Reminded That Summer Practice Can Kill

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

Congressional Override of Expected Bush Stem Cell Veto Difficult, at Best

A bill designed to ease restrictions on financing embryonic stem cell research has enough votes to reach President Bush's desk, but it's still short of the votes needed to override his expected veto.

That was the consensus from Senate leaders on a Sunday morning television talk show. Even though Senate majority leader Dr. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., announced last week that he would support a bill allowing federal funding for some stem cell research, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on the CBS program "Face the Nation" that Senate proponents are still at least five votes short of the 67 needed to override a presidential veto.

Specter, who has Hodgkins Disease and supports easing stem cell research funding restrictions said, "My analysis is that we have 62 votes at the present time, and we've got about 15 more people who are thinking it over." He predicted the upper house may have enough votes to override the expected Bush veto when the time comes.

However, it may be more difficult to defeat an override in the House of Representatives with a two-thirds vote when the original bill passed the 435 mmember house by 44 only votes. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who opposes easing the restrictions, said to Specter on the CBS program, "You don't have the votes in the House of Representatives to overcome a presidential veto."

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Lou Gehrig's Disease Drug May Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

A drug used to treat symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can also help people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who haven't responded to other medications.

Yale University School of Medicine researchers conducted a study using 13 patients with OCD who had not responded to other medications, according to a university news release. And although the study was a small one, the preliminary results are promising, according to a statement from the study's first author, Dr. Vladimir Coric, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and director of the Yale OCD clinic.

Imaging studies of the brain have shown that people with OCD have an overabundance of glutamate, a brain neurotransmitter. The Yale research team tested the study participants with a drug called riluzole, which modulates glutamate content. Riluzole has been effective in treating some of the symptoms of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The results showed that seven of the patients had a 35 percent reduction in symptoms and five were categorized as responsive to the treatment. One patient left the study. The test results were presented July 29 at the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation annual conference in San Diego.

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Cicely Saunders, Founder of Modern Hospice Movement, Dies at 87

Dame Cicely Saunders, a British nurse and physician who is credited with updating the concept of offering hospice care for the terminally ill, died at the facility she founded, her hospice's Web site announced July 31.

Barbara Monroe, chief executive of St. Christopher's Hospice in south London that Saunders founded in 1967, said in a statment that she died July 14 at the age of 87. "We had been caring for Dame Cicely at St. Christopher's Hospice as a patient for some time," Monroe's statement said. "Her influence will carry on around the world as we work together in hospice and palliative care to support dying people and close to them."

While the concept of hospice care dates back to medieval times, there was no coordinative effort to update its procedures for the terminally ill in the latter half of the 20th century. When Cicely Saunders founded St. Christopher's Hospice in 1967, she used the term "palliative medicine" to describe a method of treating terminally ill patients with dignity and easing their pain with drugs like morphine. Her methods began to be adopted around the world.

The New York Times quotes Patricia Farrington, director of the Pax Christi Hospice program at St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers in New York as saying Saunders' travels to America helped jump-start the modern hospice movement. "She came to us in the early 60's and met with people here who became hospice founders and pioneers," the newspaper quotes Farrington as saying. "She came to New York, Los Angeles and Boston and Yale, and met with people who had corresponded with her and were impressed with her passion, that it was the obligation of health-care providers to relieve suffering."

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Lethal Bird Flu Strain Found in Russia

Russian health investigators have identified the dangerous strain of bird flu that's swept Asia among fowl in Russia's Novosibirsk region, the Associated Press reported Friday.

No human infections have been reported in Russia, though the lethal H5N1 strain has killed about 60 people in Asia over the past two years. Russian officials said all of the dead or infected birds found in Russia have been incinerated, the AP reported.

Russia's chief epidemiologist speculated that the virus that's affected chicken, geese, ducks, and turkeys could have been introduced by migrating birds that rest on the Siberian region's lakes, the wire service said.

Separately, Vietnam announced Friday that two more people had died of bird flu, raising the country's human bird flu toll to 41 since 2003. Other human deaths have been recorded in Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

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Football Coaches Reminded That Summer Practice Can Kill

As much of the United States endures one of the hottest summers in recent years, football practice has begun at all levels -- high school, college and professional.

This has prompted a reminder from a sports health expert from the University of North Carolina that three U.S. football players died from the results of heat stroke in 2004, deaths that could have been prevented. Dr. Frederick Mueller, chairman of the American Football Coaches Committee of Football Injuries and chair of exercise and sports science at UNC, says in a news release that coaches need to be alert to their players' reaction to the heat during practice sessions.

"No athlete should ever die from getting too hot during practice or games," he says. "Such tragedies are 100 percent preventable." Mueller says 24 football players at all levels have died from heat stroke since 1995.

He suggests the following procedures for teams practicing in the heat: Players should get all the water they want in practice and have frequent cooling-off breaks; shorter practices and non-contact drills without helmets; coaches and trainers should keep a close watch on temperatures and humidity; practices should be held early or late in the day; if it's too hot, coaches need to consider canceling them for a day.

Finally, Mueller says, "Players should be encouraged to tell coaches or trainers if they don't feel good. They should never be made to feel weak [inadequate] if they have trouble."

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