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Health Highlights: June 22, 2004

Rocket Fuel Chemical in California Milk Smokers Die 10 Years Sooner Kids at Summer Camps Are Dehydrated Smoke-Free Workplaces Would Save Hundreds of Lives Yearly U.S. Probes Deaths of Washington State Dairy Cows Florida Woman Dies From Human Form of Mad Cow Disease

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

Rocket Fuel Chemical in California Milk

Children in Southern California are drinking milk that contains levels of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient called perchlorate that exceed federal health recommendations, says a report released Monday by the Environmental Working Group.

The group sampled 33 well-known milk brands sold in Los Angeles and Orange County supermarkets. All but one contained perchlorate, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Children aged 1 to 5 who drink between one and two cups of these brands of milk a day are ingesting daily amounts of perchlorate that exceed levels recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Perchlorate has contaminated water supplies in 29 states. Studies in animals suggest that small amounts of perchlorate may disrupt thyroid hormones that regulate brain development.

"Our findings are not a call for California mothers to stop drinking milk or stop giving it to their children," Bill Walker, vice president of Environmental Working Group, told the Times. "They do show that the state must set a drinking water standard that fully protects public health. Mothers should not be forced to wonder if milk is affecting their child's growth and development."

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Smokers Die 10 Years Sooner

A study that has tracked smoking habits for 50 years has found that, on average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

The dangers, however, can be cut greatly by kicking the habit, and the benefits are evident even among those who quit late in life, HealthDay reports.

"There are risks in life, but you don't have many things that kill half of those that do them," Sir Richard Peto, a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, told HealthDay. "The key emphasis for practical purposes is how big the risk is if you smoke, and how big the benefit when you stop. Smoking kills half. Stopping works."

Stopping at age 50 cuts the risk of dying in half, while quitting at 30 almost eliminates the risk. Quitting smoking at age 60 adds about three years to one's life.

The results of the longest study ever into the effects of smoking will appear in the June 26 issue of the British Medical Journal, 50 years to the day after the first landmark results from the same study, which confirmed the link between lung cancer and smoking, were reported.

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Kids at Summer Camps Are Dehydrated

Many children in summer sports camps are dehydrated, even though they're encouraged to drink and have access to plenty of water and sports drinks, according to a study presented to the American College of Sports Medicine.

The study included 34 boys and 24 girls, ages 10 to 14, taking part in four-day soccer camps. Most of the children were dehydrated by the second day of camp and 70 percent of the girls and 59 percent of the boys were significantly dehydrated by the last day at camp, the study found.

It's difficult to say exactly how much an individual child needs to drink in order to keep properly hydrated, study author Douglas Casa, director of athletic training at the University of Connecticut, told the Washington Post.

"The key message is that you don't want to lose weight [from fluid loss] during exercise, so whatever you sweat out must be replaced," Casa said.

He recommended that both children and adults drink 20 to 30 extra ounces of water or sports drink at least 30 minutes before the start of exercise. If the exercise lasts more than an hour, drink more fluids during the workout.

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Smoke-Free Workplaces Would Save Hundreds of Lives Yearly

A smoking ban in all U.S. workplaces would prevent hundreds of deaths and save tens of millions in medical costs each year, according to a Stanford University School of Medicine study.

The study found that forcing workplaces to go smoke-free would prevent about 610 stroke and heart attack deaths in the first year alone, mostly among nonsmokers currently exposed to secondhand smoke at work.

More than 2,420 lives and $280 million in heart attack and stroke-related health-care costs would be saved over seven years, the study said. That doesn't include the cost savings associated with other smoking-related illnesses or lost productivity.

"The most surprising finding was that the majority of the effects would occur in people who are passively exposed to secondhand smoke," researcher Dr. Michael Ong said in a prepared statement.

The study appears in the July 1 issue of the American Journal of Medicine.

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U.S. Probes Deaths of Washington State Dairy Cows

At least four U.S. government agencies are investigating the mysterious deaths of three Washington state dairy cows from what appears to be poisoning by an unidentified toxic substance, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Tuesday.

At least seven more cows from the single farm involved have become gravely ill, and the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture and the FBI are assisting state investigations into who and what caused the illnesses.

No milk from the cows entered the milk supply from the farm in Enumclaw, about 50 miles southeast of Seattle, according to an FDA statement issued late Monday. It said the incident appeared to be isolated, involving fewer than 20 cows, and that tissue samples from the dead animals are being analyzed at an FDA lab in Cincinnati. The agency, in a somewhat terse statement, promised to release more information as it became available.

The sick cows were first discovered June 6 by the farm's owner, who noticed that "all had a strange, reddish-black substance on their backs and their skin bubbled with blisters," according to the newspaper. The sick cows were segregated from the rest of the 330 animals in the farm's herd, and about 27,000 pounds of milk were disposed of, according to the farm's owner, John Koopman.

Koopman sits on the board of WestFarm Foods, which had recently resolved "a long and bitter dispute with the Teamsters union," the Post-Intelligencer reported. But the dispute was over before Koopman's cows became sick, the newspaper added.

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Florida Woman Dies From Human Form of Mad Cow Disease

A 25-year-old Broward County, Fla., woman is the first person in the United States to die from the human form of mad cow disease, the Miami Herald reported Tuesday.

Charlene Singh is believed to have contracted the disease in England more than a decade ago, but was not diagnosed until two years ago, the Associated Press reported. The brain-wasting illness known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has killed about 140 people worldwide, most in England during the 1980s and '90s.

Singh died Sunday at her father's Fort Lauderdale home. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to send a team of investigators to the home for "an inquiry," the newspaper reported, without providing details.

Last December, a Washington state cow born in Canada tested positive for mad cow, becoming the first animal so diagnosed in the United States. The U.S. government does not require that all cattle destined for the food supply be tested, the newspaper noted.

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