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Health Highlights: June 6, 2005

Supreme Court Rules Against Medical Marijuana Revaccinating Children Against Whooping Cough Preferred: Study Minutes of Intense Exercise May Keep You Fit U.S. Medical Schools Embrace Alternative Medicine Experimental Vaccine Stops Ebola, Marburg Viruses

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

Supreme Court Rules Against Medical Marijuana

State laws allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes don't protect people from the federal ban on the drug's use, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The 6-3 decision means federal authorities can prosecute people with cancer and other chronic diseases who might benefit from marijuana's use, the court said.

The Bush administration had appealed a 2003 decision in the case of a California woman who suffers from a number of chronic illnesses, including scoliosis, a brain tumor, and chronic nausea, the Associated Press reported.

California's medical marijuana law, passed by voters in 1996, allows residents to grow or obtain marijuana for medical use with a doctor's prescription. Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington state have similar laws on the books, the wire service said.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said Congress could change the federal law to permit medical use of marijuana. In a dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said states should be allowed to set their own rules. The case represented a dilemma for the court's conservative justices, who in recent years have pushed for broadening states' rights, the AP said.


Revaccinating Children Against Whooping Cough Preferred: Study

Despite the pending arrival of a whooping cough vaccine for adults, it would be more cost-effective to give the booster shot only to 11-year-old children, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said the booster is necessary even for children who have been vaccinated for whooping cough, since the old vaccine would likely be ineffective by the time they turn 11. Doing so would prevent tens of thousands of cases of the disease, medically known as pertussis, the agency said.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of GlaxoSmithKline's Boostrix vaccine for children ages 10 to 18. And in a separate announcement last week, the maker of an experimental combination inoculation against whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria reported successful clinical testing.

Routine administration of the whooping cough shot to adults, the CDC researchers said, wouldn't be cost-effective because adults rarely contract whooping cough. Reported cases jumped to 18,957 last year from about 11,000 in 2003, the Associated Press reported, citing CDC statistics.

The study of the vaccine's cost-effectiveness was published Monday in the June edition of the journal Pediatrics.


Minutes of Intense Exercise May Keep You Fit

You may need only a few minutes of intense exercise a week -- not a couple of hours -- to stay in shape, says a Canadian study in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

In the study of 23 fit and active people, researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, concluded that six minutes of intense exercise a week can provide the same benefits as six hours of moderate exercise, BBC News reported.

The study found that short sessions of high-intensity exercise improved muscle capacity and endurance.

The study volunteers were divided into groups that did different three-times-a-week training programs. One group cycled for two hours a day at a moderate pace while another group cycled for 10 minutes a day in 60-second spurts at a slightly harder pace.

A third group did sprint training. They cycled at top speed for two minutes in 30 second spurts, resting for four minutes between each sprint.

At the start of the study, the volunteers did an 18.6 mile bicycle ride, which they repeated at the end of two weeks of training. All three groups showed the same level of improvement on the second ride, BBC News reported.

This kind of high-intensity exercise may only be safe for people who are already fit, fitness experts warned.


U.S. Medical Schools Embrace Alternative Medicine

The University of Pennsylvania's medical school is the latest in a growing number of U.S. medical schools that include alternative medicine such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, and massage therapy in their curriculums.

Penn doctors are teaming with experts at the Tai Sophia Institute alternative medicine school in Maryland to design a program to teach medical students about alternative medicine. The program will start at Penn medical school in August, the Associated Press reported.

"More and more there's a willingness by conventional schools to recognize the CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) schools as having this expertise. And there's a recognition by the CAM disciplines that linking with conventional academic centers to foster research is a good thing," Aviad Haramati, a professor at Georgetown University's medical school, told the AP.

A 2002 U.S government survey found that more than a third of American adults have tried alternative therapies. Traditional medical schools are responding to the public popularity of alternative medicine. Currently, more than 95 of the 125 medical schools in the United States require students to do some kind of CAM coursework, says the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"We're not going to turn great surgeons into acupuncturists or herbalists; that's not the idea. The goal is that Penn medical school graduates will be highly able to speak with patients about how to guide these things into their overall care," Robert Duggan, co-founder of Tai Sophia, told the AP.


Experimental Vaccine Stops Ebola, Marburg Viruses

An experimental type of vaccine to prevent the deadly Marburg and Ebola viruses has successfully worked in monkeys, scientists reported Sunday.

Two new vaccines, one for Marburg and one for Ebola, were 100 percent effective in a study of 12 macaques, according to results published in the journal Nature Medicine. Monkeys given just one shot of vaccine and later injected with a high dose of virus did not even get sick, The New York Times reported.

The two viruses cause hemorrhagic fevers that can be fatal within a week for both people and monkeys, and there has been no treatment for either. Death rates in people can sometimes exceed 90 percent.

Angola, where a Marburg epidemic was first detected in March, is still struggling to contain the disease, which has killed 340 of 408 victims. The virus is spread by contact with blood, saliva, vomit or other fluids from sick patients.

The two new vaccines will not be ready even to be tested in people for at least two years, the Times reported. If human trials are successful, products might be ready for licensing five or six years from now, researchers said.

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