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Health Highlights: May 25, 2004

Drinking in Movies Influences Teens Mold in Buildings Needs to Be Controlled: Panel Artificial Food Coloring Linked to Kids' Hyperactivity Some Women May Benefit From Early Bone Drug Use Pregnant Woman's Asthma Worse If She's Carrying Girl: Study Russian Lab Worker Infects Self With Fatal Ebola Virus

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

Movie Drinking Influences Teens

Watching too many movies that show people drinking may increase the odds that junior high schools students will experiment with alcohol, say Dartmouth Medical School researchers.

They found that junior high school students in New Hampshire and Vermont who viewed numerous movie scenes featuring alcohol use were more than three times as likely to try alcohol than peers who saw few such scenes, the Associated Press reports.

The study is the first to focus on the effect that drinking in movies has on teens. It was presented at a symposium on substance abuse. Previous research examining the effects of alcohol advertising on teens has produced conflicting findings.

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Mold in Buildings Needs to be Controlled: Panel

More action, including changes in building design, construction and maintenance, is needed in order to reduce mold-spawning moisture in buildings, says an Institute of Medicine study released Tuesday.

Mold in buildings has been blamed for respiratory problems such as asthma. It may also cause other health problems.

"In short, excessive building dampness is not your friend. It's associated with a lot of things that could give rise to problems," Noreen Clark, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, told the Associated Press.

Clark led the scientific panel that examined the health effects of mold and wrote the study.

"Even though the available evidence does not link mold or other factors associated with building moisture to all serious health problems that some attribute to them, excessive indoor dampness is a widespread problem that warrants action at the local, state and national level," Clark told the AP.

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Artificial Food Coloring Linked to Kids' Hyperactivity

Removing artificial food coloring from foods may help reduce rates of hyperactivity in young children, according to a British study just released in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The researchers even suggest that artificial food colorings be banned in the interest of public health, BBC News Online reports.

The Southampton University study included 300 three-year-old children. They were assessed for hyperactivity and allergies while on normal or additive-free diets. Many parents noted that their children were less hyperactive when they ate foods free of artificial colorings or preservatives.

Later this year, the researchers will begin a longer-term study with about 900 children ages three to nine.

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Some Women May Benefit From Early Bone Drug Use

Some women in danger of breaking bones long before they develop osteoporosis may benefit from taking bone-building drugs earlier than is now recommended, authors of a new study concluded.

The study was funded by the makers of the osteoporosis drug Fosamax, Merck & Co., although independent reviewers said the data appeared sound, the Associated Press reported. The research involved more than 149,000 women with an average age of 65.

Of the 2,559 women who broke bones within a year of having an initial bone density scan, 82 percent of those scans revealed a trend toward thinning bones, but not full-blown osteoporosis, the wire service reported.

The study was led by Dr. Ethel Siris at New York City's Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. She and the other authors, reporting in the current edition of Archives of Internal Medicine, said doctors should consider lowering the threshold for certain osteoporosis drugs, especially for women who have certain risk factors for bone fractures, the AP reported.

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Pregnant Woman's Asthma Worse if She's Carrying Girl: Study

Asthmatic pregnant women are more likely to have more serious flare-ups if they're carrying a girl, Australian researchers concluded from a new study.

While the exact reason isn't known, according to a statement from lead researcher Peter Gibson, M.D., it's thought the female fetus may respond to her mother's condition by producing a substance that somehow makes the maternal asthma worse.

Gibson, a professor at the Hunter Medical Research Institute in Newcastle, Australia, followed 151 pregnant women. He found that 60 percent who were pregnant with a male fetus were symptom free during pregnancy, while 28 percent to 61 percent of asthmatic women carrying a female child were symptom free at various stages of pregnancy.

The good news, Gibson's statement said, was that even those with worsening symptoms were able to contain their asthma, mostly using inhaled steroidal medications.

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Russian Lab Worker Infects Self With Fatal Ebola Virus

A Russian worker at a state-sponsored research lab in Siberia has died after accidentally infecting herself with the deadly ebola virus, according to an account in The New York Times.

The scientist, Antonina Presnyakova, accidentally stuck herself with a needle laced with the virus. She had been working at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (known as Vector), a converted biological weapons lab used by the former Soviet Union.

The accident occurred May 5, but was not announced by the lab until this week. Scientists and officials cited by the newspaper said the accident raised concerns about the lab's safety, secrecy and security.

Although the scientist had been isolated to prevent possible spread of the disease, there was no requirement that accidents involving ebola be reported, the newspaper said.

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