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Health Highlights: May 27, 2004

Surgeon General Links More Diseases to Smoking More Fish, Less Refined Grains Seen in New Food Guidelines Milwaukee Trying to Control Whooping Cough Outbreak California Lawmakers OK Web Link to Canada Drugs Atkins Dieter Sues Founder's Estate New Drug Approved for Travelers' Diarrhea

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

Surgeon General Links More Diseases to Smoking

A long list of diseases -- including acute myeloid leukemia and cancers of the kidney, cervix, stomach and pancreas -- have been added to the catalog of serious health problems caused by smoking.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm, pneumonia, periodontitis and cataracts are also among the diseases now linked to smoking, said a report released Thursday by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

Current evidence doesn't offer conclusive proof that liver cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer or erectile dysfunction is caused by smoking, the report also said, adding that smoking may not cause breast cancer in women overall. But smoking may increase the risk of developing breast cancer, depending on a woman's genetics.

Carmona also reported that the number of people who smoke has dropped from about 42 percent in 1965 to about 22 percent in 2002, the last year for which such data is available, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, new government statistics also released Thursday showed that while smoking has declined, the rate is not sufficient to achieve a 2010 national health objective of cutting smoking prevalence in adults to 12 percent.

The report, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, covered the 1983-2002 period and found that men smoked more than women, young folks smoked more than old folks, and smoking prevalence was higher for those below the poverty line and those without a college degree.

On the plus side, however, the CDC data showed that, in 2002, an estimated 46 million adults were former smokers, representing, for the first time, more than 50 percent of adults who had ever smoked. The data were published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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More Fish and Fiber, Less Refined Grains for New Food Pyramid

Americans will be advised to eat more fish and fiber and less refined grains, like white bread, as part of a revised food pyramid being developed by the federal government.

That decision was made Thursday by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which was told by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to shift the emphasis of the guidelines from maintaining a healthy weight to shedding weight the Associated Press reported.

The committee also decided to recommend that people watch less television and get more exercise.

In the area of fish consumption, the committee suggested the recommended amount of fish, such as salmon, with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids be doubled to two servings (6-8 ounces each) per week, the AP said.

The secretaries of Health and Human Services and Agriculture have to approve the new recommendations before they become final.

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Milwaukee Trying to Control Whooping Cough Outbreak

Health officials in Milwaukee have told people with suspected symptoms of whooping cough to seek treatment and stay at home until they're no longer contagious.

The request is an attempt to control a whooping cough outbreak. There have been 27 cases reported in Milwaukee, seven of them since last Friday. There were only 15 cases of whooping cough (pertusis) in the city last year.

Geoff Swain, the city's associate medical director, told the Associated Press that many adults with whooping cough experience mild symptoms and may not even know they have it.

Whooping cough is spread when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. Initial symptoms resemble those of the common cold. But people with whooping cough develop uncontrollable coughing fits.

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California Lawmakers OK Web Link to Canada Drugs

California lawmakers have approved creation of a Web site that makes it easier for state residents to buy less expensive prescription drugs imported from Canada, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Despite well-publicized claims from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that the drugs could be impure, counterfeit or improperly labeled, the bills would establish an Internet forum with links to pharmacies selling prescription drugs approved by Canadian health authorities, the newspaper said. In addition, the site would warn visitors about foreign pharmacies that have sold counterfeit drugs or are believed to have otherwise defrauded consumers.

Lawmakers from the state Senate and state Assembly must reconcile differing versions of the legislation before its expected delivery to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk. It's unclear whether he plans to sign the measure, the Times reported.

Proponents of the legislation have said California could save $23 million a year alone just by purchasing five popular mental health drugs that are widely used in prisons and other state institutions. Critics of the idea say the state is basically sanctioning the violation of existing federal law, the newspaper said.

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Atkins Dieter Sues Founder's Estate

A Florida man is believed to be the first person to sue the estate of the late diet guru Dr. Robert Atkins, claiming the diet plan caused a series of cardiac problems, The New York Times reported.

Jody Gorran, 53, from Delray Beach, Fla., claims the diet boosted his blood cholesterol to unhealthy levels and caused his arteries to become clogged, requiring a medical procedure to open them, according to the newspaper account.

The suit challenges Atkins' assertions that followers could lose weight by eating atypically large amounts of meat and saturated fat, as long as they cut down on carbohydrates.

Gorran seeks $28,000 in damages from the estate and the company that still promotes the diet, Atkins Nutritionals. The suit claims the man's cholesterol was 146 before he began the diet, but within two months it shot up to 230, which is considered in the hazardous range. In October, after he had several bouts with chest pain, doctors found 99 percent blockage in a major artery, the suit contends. Before starting the diet, it said, tests indicated his arteries were clear.

Atkins Nutritionals issued a statement saying the company and Dr. Atkins' estate were standing by "the science that has repeatedly reaffirmed the safety and health benefits of Atkins," the newspaper reported.

The Times noted that Gorran was being assisted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an advocacy group that supports a vegan dieting plan.

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New Drug Approved for Travelers' Diarrhea

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug to treat a common menace that ruins up to 40 percent of overseas vacations -- travelers' diarrhea.

Salix Pharmaceuticals' Xifaxan (rifaximin) was developed by Dr. Herbert DuPont, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health. He has no financial connection to the company, according to the Associated Press.

DuPont said the drug is unique in that it remains in the gastrointestinal tract, compared with powerful antibiotics like Cipro that disperse throughout the body. This means the drug is less likely to breed resistant bacteria, the drug's creator added.

He said his antibiotic proved 85 percent effective in protecting U.S. students who participated in a two-week study trip to Mexico.

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