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Health Highlights: Nov. 24, 2004

Depression Treatment Boosts Employee Productivity Cow Tests Negative for Mad Cow Disease Marijuana Use Doubled in Canada Over Last Decade CDC Says It Overstated Obesity Death Rate Girl Survives Rabies With Experimental Treatment New Multiple Sclerosis Drug Wins Approval

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

Depression Treatment Boosts Employee Productivity

High-quality care for depression can reduce employee sick days and boost their productivity, says a study in the journal Medical Care.

The study focused on a two-year treatment program for 326 depressed employees conducted at 12 primary care practices across the United States. The program improved the employees' productivity at work by 6 percent and reduced absenteeism by 22 percent.

The productivity increase was estimated at $1,491 a year for each depressed, full-time worker, while the estimated savings in reduced absenteeism was $539.

The workers in this study received either standard or enhanced depression treatment. Both groups received treatment from specially trained doctors who encouraged the patients to consider antidepressant drugs, counseling, or both.

Those in the enhanced treatment group also received regular contact from a care manager who talked with the patients about their symptoms, provided extra information about depression treatment, encouraged them to stick with their treatments, and adjusted the treatments if necessary.

Consistently employed workers showed the most benefit from the enhanced therapy.

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Cow Tests Negative for Mad Cow Disease

A U.S. cow suspected of having mad cow disease has tested negative, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Two separate chemical tests at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, detected no indication of the brain-wasting disease in the cow, the Associated Press reported.

The results end a five-day scare that shook up cattle markets and left some consumers wondering about the safety of the beef they eat.

Only one case of mad cow disease -- a dairy cow in Washington state that tested positive last December -- has been confirmed in the United States. Two suspected cases last June were found to be negative.

Few details were released about the animal that was the subject of this most recent mad cow alarm.

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Marijuana Use Doubled in Canada Over Last Decade

It seems that Canadians are going to pot.

Marijuana use in Canada doubled over the last decade, according to the newly released Canadian Addiction Survey. It found that 14 percent of respondents used marijuana in the last year, compared to 7.4 percent in 1994, the Canadian Press reported.

The survey found that 45 percent of respondents of all ages said they'd used pot at least once in their life. That increased to 70 percent among respondents aged 18 to 24.

Men were more likely than women to have used marijuana, and younger Canadians had a higher rate of pot use than older people. The survey also found that 52 percent of respondents with a postsecondary education used pot, compared to 35 percent of high school dropouts.

Higher income was also linked to higher marijuana use.

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CDC Says It Overstated Obesity Death Rate

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now admits it erred in its widely publicized estimate that 400,000 Americans die each year from obesity. The same report, published last March in the Journal of the American Medical Association, predicted that overeating would soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

The CDC said it is working on a correction to the miscalculation, first reported Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper said the agency may have misstated the death figure by as many as 80,000.

The agency originally put the number of obesity deaths at 400,000, vs. 435,000 from tobacco. Tobacco opponents, fearful that the dangers of smoking would become overshadowed, had long attacked the 400,000 number as being inflated, according to The New York Times. The CDC said it has asked the Institute of Medicine to advise it on how best to re-calculate the health effects of obesity, the Times said.

CDC chief scientist Dr. Dixie Snider said that even though the original statistics may have been miscalculated, obesity is still a major problem that should not be dismissed. "The underlying message does not change," she told the Times. "Tobacco and obesity are the two biggest killers."

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Girl Survives Rabies With Experimental Treatment

A 15-year-old Wisconsin girl is the first known person to survive rabies without being vaccinated, the Associated Press reported.

Doctors at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin gambled on an experimental treatment for Jeanna Giese to ward off the normally fatal viral infection, the wire service said. The therapy included two anesthetics and two antiviral medications, none of which doctors were willing to name until the therapy is verified in another patient and the results are published in a medical journal, the AP said.

The teen from Fond du Lac was bitten by a rabid bat while at church in September. She did not seek treatment until about a month later, when she began showing symptoms, the wire service reported. Rabies attacks the brain and nervous system, and had been considered virtually untreatable with the appearance of symptoms, which include fever, headache, anxiety and loss of consciousness.

Only five people worldwide are known to have survived rabies after the onset of symptoms, according to a rabies expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But they had received the standard series of rabies vaccine shots before symptoms emerged, the AP reported.

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New Multiple Sclerosis Drug Wins Approval

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Tysabri (natalizumab) as a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. The incurable nervous system disease affects about 350,000 Americans.

The drug, known as a humanized monoclonal antibody, appears to work by preventing immune cells from migrating from the bloodstream to the brain, where they cause inflammation and lead to nerve fiber damage, its two manufacturers said in a statement. The medication is produced by Massachusetts-based Biogen Idec Inc. and the Irish drugmaker Elan Corp.

During two sets of clinical trials involving more than 2,000 people, the drug was called Antegren, the but its name was changed to Tysabri. When combined with another drug Avonex, the relapse frequency among MS patients was reduced by 54 percent, compared to those who took a nonmedicinal placebo, the drugmakers said.

People who have MS are often left tired and numb with poor coordination and sometimes blurred vision. Common side effects from the medication included pneumonia, rash, fever, low blood pressure, and chest pain.

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