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Health Highlights: Oct. 6, 2003

SARS Affect on Children Appears Mild 2 Scientists Win Nobel for Developing MRI Researchers Report Male Contraceptive Breakthrough Needed: A 12-Step Program for Text Messaging Medicare Drug Bill Appears Stalled Canadian Drug Exporter Readies FDA Response

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

SARS Affect on Children Appears Mild

New SARS data suggest infected pregnant women may be prone to premature childbirth but their babies may face a low risk of developing the disease.

A second study bolsters evidence that children with SARS are less severely affected than teens and adults.

The studies, which appear in the October issue of Pediatrics, are too small to be conclusive, but they provide fresh insight into how the contagious and deadly virus affects children, the Associated Press reports.

SARS, which can cause symptoms similar to flu or pneumonia, surfaced late last year in China and has infected more than 8,000 people worldwide, killing 774.

The childbirth study involved five babies born to SARS mothers in Hong Kong. Three were born several weeks' prematurely, likely because of their mothers' illness. Two of the mothers died of SARS, but none of the babies became infected.

The other study was done in Toronto, an especially hard-hit city. Researchers investigated symptoms in 25 children treated at hospital for suspected or probable SARS between March and June. They were age 2 on average. The disease eventually was ruled out in 10 of them. All had fevers, but respiratory symptoms and coughs weren't always present in the probable cases.


2 Scientists Win Nobel for Developing MRI

An American and a British scientist have won the 2003 Nobel Prize for medicine for their ground-breaking work on magnetic resonance imaging, the technique that reveals images of the body's inner organs.

Paul C. Lauterbur, from the Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at the University of Illinois in Urbana, and Sir Peter Mansfield, from the University of Nottingham, were named Monday by the Nobel Assembly in Stockholm for pioneering work done in the 1970s that laid the groundwork for making MRI a useful method, the Associated Press reports.

Lauterbur, 74, discovered the possibility of creating a two-dimensional picture by producing variations in a magnetic field. He did the work at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Mansfield, 69, showed how the signals the body emits during an MRI exam could be rapidly analyzed and transformed into an image, and he also showed how extremely fast imaging could be achievable. This became technically possible within medicine a decade later.

MRI has become a routine method for medical diagnosis and treatment. It is used to examine almost all organs without need for surgery, but is especially valuable for detailed examination of the brain and spinal cord. Worldwide, more than 60 million investigations with MRI are performed each year, the Nobel Assembly said.


Researchers Report Male Contraceptive Breakthrough

Australian scientists say they've completed the first successful human test of a male contraceptive.

The contraceptive is a combination of male and female hormones that stops sperm production when injected or contained in implants, CBS News reports.

The scientists tested the contraceptive on 55 men during a five-year period and found that when injected every three to four months, the treatment could prevent pregnancy for one year, CBS reports, citing the British newspaper the Guardian.

None of the men reported any side effects. And the couples said fertility was restored six to seven months after a patient stopped using the contraceptive -- a combination of progestin, a female hormone, and the male hormone testosterone.

Another British newspaper, The Daily Mail, says the contraceptive could be on the market in Britain in two or three years. It is not clear whether or when it might become available in the United States.


Needed: A 12-Step Program for Text Messaging

Add text messaging to the growing list of modern addictive behaviors.

A British rehabilitation clinic -- best known for treating wealthy and famous clients for alcohol and drug addiction -- says it's counseling more and more patients who can't stop sending text messages on their mobile phones, Australia's Melbourne Herald Sun reports.

Dr. Mark Collins of the Priory in London says some patients had spent up to seven hours a day sending text messages. One developed repetitive strain injury because he'd spent so much time messaging.


Medicare Drug Bill Appears Stalled

With only two weeks left to the Republican goal of offering up a compromised Medicare prescription drug bill, lawmakers are no closer to a final deal than when they began negotiating three months ago, Newsday reports.

Lawmakers involved say they are just beginning to tackle the more controversial and contentious issues, even as the Oct. 17 deadline looms and pressure mounts for Congress to act on Medicare drug coverage, which is expected to be a key campaign issue.

The House and the Senate bills both set aside $400 billion over 10 years and add the drug benefit to Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for the elderly and disabled. The bills boost payments to some Medicare health care providers and offer government help to seniors with high drug costs. Both allow private plans to offer drug coverage to Medicare recipients and offer subsidies to low-income seniors.

But the differences are stark: The House Republican measure relies more on the private sector to provide the drug benefit and eventually compete with Medicare. It also requires wealthier seniors to pay more out-of-pocket expenses before government aid kicks in. The Senate bill aims to preserve traditional Medicare and ensure there are several health plans available for seniors in more rural areas.

Last week, a select group of lawmakers met almost daily trying to iron out differences in House and Senate bills passed in June. Late last month, President Bush, who has promised to get a drug bill passed, met lawmakers at the White House and urged them to work out a compromise. And in recent weeks, top administration health officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, have joined in the talks.

"They're kind of stuck," said Leighton Ku, a senior health policy fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank. "The bottom line remains -- they have moved very slowly," he told Newsday.


Canadian Drug Exporter Readies FDA Response

A Canadian exporter says it is willing to change its prescription medicine delivery procedures and may stop selling some prescribed medications -- including diabetes drugs -- in the United States but vows not to stop serving the U.S. market.

CanaRX President G. Anthony Howard told the Associated Press that the company plans to respond Tuesday to a cease-and-desist letter from the FDA. He said he may curtail the use of his Detroit post office box and stop personally transporting drugs that need refrigeration -- such as insulin -- across the border from his Windsor, Ontario, offices.

"We are going to do as much as we can, but we're not going to stop shipping medications," he said.

FDA Associate Commissioner William Hubbard said that he'll have to see CanaRX's proposed changes before making a decision, but that rudimentary shifts in drug delivery may not be enough to correct the legal probl

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