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Health Highlights: Sept. 10, 2004

Nightclub Lasers Can Harm Eyes Black Organ Donations Lag Behind Need Town-Gown Program Cuts High-Risk Drinking Congressman Alleges FDA Withheld Antidepressant Drug Data No Link Between Childhood Vaccines and Autism: Study Clinton Up and Walking After Heart Surgery

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

Nightclub Lasers Can Harm Eyes

Nightclub lasers may be a vision hazard, according to the United Kingdom's National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB).

The board said that laser beams are strong enough to cause serious injuries, but often come with inadequate safety information and are used by people with no laser safety experience, BBC News Online reported.

Laser equipment is now affordable enough for smaller clubs and discos to be able to install them, the NRPB noted.

The kinds of lasers used in clubs and other entertainment venues are Class 3B or Class 4, which are powerful enough to damage dancers' sight when projected straight at their faces.

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Black Organ Donations Lag Behind Need

The number of black organ donations in the United States isn't keeping up with the need, medical specialists say.

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, black patients account for 27 percent of the waiting list for organ transplants, but black donors make up only 12 percent of donors.

That means that blacks who need a kidney have to wait an average of 18 months longer for a transplant than whites, the Associated Press reported. The kidney's sensitivity to genetic factors means that black donors are preferable for blacks who need a kidney.

Experts say the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study is at least partly to blame for the low numbers of black organ donors. That study contributed to black people's distrust of doctors.

The Tuskegee study started in the early 1930s and continued until 1972, when it was exposed by the AP. Hundreds of poor black men with syphilis were left untreated in order to see what would happen to them.

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Town-Gown Program Cuts High-Risk Drinking

A program to reduce high-risk drinking by college students resulted in a reduction in drinking rates and alcohol-related harms at five U.S. colleges that fully implemented the program, says a Harvard School of Public Health study released Friday.

The program is called "A Matter of Degree: The National Effort to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among Students (AMOD)." It's meant to encourage collaboration between universities and surrounding communities to change environments around campuses that promote heavy drinking.

This includes: promotion of alcohol-free activities; expansion of substance-free residence halls; not selling alcohol-related items in student bookstores; prohibiting the sale of alcohol without a license; and requiring registration for people who purchase kegs of beer.

Ten colleges that took part in AMOD were monitored from 1997 to 2001 in order to evaluate the program's success.

The five colleges that fully implemented AMOD had declines of between 5 and 11 percent in rates of student binge drinking. They also had an 18 percent reduction in alcohol-related problems experienced by students, such as missing classes, getting injured, or getting in trouble with police.

These reductions did not occur at colleges that implemented only a few of the AMOD policies, the study found.

The research appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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Congressman Alleges FDA Withheld Antidepressant Drug Data

A Republican congressman accused drugmakers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration during Thursday hearings of withholding data that suggested a link between certain antidepressants and suicidal tendencies among children.

Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, held a copy of an e-mail from an FDA official that Barton said instructed others within the agency not to release the documents, The New York Times reported Friday.

He said the agency's actions left him "wondering whether this is sheer ineptitude or something far worse," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

An FDA spokesman denied the charges, saying the agency had provided the congressional panel with thousands of pages of information requested by the lawmakers.

Later, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) read an internal GlaxoSmithKline memo that purportedly touted the results of a study of the drug Paxil as showing a "remarkable" ability to treat depressed children and teens. In fact, the study had failed to prove the drug's effectiveness, the newspaper reported.

The panel was meeting to investigate allegations that seven of the nation's largest drugmakers had suppressed data indicating that young users of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) had a tendency to become suicidal. In 2002, the newspaper reported, doctors wrote 11 million SSRI prescriptions for young users. Only one drug in this class, Prozac, is FDA-approved for pediatric use, although doctors are legally able to prescribe similar drugs for children that are approved for adults.

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No Link Between Childhood Vaccines and Autism: Study

A new Canadian study adds weight to recent findings that there's no link between the childhood vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and the mysterious neurological condition autism.

Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the McGill University Health Center said they studied 5,000 computerized records, finding that children who received the MMR vaccine were at no greater risk of developing autism that children who hadn't been given the shot. In a statement, the researchers said they also compared their findings with three previous studies that came to the same conclusion.

Autism, among a class of conditions known as pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), is characterized by destructive repetitive behaviors and abnormal development of language, communications and social skills.

Results of the McGill study appear in the Sept. 11 edition of The Lancet medical journal.

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Clinton Up and Walking After Heart Surgery

Former President Bill Clinton was up and walking the halls of New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Thursday, just three days after undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery, his office said in a statement.

"He's in good spirits and has been able to take short walks in the hallway outside his room," CNN quoted from the statement.

The 58-year-old former chief executive was moved into a private room from intensive care on Wednesday. He's expected to recuperate at the Manhattan hospital for several more days, CNN said.

Clinton was admitted to the hospital last Friday after complaining of mild chest pain and shortness of breath. Doctors said Clinton had several risk factors for coronary trouble and probably avoided a major heart attack.

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