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Today's Health Highlights

FDA Approves New Female Contraceptive Outbreaks of Resistant E. coli Strain Prompt Concern First Gene Linked to Language Discovered

(THURSDAY, Oct. 4) -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of The HealthDay Service:

FDA Approves Contraceptive Ring

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first hormone-releasing contraceptive implant, HealthDay reports.

NuvaRing, sold by Organon, Inc., effectively blocks conception between 98 percent and 99 percent of the time -- meaning that for every 100 women who use it for a year, only one or two will become pregnant, the FDA says. That rate is similar to both the birth control pill and the yet-unapproved contraceptive patch, which releases a steady stream of estrogen and progestin that offers a week of pregnancy protection.

The new prescription device is a circle of soft, flexible polymer measuring 2.1 inches across. It releases a steady stream of the hormones etonogestrel and ethinyl estradiol, molecules like those found in oral contraceptives.

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Outbreaks of Resistant E. coli Strain Prompt Concern

A new strain of an antibiotic-resistant bacterium that causes urinary tract infections in women has suddenly appeared in widely separated communities in the United States, raising the possibility of broad contamination of food, a HealthDay story says.

The Escherichia coli strain has been isolated in women with urinary tract infections in California, Michigan and Minnesota, researchers report in the latest issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. The strain is resistant to the trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole drug combination commonly used to treat E. coli infections, the researchers say.

The emergence of the new strain in three different geographic areas points toward "one or more contaminated products ingested by community residents," the journal report says. Contaminated foods have been responsible for community-wide outbreaks of intestinal infections caused by a different strain of E. coli that is designated 0157:H7, the report says.

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First Gene Linked to Language Discovered

British scientists say they have identified the first gene that can be definitively linked to language, offering a glimpse into the genetic basis for the human ability to communicate through speech, according to HealthDay.

Neurogeneticists at the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford also say they've identified a mutation on that gene that appears to be responsible for a speech and language disorder called developmental apraxia of speech.

Infants with the disorder may not make cooing or babbling sounds. They leave sounds out of words, mispronounce vowels and may have problems performing oral movements on command, such as puffing out their cheeks.

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New Drug for Crohn's OK'd

Crohn's disease sufferers have a new treatment option to reduce the intestinal inflammation that causes much of the disorder's discomfort, the Associated Press reports.

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved Entocort EC. The agency says the drug, which comes in capsule form, should produce fewer side effects than other steroids, such as prednisone, that are used to treat Crohn's.

Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammation of the bowel. It afflicts more than 500,000 Americans, most under 30 years old. Symptoms include severe and persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, fatigue and weight loss. Many sufferers eventually require surgery to repair the problem, the story says.

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Scientists Map Genome of the Plague

Scientists say they've mapped the genetic sequence of the organism responsible for the waves of bubonic plague that killed 200 million people during three pandemics in the last 2,000 years, a HealthDay story says.

Knowing the genetic makeup of the bacterium Yersinia pestis could help researchers develop antibiotics, vaccines or other defenses against the plague, experts say. A report on the findings appears in the Oct. 4 issue of Nature.

Plague is considered one of the likelier bioterrorism weapons, and with good reason: It has been used before. In the low-tech 14th century, Mongol invaders sparked a massive European outbreak of the disease by catapulting pestilent corpses over the city wall of Caffa, a trading town in the Crimea.

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Is Teaching a Risky Business?

Kids are germ factories. Just ask any parent. But do teachers pay a very high price for their long-term exposure to children and their germs -- maybe an increased risk of serious immune system diseases like multiple sclerosis and lupus?

A new study suggests they might, lending weight to the theory that if someone is genetically susceptible to a certain disease, environment could trigger its onset, the Associated Press reports.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut reviewed 11 years of death certificates. Their findings: The number of deaths from some autoimmune diseases among kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers was more than double the rate for people in other professions.

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