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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 14, 2002

Head Injuries Linked to Depression Doctors Prescribe More Costly Drugs Gene Tied to Lactose Intolerance Ebola Medical Team To Return To Gabonese Town Some May Find Spooky Milk Campaign in Bad Taste Prozac Maker Loses Patent Fight

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

Head Injury Can Trigger Depression

Suffering a head injury as a young adult could leave you more vulnerable to bouts of minor and major depression in the years -- even decades -- that follow, says new research.

The study of World War II veterans found that the risk of depression stayed higher for half a century after the injury, and was highest in those who suffered the most severe head traumas, according to HealthDay.

One expert says the findings, which appear in the January issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, challenge existing ideas about how long depressive illness can persist after a head injury.

More than 1.2 million Americans suffer head injuries every year, 50,000 of which are fatal. It is estimated that 5.3 million Americans live with a head injury-related disability.

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Docs Prescribing More Expensive Drugs, Study Shows

The big-budget efforts of pharmaceutical companies to get doctors to prescribe their most-expensive drugs appear to be working -- to the detriment of patients' costs. The push may even be promoting antibiotic resistances, says a new study.

In looking at 1,478 cases of patients with urinary tract infections between 1989 and 1998, researchers from the University of Chicago and Stanford University found only 24 percent of the patients' prescriptions were written for antibiotics recommended by the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA), down from 48 percent a decade earlier, according to the Associated Press.

Instead, say the researchers, drugs being commonly prescribed are many times more expensive than the recommended medications.

One purpose of the IDSA antibiotic guidelines is to have just one class of antibiotics in widespread use. The researchers expressed concern that having doctors use several classes of antibiotics at the same time might cause infections to become resistant to all those classes of drugs.

The research appears in today's Archives of Internal Medicine.

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Gene Tied to Lactose Intolerance

Researchers say they've identified a genetic variant that causes lactose intolerance, a condition that turns dairy foods into a digestive disaster, reports HealthDay.

In the January issue of the journal Nature Genetics, an international team of researchers report that a DNA variant called C/T-13910 was common to lactose-intolerant people from many ethnic backgrounds.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to break down lactose, which is the main sugar in milk. In people who have this condition, the cells lining the small intestine don't make sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase-phlorizin hydrolase, which breaks down lactose and allows the body to metabolize it.

Previous studies of the gene for lactase-phlorizin hydrolase had never found a mutation associated directly with the gene.

In this new study, geneticists at the University of California at Los Angeles, working with colleagues in Finland, zeroed in on a DNA variant located just outside the gene.

The team collected blood samples from 236 lactose-intolerant men and women from a variety of national backgrounds and races. All of them carried the C/T-13910 variant.

If this variant proves to be conclusively linked to lactose intolerance, then the condition could be diagnosed with a DNA blood sample, say the researchers.

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Ebola Medical Team to Return to Gabonese Town

A team of international medical experts decided yesterday to return to a remote Gabonese town to help fight an outbreak of the Ebola virus, reports the Associated Press.

The team had been driven from the jungle town of Mekambo last week due to threats from local inhabitants who blamed the outsiders for various problems.

Among the villagers' complaints were claims they could no longer sell their bush meat and crops, their only sources of income. They were also resentful that those who have come in contact with Ebola victims were being confined to their villages for 21 days of medical observation to make sure they don't come down with the disease.

Since withdrawing from the region, the medical team has been unable to monitor the more than 200 people who are believed to have had contact with victims of the disease.

Ebola is one of the world's most deadly diseases. The recent outbreak has claimed 25 lives in the Central African nations of Gabon and neighboring Republic of Congo.

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Some May Find Spooky Milk Campaign in Bad Taste

An unusual new California milk campaign may leave some as white as a ghost.

The $2 million advertising campaign being launched today by the state's milk producers features a legendary Hispanic mournful ghost named "La Llorona," which means weeping woman, according to the Associated Press.

In Hispanic culture, La Llorona is known as the ghost who cries over the loss of her children, whom she drowned after being spurned by her husband.

The legend is warped significantly in the ads, which feature the shrouded ghost going to the refrigerator for milk, finding the carton empty and leaving weeping.

Some are questioning whether the milk campaign is in good taste. "My grandmother used to say 'La Llorona is coming to get you,''' Gabriela Lemus, director of policy for the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, told the news agency. "I don't know if I'd buy milk from someone who was trying to kill me."

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Prozac Maker Loses Patent Fight

The makers of Prozac were disappointed, but not depressed, today after reaching the end of a six-year legal fight to keep the patent.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider reinstating Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co.'s rights to the popular antidepressant, according to the Associated Press.

Company officials said they were disappointed but not surprised.

Generic versions of Prozac went on the market last year, shortly after a federal appeals court invalidated Lilly's patent, which would have protected the drug maker's monopoly until December 2003.

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