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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 5, 2002

Elevated Mercury Levels Found in WTC Workers French Doctors Strike for Pay Increases 'World's Oldest Man' Dies Younger Female Smokers More Likely to Try Quitting 'Posthumous Twins' Awarded Heredity Rights Head Shape Can Affect Snoring Ancient Chinese Medicine Reduces Asthma Cells

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

Elevated Mercury Levels Found in WTC Workers

Concerns about the safety of work conditions at the World Trade Center site in New York City have been raised again when four police officers working at the site were found to have elevated levels of mercury in their blood yesterday.

The four police officers were in good health and showed no signs of mercury poisoning, but have been reassigned as a precaution, say officials.

Health officials report that an acceptable mercury level is 0 to 13 micrograms per liter of blood. Of the four officers, two had 14 micrograms per liter, one had 18 and another 24, says Allen Morrison, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Air and water samples taken earlier at the site showed no detectable levels of mercury. But increased levels of heavy metals, including mercury, were found in preliminary tests at a building across from the site, which had housed the Legal Aid Society prior to the Sept. 11 attack.

The concern about toxins at the site prompted the Port Authority to begin testing workers in November. Of the 58 tests conducted, 49 results came back and four were found to be were elevated, says Morrison.

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French Doctors Strike for Pay Increases

A nationwide strike by French doctors resumed today and is expected to last until Monday in an ongoing dispute over state-mandated caps on fees that patients can be charged, reports the Associated Press.

The nation's 55,000 general practitioners have held a series of work stoppages in recent weeks as they demand pay increases from the government.

The UNOF, the largest union representing France's general practitioners, and other unions are calling for a 14-percent increase in the office fees the government allows public-sector doctors to charge, and a 46-percent increase in home visit fees.

Some doctors were reportedly already defying the price caps that were set by state health insurance agency CNAM.

The strikes have prompted the French government to requisition 5,000 doctors to provide back-up medical services. It is reportedly the first time the government has had to take such action since World War II.

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'World's Oldest Man' Dies

An Italian shepherd listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest man has died.

Antonio Todde was just weeks short of his 113th birthday when he died in his sleepyesterday in Tiana, Sardinia, the Associated Press reported. Todde reportedly told his daughter he wasn't feeling well the day before and refused food. His heart just gave up, said his nephew.

Todde was born Jan. 22, 1889, and spent his life working as a shepherd in Sardinia. He reportedly left the Italian island just once in his life, to serve with the military during World War I. He earned the title of oldest living man in December 2000, when the previous holder of the distinction, American Benjamin Harrison Holcomb, died in Carnegie, Okla., at the age of 111.

The Guinness' web site reports that on his 112th birthday, Todde revealed the secret of his longevity: "Just love your brother and drink a good glass of red wine every day," he said. "You take one day after the other; you just go on."

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Younger Female Smokers More Likely to Try Quitting

If you're a young female smoker, you better try kicking the habit now, because you might not feel like it later.

According to a new Swiss study, reported in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health, females who smoke are more likely to try kicking the habit when they're young and kicking, than when they hit older years.

The study of more than 3,600 women between the ages of 35 and 74 found that the younger women reported more attempts at quitting than did the older women. Those who had started smoking before the age of 25 were more likely to try to quit, compared with women who picked up the habit later on.

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'Posthumous Twins' Awarded Heredity Rights

Michayla and Mackenzie Woodward are definitely their father's children, even though they were born about two years after he died.

HealthDay reported that a Boston court ruled that the Massachusetts twins, who were conceived through artificial insemination using their father's frozen sperm 16 months after he died from leukemia, are his legal heirs. The lawsuit was brought by their mother, who had applied for -- and been denied -- Social Security benefits as the result of the twins' father's death.

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Head Shape Can Affect Snoring

If you've got a round head, you may be at greater risk of becoming a chronic snorer and developing sleep apnea than someone with a thinner face.

New research reported by the Associated Press compared the head shapes of 60 snorers and 60 people with no history of snoring. The subjects were given "craniofacial risk indexes" based on X-rays measuring distances from teeth to esophagus, nose to nasal passage and cheek to jaw. Using the index, researchers were able to predict which subjects suffered from sleep apnea problems in three out of four cases.

"As the head gets relatively wider, the airway becomes relatively narrower from front to back," said Dr. Mark Hans, chairman of orthodontics at Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry.

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Ancient Chinese Medicine Reduces Asthma Cells

An ancient Chinese medicine is receiving attention in the Western medical community with a new study showing just how it works, according to wire reports.

In the study, published in the December issue of Allergy, researchers found that the traditional medicine xiao-qing-long-tan (XQLT) appears to work by relaxing the bronchial tubes and preventing cells that trigger inflammation from accumulating in the airways.

Experiments on guinea pigs showed that, when given once daily, the medicine reduced the build-up of the cells for up to 72 hours after exposure to an allergic trigger.

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