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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 7, 2002

Serotonin Boosters May Bring on Stroke Blood Supplies Shrink Again Feds Seek Spurt in Use of New Growth Charts Hepatitis B Shots Recommended for All Newborns Vitamin A Helps Diseased Kids' Growth And Now, the 'Odor Bomb'

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

Serotonin Boosters May Bring on Stroke

Taking prescription drugs that target the neurotransmitter serotonin – including certain antidepressants, migraine therapies and diet pills – could trigger stroke by narrowing blood vessels in the brain, says a new study, according to HealthDay.

Boston researchers report that combinations of certain drugs that enhance serotonin may lead to a rare condition known as Call-Fleming syndrome. Patients with the syndrome suffer from sudden, excruciating headache, seizures and stroke.

The findings could lead to changes in how patients with sudden-onset, severe headaches are treated, say the researchers, since current therapies often involve giving patients drugs that enhance serotonin, a hormone that both transmits signals between neurons and causes narrowing of blood vessels.

The findings appear in the Jan. 8 issue of the journal Neurology.


Blood Supplies Shrink Again

Despite massive blood donations in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the nation's blood supply has dwindled to pre-attack levels, and some places are reporting near-shortages.

Supplies of O-negative -- the only type of blood everyone can use -- are in especially short supply.

"We're back to begging for volunteer blood donors," says Joyce Halvorsen of the Community Blood Bank in Lincoln, Neb.

Adds Jim McPherson of America's Blood Centers, which supplies about half the nation's blood, "We're seeing a trickle" of Sept. 11 donors return. "It's a little disheartening."

Supplies of blood traditionally drop in winter, as regular donors often get sidetracked by snowstorms, flu and the holidays, the Associated Press reports.


Feds Seek Spurt in Use of New Growth Charts

More than a year after new growth charts for children were introduced in the United States, federal officials are stepping up efforts to convince pediatricians to throw out the inaccurate old ones, HealthDay reported yesterday.

The old growth charts were designed in 1977, and were based on mostly white children from the Midwest who were studied between 1929 and 1975. But researchers didn't take into account the country's ethnic diversity, and most of the children studied were bottle-fed, not breast-fed.

The new charts, released in 2000, reflect the fact that children have different ethnic and economic backgrounds.

Concerns that some doctors have not yet switched to the new charts have prompted the government to publish the charts in January issue of the journal Pediatrics, along with an explanation about how they have changed from the 1977 versions.


Hepatitis B Shots Recommended for All Newborns

Health officials are calling for all U.S. newborns to receive vaccinations against hepatitis B prior to leaving the hospital, the Associated Press reports.

The shots were previously only recommended for newborns who were known to be infected with the disease or whose health status was unknown.

The change was prompted by concerns that vaccinations may not be given to some infants whose mothers were initially thought to be disease-free, but who may, in fact, be carrying the disease.

The recommendation was made in the child immunization schedule for 2002, prepared jointly by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.


Vitamin A Aids Diseased Kids' Growth

Vitamin A supplements may help to increase growth among diseased children in impoverished countries, according to a report in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Delayed growth and vitamin A deficiency are major problems in developing countries that plagued with such diseases as HIV, malaria and persistent diarrhea.

Within four months of providing daily high doses of vitamin A supplements to 554 Tanzanian children, who were between 6 months and 5 years old, researchers found there were large height increases among HIV-infected infants, reports the Associated Press.

In addition, children on the supplements gained an average of one pound more than those taking placebos, and the risk of stunted growth associated with long periods of persistent diarrhea was virtually eliminated with use of the supplements.


And Now, the 'Odor Bomb'

While crowds dispersed with tear gas are sent running while rubbing their eyes, a new method being developed by the U.S. military would leave many holding their noses.

The Associated Press reports that the Pentagon has asked researchers to experiment with the worst smells imaginable in developing an "odor bomb" so foul that it would send crowds running for relief.

Fifty researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia are investigating odors that all cultures identify as offensive, such as garbage, rotting animal flesh and human waste.

The research on the project was reported in today's issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

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