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Health Highlights: June 24, 2014

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

Organ Transplant Group Allows Better Access to Adult Lungs for Kids

Children in the United States who need lung transplants will be given more consideration for receiving lungs from adult donors under a new rule adopted Monday by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, a private nonprofit group that manages organ allocation across the nation.

The decision comes a year after a lawsuit involving an 11-year-old girl with end-stage cystic fibrosis who needed new lungs put the issue in the spotlight, the Associated Press reported.

In that case, a federal judge ordered the network to place Sarah Murnaghan on the adult lung transplant list. Her first transplant failed but the resident of Newtown Square, Penn. is now breathing on her own for the first time in three years.

Her family, including parents Francis and Janet Murnaghan, said the legal action was "the absolute last resort" after other appeals failed, the AP reported.

"We believed making lungs from donors 12 and older available to children under 12 who are good candidates to receive them was the right thing to do. We very much appreciate that the medical community (now) agrees with that," the family said in a statement.

"Any allocation policy must weigh the unique needs and circumstances of transplant candidates with the benefit a transplant can provide them," Dr. Stuart Sweet, secretary of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, said.

"This is a difficult balance for very young lung transplant candidates in particular," he noted. "The progression of their lung disease may be considerably different from other patients, even those just a few years older."

In the past year, a dozen children have asked to be added to the waiting list for adult donor lungs under a waiver, but most children are still matched with donor lungs from children, the network said.

A lung transplant does not cure cystic fibrosis but can extend a patient's life, the AP reported. The typical life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis is 37 years and it continues to increase with new medical advances.

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Herpes Viruses Around 'Since Before We Were Human:' Study

Two common herpes viruses infected our ancient ancestors and stayed with us as we evolved into modern humans, according to researchers.

"If you think of humans as Homo sapiens proper, then both viruses have been with us since before we were human," study lead author Joel Wertheim, a virologist at the University of California, San Diego, told The New York Times.

About two-thirds of people worldwide are infected with one of the two herpes simplex viruses, oral (HSV-1) or genital (HSV-2).

The researchers concluded that HSV-2 jumped from chimpanzees to our human ancestors about 1.6 million years ago, while HSV-1 began infecting hominids before they branched from the chimpanzee lineage six million years ago, The Times reported.

The findings may not improve herpes treatment, but could offer new insight into how viruses are introduced to humans, according to Wertheim.

"We know a lot about viruses that have jumped in recently, and it's useful to have a point of comparison," he told The Times.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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Fortified Cereals May Pose Threat to Children: Report

Fortified breakfast cereals may provide unhealthy amounts of certain nutrients to children, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group, a health research and advocacy organization.

The group said that "millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts" of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, and that fortified breakfast cereals are the main source of this high intake. The three nutrients are added to these cereals in amounts calculated for adults, USA Today reported.

The problem is made worse by outdated nutritional labeling rules and misleading marketing by cereal makers who tout high fortification levels to make their products appear more nutritious, the group said.

Only "a tiny, tiny percentage" of cereal packages have nutrition labels that list age-specific daily values, according to Renee Sharp, director of research at the Environmental Working Group.

"That's misleading to parents and is contributing to the problem," she told USA Today.

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Obama Wants American Women to Have Paid Maternity Leave

President Barack Obama hosted a daylong summit Monday to persuade more employers to adopt family friendly policies, but he said the federal government itself needs to do more in that regard.

For example, he'd like to change the fact that the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't mandate paid leave for new mothers, the Associated Press reported.

"Only three countries in the world report that they don't offer paid maternity leave -- three -- and the United States is one of them," Obama said in his weekly address. "It's time to change that. A few states have acted on their own to give workers paid family leave, but this should be available to everyone, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for a family member in need."

It's unclear how Obama would fund a national system of paid maternity leave. In a conference call with reporters Sunday, Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett said the president wants to start a national conversation about the issue.

"Cost is an issue for any federal program and we need to make sure we do this in a way where we are not raising taxes on middle-class families," she said. "But we also know what a good investment in our workforce it would be if they had paid leave, and that investment will pay great returns."

California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have a system of paid maternity leave, the AP reported.

Posted: June 2014


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