Health Highlights: Nov. 1, 2010

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

Alcohol Bigger Threat Than Cocaine or Heroin: Study

A new study concludes that alcohol is more dangerous overall than illegal drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin.

British researchers evaluated the dangers that a number of substances -- including alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy, heroin and cocaine -- posed to individuals and society as a whole, the Associated Press reported.

Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine (crystal meth) were found to be most dangerous to individuals. Alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine cause the most damage to society as a whole, the researchers said.

Overall, alcohol was the most dangerous, followed by heroin and crack cocaine. Marijuana, ecstasy and LSD scored lower in terms of overall harm.

The study, funded by Britain's Center for Crime and Justice Studies, was published online Monday in The Lancet, the AP reported.

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U.S. Women May Receive Free Birth Control

Free birth control may become available to American women under the new health care law, the Associated Press reported.

A federal government advisory panel of experts will meet this month to begin discussions on what kind of no-cost preventive care should be offered to women under the law. It's obvious that family planning should be included in those free services, say many medical and public health experts.

"There is clear and incontrovertible evidence that family planning saves lives and improves health," obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. David Grimes, an international family planning expert who teaches medicine at the University of North Carolina, told the AP.

"Contraception rivals immunization in dollars saved for every dollar invested. Spacing out children allows for optimal pregnancies and optimal child rearing. Contraception is a prototype of preventive medicine."

But strong opposition is expected from a number of groups. For example, U.S. Catholic bishops oppose covering contraceptives or sterilization as preventive care. They say pregnancy is a healthy condition, not an illness, the AP reported.

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European Plagues Originated in China: Study

China was the source of bubonic plagues that twice devastated Europe, according to new research.

The first plague occurred in the sixth century and killed perhaps half the population of Europe. The second, called the Black Death, began in Europe in 1347 and killed 30 percent or more of the population. The plagues were caused by the bacterium called Yersinia pestis. The disease was spread by rats and transmitted to people by fleas or, in some cases, directly by breathing, The New York Times reported.

Scientists analyzed genetic variations in living strains of Yersinia pestis in order to construct a family tree of the bacterium. They concluded that the two major European bubonic plagues originated in China and likely reached Europe via the Silk Road.

The researchers also said that a plague epidemic in East Africa in the 1400s was likely spread by the voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He, the Times reported.

The study was published online Sunday in the journal Nature Genetics.

Posted: November 2010


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