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Health Highlights: Sept. 20, 2008

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

Despite New Law, HIV-Positive Travelers Still Banned from Entering U.S.

Even though President Bush signed a bill in July that ended a 15-year ban on international travelers with HIV from entering the United States, nothing has changed, the Associated Press reports.

The law Bush signed was a $48 billion bill to combat AIDS (the disease caused by HIV), tuberculosis and malaria, the wire service says, and in that law was a provision that ended the ban on HIV-positive travelers entering the United States.

So far, however the, department of Health and Human Services hasn't written the new rule that needs to be adopted to cause the new law to go into effect. A number of U.S. legislators and representatives from gay organizations have been lobbying HHS to act quickly.

"We're working hard to revise the regulation and it's our goal to have it completed during this administration," HHS spokeswoman Holly Babin told the A.P. She added that it was "a time-consuming process and we are giving it the attention it deserves in an effort to anticipate all issues and get it right."

The travel ban hasn't been limited to HIV-positive travelers. A report last week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 33 would-be air travelers with suspected or confirmed infectious tuberculosis were placed on the U.S. government's public health "Do Not Board" list in the first year of its existence.

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Chinese Tainted Milk Crisis Widens

The tainted milk crisis in China widened Friday as stores pulled dairy products off their shelves after government officials said the industrial chemical melamine was found in liquid milk produced by three of the country's major dairy companies.

Inspectors found that about 10 percent of liquid milk samples taken from Mengniu Dairy Group Co. and Yili Industrial Group Co. -- the country's two largest dairy producers -- contained melamine. The chemical was also found in milk samples from Shanghai-based Bright Dairy, the Associated Press reported.

On Friday, Hong Kong's two biggest grocery chains -- PARKnSHOP and Wellcome -- cleared their shelves of all liquid milk from Mengniu. On Thursday, Hong Kong recalled all milk, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products made by Yili Industrial Group Co.

The 300 Starbucks cafes in mainland China were told to stop using milk supplied by Mengniu. And Singapore told stores to remove a Chinese-made yogurt bar that may be contaminated, the AP reported.

It had been thought the milk crisis was limited to tainted baby formula that's killed four infants and sickened 6,200 in China. About 1,300 infants are in hospitals and 158 of them are suffering from acute kidney failure.

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Boost Public Confidence in Vaccines: Coalition

Americans' confidence in vaccine safety needs to be restored to help keep dangerous disease outbreaks under control, says a coalition of 22 major medical organizations that includes the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The coalition wants public health officials to counteract campaigns by advocacy groups that claim vaccines can cause autism, even though there's no scientific proof that's true, the Associated Press reported. Public information campaigns and more vaccine research are among the ways to boost public confidence in vaccines, according to the coalition.

"We do not want to become a nation of people who are vulnerable to diseases that are deadly or that can have serious complications, especially if those diseases can be prevented," Dr. Renee Jenkins, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a news release.

The coalition was formed after health officials revealed last month that 131 children in the United States had gotten the measles so far this year, the most in more than a decade. Nearly half of those cases involved children whose parents rejected vaccination, the AP reported.

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Experts Urge Global Action Against Antibiotic Resistance

Without a focused global response to the rising rate of bacterial resistance to drugs, the world could "return to the pre-antibiotic era," experts warn in an editorial in the British Medical Journal.

Existing antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at an alarming rate while the development of new antibiotics is declining, noted Otto Cars of Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden and colleagues, United Press International reported.

Even thought experts have called for action to tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, antibiotics are still overprescribed by doctors, illegally sold over the counter in some countries, and people still self-medicate with leftover antibiotics, the editorial noted.

There are reports from around the world about serious consequences of antibiotic resistance, but there is little data on the magnitude and burden of antibiotic resistance, or its economic impact on individuals, health care and society. Cars and his colleagues suggested this may explain why there's been little response to this public health threat, UPI reported.

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Electronic Cigarettes Ineffective, Possibly Dangerous: WHO

So-called "electronic cigarettes" aren't an effective nicotine-replacement therapy and may be highly poisonous, warns the World Health Organization.

These devices are usually made of stainless steel and have a chamber for storing liquid nicotine in various concentrations. The devices produce a fine, heated mist that's absorbed into the lungs, United Press International reported.

"It's 100 percent false to affirm this is a therapy for smokers to quit," WHO anti-tobacco official Douglas Bettcher said. "There are a number of chemical additives in the product that could be very toxic."

The WHO is especially concerned because some manufacturers of electronic cigarettes use the WHO's name or logo on advertisements, package inserts and other promotional methods.

First developed in China in 2004, electronic cigarettes are now sold in several countries, including Brazil, Britain, Canada, Finland and Turkey, UPI reported.

Posted: September 2008


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