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Health Highlights: Aug. 28, 2012

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

High Levels of Toxins Found in Kids' School Supplies

Children's school supplies such as backpacks, lunchboxes, 3-ring binders, raincoats and rain boots contain higher levels of potentially toxic chemicals called phthalates than the U.S. government allows in most toys, an advocacy group finds.

About 75 percent of 20 back-to-school items tested by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice contained high levels of the chemicals, CBS News reported.

The products were purchased at New York City dollar stores and other retailers. The group found that Disney's Dora the Explorer Backpack had phthalate levels more than 69 times higher than the allowable federal limit for toys. The Disney Princess Lunchbox contained 29 times the federal limit and The Amazing Spiderman Lunchbox had 27 times the limit.

Phthalates, which are used to soften vinyl plastic, are hazardous even at low levels of exposure, the CHEJ said. The chemicals have been linked to birth defects, early puberty, ADHD, asthma, obesity, diabetes and infertility, CBS New reported.

In response to the CHEJ's findings, New York Sen. Charles Schumer called for new laws to regulate phthalates in children's school supplies.


Second Yosemite Visitor Dies of Rodent-Borne Illness

A rare, rodent-borne disease called hantavirus has killed a second person who visited one of the most popular parts of Yosemite National Park, officials say.

The first death occurred in a person who visited the park in June and officials learned about the second death on the weekend. There is one other confirmed case of hantavirus, and a fourth is being investigated, the Associated Press reported.

The four people may have been exposed while staying at the park's Curry Village. Anyone who stayed in the village's tent cabins from mid-June through the end of August should be alert for any symptoms of hantavirus, which can include fever, aches, chills and dizziness, Yosemite officials said.

The park is attempting to contact people who stayed in "Signature Tent Cabins" during that period.

Hantavirus symptoms may develop up to five weeks after exposure to the urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents, according to federal health officials. Yosemite visitors should watch for symptoms for up to six weeks, park officials advised, the AP reported.

There is no specific treatment for hantavirus, which has been fatal in about one-third of the 587 cases documented in the U.S. since 1993.


GMA's Robin Roberts Begins Medical Leave Next Week

Friday will be the last show for "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts before she begins a medical leave for a potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant.

Roberts, who has a rare blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), will check into the hospital next Tuesday and then undergo "about 10 days" of medical preparation before the transplant from her sister Sally, the New York Daily News reported.

According to Roberts, she contracted MDS as the result of chemotherapy she underwent during an earlier bout with breast cancer.

In talking about her situation, Roberts made note that medical leave policies are an issue for millions of Americans, the Daily News reported.

"Forty percent of America can't take a sick day," she said. "I know I'll have a job when I come back. I'm very blessed."


Number of Addicted Newborns in Kentucky Soars 2,400 Percent

In Kentucky, the number of hospitalizations for addicted newborns rose from 29 in 2000 to 730 last year, a 2,400 percent increase that dwarfs the national rise of 330 percent between 2000 and 2009.

One day this month at the University of Louisville Hospital, more than half the babies in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit were suffering from drug withdrawal, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The rapidly growing numbers of addicted newborns are an indication of Kentucky's huge problem with prescription drug abuse, which kills about 1,000 people in the state each year and destroys thousands more lives.

"It's a silent epidemic that's going on out there," Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Courier-Journal. "You need to say: 'Stop the madness. This is too much.'"

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Posted: August 2012