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Health Highlights: Aug. 8, 2013

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

Smokers More Costly for Employers: Study

A smoker costs a private employer $5,816 more per year than a nonsmoker, according to a new study.

Ohio State University researchers analyzed data from previous studies and found that $3,077 of that extra cost was due to smoking breaks and $2,056 was associated with added health care expenses, The New York Times reported.

The remainder of the extra cost was caused by increased absenteeism and lost productivity. Smokers miss about two-and-a-half more work days per year than nonsmokers and may be less productive at work due to the effects of nicotine withdrawal, according to the study published online recently in the journal Tobacco Control.

"We certainly encourage businesses to provide smoking cessation programs. At least for large companies, it's highly likely to save them money over time," said study lead author Micah Berman, an assistant professor of public health and law at Ohio State, The Times reported.


Scientists Plan H7N9 Lab Tests to Learn More About Virus

Scientists plan to make more dangerous versions of the H7N9 bird flu virus in the lab, to learn more about how likely it is that the virus will mutate and cause a human pandemic, and how to protect people against it.

The project is outlined Wednesday in the journals Science and Nature.

The researchers will conduct gain-of-function experiments on H7N9. These types of experiments introduce changes into a virus to learn more about it. For example, such tests can show whether certain mutations would increase the ability of the virus to spread or would affect how the virus responds to vaccines, according to a Science news release.

A related letter also published in both journals provides the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' official statement about the oversight it will require for this research.

The bird flu virus first emerged in China in February. By the end of June, 133 cases had been reported, resulting in 43 deaths.

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Posted: August 2013