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Health Highlights: Jan. 22, 2009

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

Death Sentences Handed Out in Chinese Milk Scandal

Three people have been sentenced to death by a Chinese court for their role in the tainted milk scandal that sickened about 300,000 children and killed at least six.

Another person was sentenced to life in prison and three more were given prison terms of five to 15 years for their role in making and selling dairy products that contained the toxic chemical melamine, The New York Times reported.

The harsh sentences given to dairy company executives and middlemen are part of the Chinese government's efforts to manage a scandal that resulted in a global recall of Chinese dairy products and seriously damaged the country's dairy industry.

But the stiff penalties handed out Thursday won't satisfy some lawyers and parents of children who were sickened by tainted dairy products. They believe government officials who failed to properly regulate the nation's dairy industry should be held accountable, the Times reported.


Zimbabwe's Cholera Death Toll Rises 20 Percent in One Week

The number of people who've died in Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic increased 20 percent during the last week, from 2,200 to more than 2,700, the World Health Organization sayd.

Nearly 50,000 people have been infected with the preventable disease and the start of the rainy season could lead to a sharp increase in cases as water sources become contaminated, BBC News reported.

The WHO says all 10 of Zimbabwe's provinces have reported cases of cholera and the aid agency World Vision says new outbreaks are occurring in rural areas.

"Rapid deterioration of Zimbabwe's health system, lack of adequate water supply and lack of capacity to dispose of solid waste and repair sewer blockages have all been the main drivers of the current spread of cholera," World Vision said in a statement, BBC News reported.

Cholera has also spread to neighboring South Africa.


Kennedy Released From Hospital After Inaugural Collapse

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was released from a hospital Wednesday morning after collapsing at President Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon in the Capitol on Tuesday.

Media reports said he was in "good spirits" on his release and was urged by his doctors to get some rest.

Tests at Washington Hospital Center late Tuesday showed that Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor last spring, had suffered a seizure as a result of "simple fatigue," his doctor said, according to the Boston Herald.

Dr. Edward Aulisi, chairman of neurosurgery at the hospital, said late Tuesday night, "Sen. Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends, and feeling well. He will remain. . . overnight for observation."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D-W. Va.), told reporters that at the Congressional luncheon, Obama noticed when Kennedy, 76, became ill, and rushed over to his table, the Associated Press reported.

"There was a call for silence throughout the room," Rockefeller said. "The president went over immediately. The lights went down, just to reduce the heat, I think."

Obama then spoke briefly of Kennedy's latest health problem in his remarks to the luncheon guests, the New York Times reported. "Right now, part of me is with him," Obama said. "This is a joyous time, but also a sobering time. Our prayers are with him and his wife, Vicki."

Kennedy had been outside all morning to attend the swearing-in and listen to Obama's inaugural address.


Many Children Have Mild Autistic Symptoms: Study

A new U.K. study says many children have mild autistic traits, such as difficulty communicating with peers and teachers, but their problems aren't severe enough to attract special attention.

But these mild traits could impair development, said the authors of the study, which included 8,000 children, BBC News reported.

The findings suggest "that drawing a dividing line between those with autism and the rest of the population involves making an arbitrary decision," said Prof. David Skuse, one of the study authors.

"Clinicians and those involved in education need to be aware that there are children who do not have autism but who nevertheless have somewhat elevated levels of autistic traits -- our research suggests that these children are at slightly greater risk of developing behavioral and emotional problems," Skuse told BBC News.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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Posted: January 2009