Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Health Headlines - January 20

4th Human Bird Flu Case Reported in China

A 16-year-old male student in central China's Hunan province is now the fourth victim of human bird flu in the country this year.

A provincial government official told the Xinhua news agency Monday that the student fell ill two weeks ago in Guizhou, the provincial capital, and is in critical condition.

He tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, and reportedly had had contact with poultry.

On Saturday, officials said a 27-year-old woman in east China's Shandong province died of the virus, while a two-year-old girl was infected in northern Shanxi province.

The girl is in the hospital in critical condition, the Associated Press reported. Her family members and others who came in close contact with her were under medical observation.

The first victim of the year, a 19-year-old woman, died in Beijing earlier this month, after being in contact with ducks in a market, the wire service said.

The AP said that World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show this strain of bird flu has killed 248 people worldwide since 2003, when it was first reported to have infected humans. Twenty-one of those deaths have been in China, with a total of 32 cases reported.

None of these cases has been found to be spread by human-to-human contact, according to WHO medical experts, but rather by close contact with different species of birds, especially poultry and fowl.


Trials Test Stem Cell Treatments for Stroke, Blindness

In two separate trials to be launched this year, researchers in Scotland will examine whether stem cell therapy can help treat stroke patients and people with corneal blindness, Agence France Presse reported.

This month, a two-year trial involving 20 patients with corneal blindness will begin in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Stem cells of deceased adult donors will be cultivated and then transplanted onto the cornea's surface.

Another team of researchers in Glasgow plans a study in which they'll inject fetal stem cells into the brains of stroke patients in order to determine if the cells can regenerate damaged areas and improve patients' quality of life, AFP reported.

That study, which will test a treatment developed by a British company called ReNeuron, still has to be approved by an ethics committee.


'Conscience Rule' Gets Legal Challenge

The Conscience Rule, one of the last items on President George W. Bush's health agenda, has been challenged in U.S. District Court.

The Washington Post reports that a lawsuit was filed Jan. 15 in Connecticut by that state's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, seeking to block a new federal regulation that protects health workers if they refuse to perform medical services to which they object. The rule went into effect in December.

Blumenthal's suit included the states of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island, the Post reported. Separate lawsuits were also filed by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.

Central to the Conscience Rule, the newspaper reports, is that it stops federal funding to any health organization -- public or private -- if it doesn't allow health professionals the right to refuse to perform or take part in any health care services they consider objectionable on ethical, moral or religious grounds.

"On the way out, the Bush administration has left a ticking political time bomb that is set to explode literally on the day of the president's [Barack Obama] inaugural and blow apart women's rights," the newspaper quotes Blumenthal as saying.

Rebecca Ayer, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), told the Post that HHS would defend its actions in court. "The department followed appropriate procedures to put the regulation in place, and the regulation is fully supported by law," the newspaper quotes her as saying.

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