Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Health Headlines - January 21

Kennedy Collapses at Obama Inaugural Lunch

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor last spring, collapsed at President Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon in the Capitol on Tuesday and was taken to a Washington, D.C., hospital by ambulance.

Kennedy was awake and talking at Washington Hospital Center, the Associated Press reported. With him were his wife, Victoria, and his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.). He will be held for observation and will undergo testing, a hospital official said.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, (D-Conn.), told reporters that Kennedy appeared to have a seizure but seemed fine as he was put into the ambulance at around 3 p.m. ET, The New York Times reported.

"The good news is, he's going to be fine," Dodd said, according to the Times.

Kennedy, who will be 77 next month, had been seated at the same table with another of the Senate's elder statesmen, Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), 91. There were conflicting reports about Byrd, who also left the luncheon early after witnesses said he appeared ill. But his office later said his health was not the reason for the early departure, the AP reported.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D-W. Va.), told reporters that Obama noticed when Kennedy became ill, and rushed over to his table, the AP 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 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."


China Reports Third Bird Flu Death This Year

A 16-year-old male student in central China's Hunan province died of bird flu Tuesday, the third bird flu death 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. He tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, and reportedly had had contact with poultry.

The teen is one of four confirmed human bird flu cases in China so far this year.

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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