Health Highlights: May 14, 2013

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

U.S. Gov. Files Appeal to Delay Non-Prescription 'Morning After' Pill

The Obama administration on Monday filed an eleventh-hour appeal to delay the over-the-counter sale of "Plan B" emergency contraception to girls of any age.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman ruled that the so-called "morning after" pill be made available without a prescription, with a deadline for any appeal set for Monday. On Friday Korman denied a U.S. government request to put a hold on his order while the Obama administration readied an appeal.

The appeal was filed Monday just before the noon deadline, the Associated Press reported. In the document, the government contends that Korman overstepped his authority.

But Korman said politics are driving moves by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to block over-the-counter access to Plan B. Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lowered the age limit for access to the emergency contraceptive from 17 to 15 years of age, but Korman believes that doesn't go far enough.

In the meantime, the Center for Reproductive Rights, which instigated the lawsuit behind Korman's decision, said it would answer the Obama administration's filing within 10 days, the AP reported. In papers filed before the court, the center said that delays in access to Plan B could be "life-altering" for some women, the AP said.


Pop Psychologist Joyce Brothers Dies

Joyce Brothers, the first psychologist to tap into electronic media as an avenue for counseling those who asked for it, died of Monday of respiratory failure. She was 85.

Brothers pioneered her television advice show in the 1950s, and later was a columnist, author and television and movie personality, according to the Associated Press.

She published 15 books and appeared with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight show" 100 times, the AP reported.

In 1958, she was offered an afternoon television program by NBC in which she gave advice on love, marriage, sex and parenting, although she would often suggest that callers seek professional help if she thought they needed it.

Later in her career, she broached previously taboo subjects as menopause, frigidity, impotence and sexual enjoyment, the wire service said.

Brothers earned her bachelor's degree from Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University in New York City, according to the AP.


New SARS-Like Virus May Pass Between People: WHO

A deadly new form of coronavirus that's killed 18 people in Europe and the Middle East may pass from person to person, experts at the World Health Organization announced on Sunday.

The new viral strain first emerged in humans in the Middle East in 2012 and is a member of the same family of viruses as SARS, the infection that caused hundreds of deaths worldwide in 2003. So far, there have been 34 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus across Europe and the Middle East, BBC News reported.

Those cases include a newly confirmed case in France involving a 50-year-old man who had shared a hospital room with a 65-year-old who became ill from the virus after returning to France from Dubai.

"Different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person," WHO said on Sunday. "This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters and, so far, there is no evidence to suggest the virus has the capacity to sustain generalized transmission in communities."

Infection does seem to have a high fatality rate: According to the Saudi Arabian health ministry, 15 people who became ill with the virus in that country have died, out of a total of 24 confirmed cases, the BBC said.


Elevated Levels of Arsenic Found in Chicken

U.S. researchers report that they found elevated levels of arsenic in chicken that might lead to a slight increase in lifetime cancer risk for humans who eat poultry, but the levels found were still well below federal safety standards.

According to the New York Times, the Johns Hopkins scientists believe this additional arsenic can be traced to the use of the drug roxarsone (Zoetis), which was once used to fight intestinal parasites and promote growth in poultry. Sales of Zoetis were suspended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011 because of public health concerns, but the drug is still sold abroad, the newspaper reported.

The potential dangers of arsenic in food has become an issue following reports last year of substantial levels of arsenic found in rice, the Times reported.

Study author Keeve Nachman, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, did say that the levels of arsenic found in chickens were much lower than those found in rice, but that they still posed a potential health risk, according to the Times.

Study estimates suggested that if the drug were fed to all chickens the exposure could cause an additional 124 deaths in the United States each year from lung and bladder cancer.

However, the National Chicken Council said the Hopkins scientists discovered "very low levels of arsenic," and the finding was not worrisome.

In 2011, Americans ate about 83 pounds of chicken per person, compared with about 30 pounds per person in 1965, according to council estimates.

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