Health Highlights: Nov. 26, 2006

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

The More You Smoke, the More You're Likely to Drink, Research Concludes

There is indeed a connection between smoking and alcohol -- a mutually destructive one -- researchers have concluded.

Exploring the popular notion that cigarette smoking prompts more drinking, researchers from Washington University Medical School and the University of Maryland Medical School have concluded that young people who smoke cigarettes are more prone to having their brains "primed" for more susceptibility to alcohol addiction. Smoking may also have the same effect in creating addiction to other drugs, the scientists say.

This tendency is most noticeable in adolescents, according to the research published in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. "Ours is the first study to... establish a correlation between adolescent smoking and alcohol-use disorders (AUDs)," said Richard A. Grucza, an epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine and one of the study's authors, in a news release.

"Can this association be explained by the fact that smokers are heavier drinkers, or is there something else going on?," Grucza asked rhetorically. "In other words, do smokers appear to be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol?" Yes, they are, the researchers concluded.

The next step, the scientists said, was to determine what causes the effect and to develop strategies to counteract it.

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British Study: Older Anti-Schizophrenia Drugs Just as Effective as More Expensive Newer Ones

Support for the old instead of the new is prompting a debate in the United Kingdom over what type of drug is best for treating schizophrenia.

BBC News reports that researchers from the University of Manchester found that patients with the psychiatric disease respond just as well -- and perhaps better -- to older drugs than the newer ones. The findings are published in the British Archives of General Psychiatry.

One of the motivations in doing the research, the BBC reports, is that the newer drugs known as antipsychotics, such as risperidone, quetiapine, clozapine and olanzapine, cost more than 10 times the older drugs. Yet, in examining 227 patients with schizophrenia, the Manchester researchers found little or no difference in the effectiveness of the new drugs as opposed to older, less expensive ones.

Schizophrenia's symptoms are often severe, including hearing voices, shifting personalities, paranoia and violence.

The study was financed by the United Kingdom's National Health Service. The findings haven't been directly challenged, but BBC News quotes Marjorie Wallace of the mental health charity SANE as saying that those suffering from mental illness shouldn't be denied access to the newer drugs just because they cost more.

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Thousands of Pounds of Ham and Turkey Recalled After Listeria Suspected

HoneyBaked Foods Inc., a Toledo, Ohio based food processor and distributor, has recalled almost 47,000 pounds of cooked ham and turkey sold during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

The reason, the company said, is that both the ham and turkey could contain Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause fevers, nausea, headaches and diarrhea. It is particularly dangerous to the elderly and very young. No cases have been reported, but the company voluntarily made the recall as a precaution.

According to HoneyBaked Foods' Web site, the ham and turkey were sold between Sept. 5 and Nov. 13 and have the following label codes: Ham codes include 6261 through 6310 and Sliced and Glazed Turkey Breast Codes include 6248 through 6258. The company says the products were sold in kiosks in the Toledo area, online and through the company catalogue.

HoneyBaked Foods also as a phone number for more information: 800-461-3998.

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Staph Infection Making its Presence Felt in the Locker Room

A serious bacterial infection, once found almost exclusively in hospitals, is making its way into the environment of athletes -- locker rooms, training facilities and gymnasiums -- the Associated Press reports.

The bacterium, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has long been a problem in hospitals and health care facilities, especially for patients recovering from surgery. Staph infection can cause surgical incisions to become infected, bringing about high fevers and sometimes resulting in death.

Health officials aren't certain as to why the germ has begun making its presence felt in the environment of the athlete, the A.P. says. "We don't know why," the wire service quotes Dr. Steve Gordon, the Cleveland Clinic's department chairman of infectious disease, as saying. "It's why we encourage everyone to practice proper hygiene, especially athletes who can be more at higher risk."

According to the A.P., since 2003, at least three NFL teams and one major league baseball team have reported outbreaks of MRSA. The Cleveland Browns, the St. Louis Rams and the Washington Redskins have documented "multiple cases" of staph, the wire service says, and two members of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays also reported coming down with the infection.

While an investigation is being carried out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, professional athletes are being advised to intensify their personal hygiene, including reporting cuts and lesions to their team trainer or doctor, cleansing and dressing any injured tissue and being careful about using team communal facilities, such as whirlpools.

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Unsafe Abortions Take Heavy Toll in Developing World

A team from Guttmacher Institute in New York has found that 68,000 women in developing countries die each year during unsafe abortions, and up to 5 million women wind up in the hospital with infections and other complications from botched procedures.

The study, which was funded by the pro-abortion Hewlett Foundation and published in the Nov. 24 issue of The Lancet, looked at data from 13 countries. The final tally included both "back-street" pregnancy terminations and legal abortions.

"The most effective way of eliminating this highly preventable cause of maternal illness and death would be to make safe and legal abortion services available and accessible," lead researcher Dr. Susheela Singh told the BBC. "A second, more immediately achievable, goal is to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place through improved contraception use."

However, Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the findings were guesses at best.

"The burden of the study is clearly to promote the killing of more unborn babies in poorer countries, regardless of the fact that women do not want abortions,: Tully told the BBC.

In the study, the highest annual rate of hospital admissions was in Uganda, with 16.4 per 1,000 women, while the lowest hospitalization rate was in Bangladesh, with 2.8 per 1,000 women. The study noted that complications from abortion procedures in developed countries was rare, while the average range in developing countries was 5 to 7 per 1,000 women.

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