Health Highlights: Jan.4, 2009

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Sunday, January 4, 2009; 12:00 AM

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

Avian Flu Returns, This Time in Hong Kong Poultry

Avian flu is back, not that it had ever been entirely eradicated.

New cases of of the H5N1 flu virus -- the type that caused the destruction of entire flocks of fowl in previous years -- has resurfaced in Hong Kong poultry, the Los Angeles Times reports, adding to reported human cases at the end of 2008 in Indonesia, Egypt and Cambodia.

Two human deaths also were reported -- a 16-year-old Egyptian girl and a 2-year-old Cambodian girl, the newspaper reports, and other human cases of H5N1were cited in Indonesia, long a hotbed of avian flu. However, as with all other cases involving humans, there was no indication of the virus being spread from person-to-person, a circumstance scientists have long feared could create a worldwide pandemic.

This particular strain of influenza virus had declined in the past two years, the L.A. Times reports, but Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told the newspaper that he is concerned that the public isn't paying attention as closely as it once did. "What alarms me is that we have developed a sense of pandemic-preparedness fatigue," Osterholm is quoted as saying.

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'Fire-Safe' Cigarettes Required in 14 States By End of 2009

While just about every expert agrees there is no such thing as a "safe" cigarette, at least 14 states this year will require that all cigarettes sold within their borders be "fire-safe," USA Today reports.

These self-extinguishing cigarettes go out on their own if they are left unattended or are dropped, the newspaper reports, and this feature could -prevent more than 1,000 fires annually.

Mandatory production of fire-safe cigarettes has long been opposed by the tobacco companies, USA Today reports, and Congress had not been able to pass legislation. So, individual states began adopting their own laws.

The first states to make fire-safe cigarettes mandatory are Texas, Delaware, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. Later this year, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Washington and Wisconsin will adopt similar laws.


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