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Too many kids breathe others' smoke in cars

CHICAGO - Texting while driving, speeding and back-seat action aren't all that parents need to worry about when their kids are in cars: Add secondhand smoke to the list.

In the first national estimate of its kind, a report from U.S. government researchers says more than one in five high school and middle school students ride in cars while others are smoking.

This kind of secondhand smoke exposure has been linked with breathing problems and allergy symptoms, and more restrictions are needed to prevent it, the report says.

With widespread crackdowns on smoking in public, private places including homes and cars are where people encounter secondhand smoke these days. Anti-smoking advocates have zeroed in on cars because of research showing they're potentially more dangerous than smoke-filled bars and other less-confined areas.

The research, from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was released online Monday in Pediatrics.

Drug approved to treat cystic fibrosis' root cause

WASHINGTON - The first drug that treats the root cause of cystic fibrosis won U.S. approval last week, offering a life-changing treatment for a handful of American patients with the deadly illness and broader hope for thousands more patients with the inherited disease.

Cystic fibrosis, is a disease that causes sticky mucus buildup in the lungs and other organs, leading to infections, digestive problems and death in young adulthood. The typical life expectancy is almost 37 years, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The Food and Drug approved Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s Kalydeco for patients with a rare form of the disease that affects just 1,200 people in the U.S., nearly 4 percent of affected population nationwide. These patients have a protein defect that prevents their cells from properly absorbing and excreting salt and water. Studies of the drug showed it significantly improved lung function and reduced other symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

The twice-a-day pill is among the first drugs designed to correct a specific genetic defect.

New European pill works against uterine fibroids

NEW YORK - New research offers hope for the first pill to treat a common problem in young women: fibroids in the uterus. The growths can cause pain, heavy bleeding and fertility problems, and they are the leading cause of hysterectomies.

In two studies, a lower dose of a "morning after" contraceptive pill stopped the bleeding and shrank the fibroids. It worked as well as shots of a hormone-blocking drug that has unpleasant side effects.

Researchers are now testing intermittent long-term use of the pill to see if that could help women avoid surgery.

The pill is called Esmya, and it is awaiting marketing approval in Europe. It's a low-dose version of an emergency birth control pill called ella that came on the market in the United States almost a year ago. The new fibroid pill still needs to be tested in the U.S. and won't be available anytime soon.

Fibroids are benign growths in the uterus that are common in women during their childbearing years, mostly in their late 30s and 40s. They usually go away after menopause. Treating fibroids isn't easy. Removing the uterus is the only cure. Other treatments include surgery to remove them, procedures to shrink them with ultrasound or pellets that cut off their blood supply.

Federal judge considers if pharmacies must sell Plan B

TACOMA, Wash. - A federal judge is considering whether Washington state can require pharmacies to stock and sell Plan B or other emergency contraceptives, even in the face of religious objections by druggists who believe they destroy human life.

Ralph's Thriftway in Olympia and two licensed Washington pharmacists sued the state in 2007, saying that dispensing the drug would infringe on their religious beliefs because it can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.

They argue they can easily and quickly refer customers to nearby pharmacies willing to sell the drug, which is effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy if a woman takes it within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The drug, which has a high dose of medicine found in birth-control pills, has no effect on pregnant women.

A group that includes HIV patients intervened in the case on the state's behalf, arguing that if pharmacies can refuse to dispense Plan B for religious reasons, some might also refuse to dispense AIDS medications, for example.

The Washington Board of Pharmacy requires pharmacies to dispense any medication for which there is a community need, and to stock a representative assortment of drugs needed by their patients. Individual pharmacists are allowed to pass a prescription to another druggist in the same store, provided the patient's order was filled without delay. But that left no option for a lone pharmacist, or for the owner of a pharmacy who also has religious objections to a particular drug.

Highest level of drug-resistant TB found in Europe

LONDON - The World Health Organization says the highest levels ever of drug-resistant tuberculosis have been found in Russia and Moldova.

But the agency didn't have data from most of Africa and India, where tuberculosis rates are much higher. Experts said trends in drug-resistant TB in most countries "are still unclear."

In research published in the February edition of WHO's journal Bulletin, experts reported that almost 29 percent of new TB patients in parts of Russia were drug-resistant. They also found 65 percent of previously treated patients in Moldova had resistance problems.

Normally, less than 5 percent of TB cases are drug-resistant.

U.K. suicide rates fell where prevention increased

LONDON - British researchers say parts of England and Wales with more suicide prevention programs had bigger drops in deaths than regions with fewer services.

Experts analyzed data for people who killed themselves between 1997 and 2006 who were in contact with mental health services before they died.

The researchers found that providing 24-hour crisis care correlated with a significant fall in suicide rates. But the authors from the University of Manchester and elsewhere couldn't prove such programs were directly responsible for fewer deaths.

The biggest drop in suicide rates - nearly 10 percent - was seen in the poorest regions after numerous strategies were introduced. Areas without many prevention policies didn't see much change in their suicide rates.

The study was published Thursday in the journal Lancet.

Map pinpoints areas of Lyme disease risk

CONCORD, N.H. - Researchers who spent three years dragging sheets of fabric through the woods to snag ticks have created a detailed map they claim could improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease.

The map, which pinpoints areas of the eastern United States where people have the highest risk of contracting Lyme disease, is part of a study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The map shows a clear risk of Lyme disease across much of the Northeast, from Maine to northern Virginia. Researchers also identified a distinct high-risk region in the upper Midwest, including most of Wisconsin, northern Minnesota and a sliver of northern Illinois. Areas highlighted as "emerging risk" regions include the Illinois-Indiana border, the New York-Vermont border, southwestern Michigan and eastern North Dakota.



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