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Health Highlights: March 27, 2013

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

Two More Deaths From SARS-Like Virus: WHO

Two more people have died from a SARS-like virus that was first identified last fall.

The World Health Organization said the recent deaths in Germany and Britain bring to 11 the number of people killed by the new virus, while 6 others have been infected and survived, ABC News reported.

One of the latest deaths included a 73-year-old man from the United Arab Emirates who died in Munich after being flown there for treatment. The other victim was a U.K. resident who traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia before falling ill, the WHO said.

There is concern that the SARS-like virus could come to North America. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have told state and local health departments to watch for suspicious illnesses in people who have recently been in the Middle East, ABC News reported.

Between November 2002 and July 2003, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus infected about 8,100 people worldwide, resulting in 774 deaths.


Breastfeeding for 6 Months Cuts Women's Risk of Cancer Death: Study

Mothers who breastfeed for at least six months have a 10 percent lower risk of dying from cancer and a 17 percent lower risk of dying from circulatory disease, according to a new study.

Researchers examined the habits of nearly 380,000 people in nine European countries and found that those who followed World Cancer Research Fund advice on cancer-prevention lifestyles had about a one-third lower risk of death from several major diseases, The Telegraph in the U.K. reported.

Along with advising women to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months, the recommendations direct people to: be as lean as possible without being underweight; get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day; limit consumption of sugary drinks, salty foods, processed foods and red meat; eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and legumes; not smoke; and limit alcoholic drinks to two a day for men and one a day for women.

People who most closely followed these recommendations were 50 percent less likely to die from respiratory disease, 44 percent less likely to die from circulatory disease, and 20 percent less likely to die of cancer, compared with those who followed few or none of the suggestions, The Telegraph reported.

The specific tips associated with the greatest reduction in the risk of death from those diseases were being as lean as possible without being underweight (22 percent lower risk) and eating lots of vegetables, fruits and legumes (21 percent lower risk), according to the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Limiting alcohol consumption had the most impact on the risk of cancer death, reducing it by 21 percent.

This is the first study to show a strong link between the WCRF recommendations and a reduced risk of death, said study leader Dr. Teresa Norat, of Imperial College London in the U.K., The Telegraph reported.

"This study demonstrates in real terms the value of the ... recommendations in preventing deaths from a range of common diseases, not just cancer," said Dr. Panagiota Mitrou, the deputy head of science at WCRF.


Euro Budget Cuts Linked to More Health Problems, Suicide: Study

Health care cuts made by European nations as they fight huge debts are being partly blamed for an increase in suicides and outbreaks of diseases not normally seen in Europe, a new study says.

Since 2008, government-run health and welfare services in Europe have had their budgets slashed and medical treatments rationed, and adopted unpopular measures such as user fees, the Associated Press reported.

Medical care has suffered the most in countries -- namely Greece, Spain and Portugal -- that have made the largest cuts in public spending, according to the study published online in The Lancet.

"Austerity measures haven't solved the economic problems and they have also created big health problems," said study leader Martin McKee, a professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the AP reported.

Greece has been particularly hard hit. Suicides in the country rose 40 percent from 2010 to 2011. There was also an upsurge in the number of HIV cases among drug users, partly due to increased needle sharing after needle exchange programs were cancelled, the study said.

In addition, outbreaks of malaria, West Nile virus and dengue fever have occurred in Greece in recent years.

"These are not diseases we would normally expect to see in Europe," said Willem de Jonge, general director of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Greece, the AP reported.


North Dakota Governor Signs Tough Abortion Law

The governor of North Dakota approved a set of bills on Tuesday that enacts a law that essentially bans most abortions.

The most restrictive portion of the package, which is expected to be challenged in court, makes abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat is "detectable," the New York Times reported.

Fetal heartbeats can be heard via ultrasound as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, the newspaper added.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, signed a total of three bills passed by the Republican-controlled North Dakota legislature, but legal experts have asserted that the package violates the basic tenets of Roe v. Wade, the historical ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found abortions could be performed until the fetus would theoretically be able to survive outside the womb, roughly 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

"Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," Dalrymple said in a statement.

The three bills are scheduled to take effect Aug. 1, unless a legal challenge is filed, the Times reported.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, in New York City, promptly condemned the new laws and said it would file a challenge, according to the Times.

The signings follow passage last week of a proposed amendment to the North Dakota Constitution that would claim life begins at conception. The so-called "personhood measure" will go on the ballot next year. Such measures have previously been voted down in Mississippi and Colorado, the Times reported.

Measures to ban abortions when fetal heartbeats are detected are under consideration in several other states, including Kansas and Ohio, the Times reported.

Groups including National Right to Life, Americans United for Life and the Roman Catholic Church have not supported fetal heartbeat proposals, saying they could be counterproductive unless the makeup of the Supreme Court changed dramatically.


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