Health Highlights: Dec. 21, 2009

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

Ex-CDC Chief to Head Merck's Vaccines Business

The former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon head Merck & Co.'s $5 billion vaccines business.

Julie Gerberding, CDC director from 2002 until earlier this year, will take over as president of Merck's vaccines operations, overseeing sales of its existing vaccines, development of vaccines currently in the works, and continuation of plans to expand vacccinations in developing countries, Dow Jones Newswires reported.


She assumes her new position Jan. 25, replacing Margaret McGlynn, Merck's recently retired head of vaccines.

Richard Clark, Merck chairman and chief executive, described Gerberding as a "preeminent authority in public health, infectious diseases and vaccines," Dow Jones reported.


Brittany Murphy Likely Died From Natural Causes: Coroner

Actress Brittany Murphy likely died of natural causes, but an autopsy will be performed as part of the coroner's investigation into the sudden death of the 32-year-old star, authorities said Monday.

"Foul play is not suspected at this time because there were no outward signs of trauma or other injuries," said Capt. John Kades of the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, according to People.

Murphy, known for her roles in "Clueless" and "Girl, Interrupted," reportedly collapsed in the shower and was pronounced dead upon arrival at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Initial reports cited cardiac arrest.

According to the web site TMZ, Murphy's mother, Sharon, told paramedics who arrived after the 911 call that her daughter had diabetes.

Rail-thin recently, the actress was fighting flu-like symptoms in the last days of her life and became seriously ill hours before her collapse, according to TMZ.

An autopsy will be performed as soon as possible, the coroner's office said. "Given all the worldwide attention, if we can get it done [Monday], we will," Kades said.


Cell Phone Warning Pushed by Maine Legislator

Although no proof exists that cell phones can harm your health, a Maine legislator wants them to bear warnings that their use can cause brain cancer.

According to Maine Rep. Andrea Boland (D-Sanford), the legislature will consider her proposal in the 2010 session, which starts in January, the Associated Press reported. The concern is that electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones poses a cancer risk.

The cell phone industry disputes the claims. A spokesman for CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry group, said scientific evidence "overwhelmingly" indicates no health risk, the AP said.

The news service also said the Federal Communications Commission doesn't require cell phone makers to reveal radiation levels, although it sets a standard for the "specific absorption rate" of radio-frequency energy.

Boland uses a speaker with her cell phone to distance it from her head. If her proposal gets passed, Maine would be the first U.S. state with such cellphone legislation, although some countries require warnings about cell phone hazards, the National Conference of State Legislators said.


Is Facebook Anonymous in Your Teen's Future?

For some teenagers, the social networking site Facebook is so seductive that they must take extreme measures to releases themselves from its addictive grip.

According to The New York Times, teens, mainly girls, are forming support groups, attempting to set personal time limits, asking others to change their passwords or deactivating their accounts altogether in an attempt to break the time-consuming habit.

"It's like any other addiction," psychologist Kimberly Young, the director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Penn., told The Times. "Its hard to wean yourself."

Without computer-addiction programs to help them, addicted Facebookers must devise their own strategies. "A lot of them are finding their own balance," Young said. "Its like an eating disorder. You can't eliminate food. You just have to make better choices about what you eat. And what you do online."

Industry experts say Facebook's reach among teens nearly doubled in the past year. According to the Nielsen Company, Facebook was used by 54.7 percent of U.S. teens ages 12 to 17 in October, an increase from 28.3 percent a year earlier, The Times noted.

Facebook doesn't make it easy to say goodbye. Before the struggling teens can deactivate their Facebook accounts, they must check off six reasons why they want to quit. And if they change their minds, they are welcomed back using their original login and password information.