Health Highlights: April 28, 2008

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

Gene Therapy Helps People With Rare Form of Blindness

Scientists used gene therapy to improve vision in six people with a rare inherited disorder called Leber's congenital amaurosis, USA Today reported. The condition causes a gradual deterioration of eyesight beginning at birth, leading to blindness by a person's mid-20s.

While none of the six patients regained normal vision, four have much better eyesight than before the gene therapy, according to two studies published online in the New England Journal of Medicine. The studies were conducted by an international team led by doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Gene Therapy Helps People With Rare Form of Blindness
    • Virus Outbreak in China Kills 20 Children
    • Philippines Banning Most Kidney Transplants for Foreigners
    • VA Official Denies Cover-Up of Veterans' Suicide Statistics
    • Blood Vessel Laser Scanner Gets U.S. Government Approval
    • Lexington, Ky. Tops 100 Spring Allergy Capitals

Experts hailed the achievement as a welcome success in gene therapy, which has shown promise but has had significant setbacks.

"It's a breakthrough. It really helps to validate that gene therapy can work and is going to be important," Ronald Crystal, chairman of the department of genetic medicine at New York's Weill Medical College of Cornell University, told USA Today.

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Virus Outbreak in China Kills 20 Children

An outbreak of enterovirus 71 in eastern China has sickened nearly 1,200 children, killing 20, according to health officials in Anhui province, the Associated Press reported.

The first infections were noted in March in the city of Fuyang, but the virus may have gone undetected before that since the symptoms were similar to other common childhood illnesses, said Fen Lizhong, an official with the Anhui public health bureau.

Most of the stricken children were under two years old and none was older than six. About 371 children are still being treated and more than 550 have recovered, according to information on the health bureau's Web site, the AP reported.

This is the season when enterovirus 71 is prevalent. It's one of several viruses that cause hand, foot and mouth disease, which is characterized by fever, mouth sores and a rash with blisters. Enterovirus 71 is spread by direct contact with saliva, nose and throat discharges, fluid from blisters, or the stool of an infected person.

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Philippines Banning Most Kidney Transplants for Foreigners

A permanent ban on most kidney transplants for foreign patients is expected to be announced this week by health officials in the Philippines, according to the Philippine Society of Nephrology.

Under the new law, foreign patients will not be able to receive a kidney from a living Filipino who isn't a blood relative, Agence France-Presse reported.

Last month, a temporary suspension of transplants to foreigners was announced, to give health officials time to create new guidelines for organ donations.

Many doctors and religious leaders have expressed concern about the widespread trafficking of kidneys from impoverished and poorly-educated Filipinos, who can sell a kidney to a foreigner for about $3,000, AFP reported.

In 2006, a total of 436 kidney transplants from unrelated living donors were carried out in 24 Philippine hospitals, according to government figures.

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