Health Highlights: Oct. 12, 2008

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

New Ultrasound Mandate Law Challenged in Oklahoma Abortion Case

An Oklahoma law forbidding a woman from having an abortion until she has an ultrasound and has a physician give her a description of the fetus is being challenged in court.

According to the Associated Press, the law, which goes into effect Nov. 1, is being contested on grounds that it violates a woman's privacy, endangers health and assaults dignity. Oklahoma joins Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana as the states having a mandatory ultrasound and consultation law, the wire service reports.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • New Ultrasound Mandate Law Challenged in Oklahoma Abortion Case
    • 100 South Africans Under Observation After Unidentified Fever Kills Three
    • Pregnancy Doesn't Cause Memory Problems
    • House Repossession Major Threat to Mental Health
    • Dalai Lama Recovering After Gallstone Surgery
    • St. John's Wort May Help Treat Depression: Study

The lawsuit was filed late last week in Oklahoma County District Court by the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights advocacy group, the A.P. reports. What makes the Oklahoma law different from the other three states, the wire service reports, is that the ultrasound picture of the fetus is to be turned toward the woman as the doctor describes the dimensions of the fetus to her.

The Oklahoma state legislature overrode Gov. Brad Henry's veto, and the bill's sponsor, Republican Senator Todd Lamb, told the n A.P.: "I introduced the bill because I wanted to encourage life in society. In Oklahoma, society is on the side of life."

The plaintiff's lead lawyer Stephanie Toti told the wire service, "Anti-choice activists will stop at nothing to prevent a woman from getting an abortion, but trying to manipulate a woman's decisions about her own life and health goes beyond the pale."

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100 South Africans Under Observation After Unidentified Fever Kills Three

An infection that may be related to the dangerous Ebola virus has killed three people in South Africa, and about 100 others who may have come into contact with the victims are under observation, BBC News reports.

A type of hemorrhagic fever is the suspected cause, BBC News says, of the deaths of a female Zambian tour guide and two medical people who treated her. The woman had been in South Africa for two days when she became ill.

The Associated Press quotes an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying that tests had ruled out the most common forms of hemorrhagic fever, Ebola, Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, and Marburg fever.

Because hemorrhagic fever strikes so quickly and is so contagious, South African health officials set up the monitoring of 100 people in Johannesburg to make sure no one else is ill. "The public at large are not at risk," intensive care specialist professor Guy Richards is quoted as saying.

Those under observation will have their temperatures taken four times daily for the next three weeks, BBC News reports. Symptoms include high fever, nausea and external bleeding.

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Pregnancy Doesn't Cause Memory Problems

There's no evidence to suggest that pregnancy affects a woman's cognitive abilities, says an Australian study that challenges the widespread belief that pregnant women suffer memory problems.

The Australian National University study included 2,500 women aged 20 to 24 when they were first interviewed in 1999. The 76 women who were pregnant in follow-up sessions in 2003 and 2007 scored the same on logic and memory tests as they did in the initial interview, Agence France-Presse reported.

In addition, there were no differences between the pregnant women and the other women.

"It really leaves the question open as to why (pregnant) women think they have poor memories when the best evidence we have is that they don't," study leader Professor Helen Christensen told AFP.

She suggested that normal lapses in memory may be blamed on pregnancy, because that's what's foremost in expectant mothers' minds.

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House Repossession Major Threat to Mental Health

House repossession poses the biggest threat to people's mental health, even more than losing a job or receiving a diagnosis of infertility, according to a U.K. survey released Friday to mark World Mental Health Day.

The survey of about 2,000 people, conducted for the mental health charity Rethink, found that 46 percent of respondents rated house possession as the event that would most damage their mental health.

Rethink officials said the findings show that the current economic downturn could pose a significant threat to mental health and called for action to prevent "a mental health disaster," BBC News reported.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we see a rise in the number of people going to their doctor because of mental health problems in the coming months," said Paul Corry, Rethink's director of public affairs.

"Even for people lucky enough to hang on to their home, the stress and worry of arrears building up can be enough to harm your mental health -- this survey shows it worries millions of us," Corry told BBC News.

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Dalai Lama Recovering After Gallstone Surgery

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is recovering well after surgery Friday to remove gallstones. The operation was performed at a hospital in New Delhi, India.

The Dalai Lama, 73, is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days and will likely be back at work by the end of October, his spokesman said Friday, CBC News reported.

In August, the Dalai Lama was admitted to a hospital in Mumbai, India, for four days and underwent tests for abdominal discomfort. Doctors said he was suffering from exhaustion and advised him to rest.

Just a few days ago, doctors told the Dalai Lama he was fit to resume his world travels. But he was hospitalized Thursday after a new bout of abdominal pain, CBC News reported.

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St. John's Wort May Help Treat Depression: Study

The herbal medicine St. John's wort could be a suitable alternative to drugs for treating depression, suggests a German study that included nearly 5,500 people suffering from mild to severe depression.

The researchers compared the effectiveness of St. John's wort, a placebo, and a number of antidepressants, BBC News reported.

"Overall, the St. John's wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects," said study leader Dr. Klaus Linde.

St. John's wort has been used for decades as an alternative medicine to treat depression or stress. It's believed it helps keep a mood-enhancing chemical called serotonin in the brain longer, BBC News reported.

"Using St. John's wort extract might be justified, but products on the market vary considerably," Linde noted.

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