Cuban ballet defectors appear in Miami, seek U.S. careers

Six dancers who defected over the weekend from the famed National Ballet of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Cuba appeared in Miami on Tuesday and said they planned to pursue careers in the United States.

"The dancers defected because they need personal freedom and opportunity in their career," said Pedro Pablo Peña, founder of the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami, a nonprofit dance organization.

"It's a short career. Here they'll at least get paid more than they do in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Cuba," he added.

It was the second major defection of Cuban ballet dancers in the United States in a little more than 12 months, though none are principals or soloists.

Cuba is one of the world’s top producers of ballet talent but dancers are restricted from working abroad and some leave the island frustrated by lack of opportunity, and high paying salaries.

At a press conference in Miami on Tuesday, the six dancers, aged between 21 and 24, said they had considered defecting for some time and had discussed the idea with friends and family.

"I thought about this for months before the tour," said Ariel Soto Cantora, 23. "Each of us decided on our own but didn't come with each other," he added.

For some it was a spur of the moment decision. "I was thinking about it but didn't decide until the last minute," said Monica Gomez Bolaños, 21.

The dancers had been performing in Puerto Rico before abandoning the tour on Sunday and flying to Miami.

A seventh dancer defected but stayed behind with friends in Puerto Rico.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act Cuban exiles are granted special immigration privileges as well as financial benefits to help them get on their feet.

The Cuban national ballet, known for its classical style and for producing world-class dancers, regularly makes international tours. Its members, especially the principals and soloists, enjoy privileged lives but earn modest salaries of $10 to $30 a month plus bonuses for foreign tours.

Over the years, many of its dancers have defected and enjoyed successful careers abroad, while others have been allowed to leave Cuba on contract to foreign ballet companies.

Cuban ballet legend Alicia Alonso founded the National Ballet of Cuba in 1948 and, at the age of 92, despite being nearly blind, continues as its artistic director.

Cuba provides free training to thousands of young dancers around the country from the age of 9, with the elite graduating to the National Ballet.

(This story was corrected in first paragraph to six dancers. A seventh defected but stayed in Puerto Rico)

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(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Jim Loney)

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Photos of Albert of Monaco's illegitimate son legal: court

A French court breached freedom of expression laws when it censured the glossy magazine Paris Match in 2005 for class="mandelbrot_refrag">publishing photos and an article about the illegitimate son of Prince Albert of Monaco, Europe's human rights court ruled on Thursday.

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The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled that the article in which "Ms C" alleged that the ruler of Monaco had fathered her son, and photos of the prince with the child, fell outside the sphere of private life protected by French law.

"As this was an issue of political significance, the court found that the public had a legitimate interest in knowing of the child's existence and being able to conduct a debate on the possible implications for political life in the Principality of Monaco," the court wrote.

 
 
 

Prince Albert II is the head of the centuries-old House of Grimaldi and son of the late Prince Rainier III and actress Grace Kelly. He married South African former national swimming champion Charlene Wittstock in 2011.

The couple announced last month they were expecting a child.

Prince Albert sued Paris Match in May 2005 in a French court, which awarded him 50,000 euros ($68,100) in damages. That award was upheld in an appeals court.

After the original ruling, Prince Albert issued a statement publicly acknowledging that the child of Togolese-born air hostess Nicole Coste was his.

Thursday's four-to-three judgment is not final, as any party has the right to request that it be referred to the full court. If that request is deemed valid, the case will be heard by the grand chamber of 17 judges, but it is rare for a case to be accepted.

(Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Mark John and Sonya Hepinstall)

Recife steps up shark warnings for unwary World Cup fans

Soccer fans visiting Recife for the World Cup may be unaware that the city is not just famous for football - it is also one of the most dangerous places in the world to swim due to the risk of shark attacks.

Supporters strolling on the sandy beaches of the city, which will host five World Cup matches, are being met by a forest of warning signs in English and Portuguese, and newly-built watchtowers where lifeguards keep a close eye on bathers.

The Boa Viagem beach suffers a high number of shark attacks and an above-average number of fatalities, and local authorities are keen to avoid any incidents with unsuspecting soccer fans during the World Cup.

"In the 20 kilometers of beach we have in the state of Pernambuco, we have an atypical concentration of sharks, above the world average," local lifeguard captain Helder Silva told Reuters in an interview at one of the many watchtowers along the shore.

"Across these 20 kilometers of coastline we’ve had 59 incidents over 21 years, which is considered above the world average for attacks."

The waters off the coast of the capital of the Pernambuco region are mainly populated by bull and tiger sharks, which Silva says are attracted by the jetsam emptied into the sea by two local rivers.

In July of 2013 an 18-year-old Brazilian tourist from Sao Paulo, Bruna Gobbi, died after she was bitten on the leg by a shark at the Boa Viagem beach.

"Tourists often are not aware of the problem with sharks here, nor do they know the prevention measures. So we’ve needed to reinforce our efforts," Silva said.

"The World Cup is going to happen during the rainy season here, which is the period of greater risk of shark attack.

"We've nearly doubled our number of watch towers, which was part of the planning to receive the World Cup, and we've doubled our personnel to cater for the demand of the World Cup."

VIDEO MONITORS

As his colleagues intently study video monitors showing the situation on the strand, Silva said a campaign to make visitors aware of the dangers of swimming at the city's beaches was well underway, and seemed to be paying off.

"This year, we’ve not registered any attacks. Last year we had two, one here on Boa Viagem beach and another on Praias dos Corais in the neighboring town."

Silva demonstrated a device used by lifeguards called a Sharkshield, which uses an electronic pulse to repel sharks, before offering soccer fans and swimmers some simpler tips.

"To avoid a shark attack, avoid swimming in the ocean in unprotected areas or open shore. Here on our coast we have protected areas inside natural reefs, so it's recommended that if you swim, to do it in these areas at low tide," he said.

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"Don’t swim alone. Stay in groups and don't spend too much time in the water. Don’t go in the water if you're bleeding, as it attracts sharks."

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But high up the beach, sunbathing American soccer fan Quinn Gemperline told Reuters that he was not too worried about the prospect of a shark attack.

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"If you swim past the reef wall maybe you should be a little worried, but this side of the reef I think you should be fine. I haven’t seen any sharks but I have seen a lot of the signs," he said.

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"Every year there are fewer shark attacks than people who die from vending machine accidents, so I am not too worried.”

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(This story has been refiled to fix typo in seventh para)

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(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Hollywood duo Pitt, Jolie put spotlight on sexual violence in war

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie appeared together on Thursday at a global summit on ending sexual violence in conflict, in a show of celebrity power that British Foreign Secretary William Hague said was helping put a spotlight on the issue of rape as a weapon of war.

Dressed in black, Pitt and Jolie flanked Hague at the opening of the third day of a four-day summit in London that is the culmination of two years' joint work by the actress and Hague.

Up to 1,200 government ministers, officials, activists and members of judiciaries and militaries from more than 120 countries are at the summit that aims to find practical steps to punish those responsible for sex violence and help victims.

 
 
 

Hague said his partnership with Oscar-winning Jolie, special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had put the issue of sexual violence in conflict on the world agenda and was an example of how foreign policy could be conducted in the future.

"She brings what governments can't ... (as) there was no really big government of the world driving this," Hague told a small media briefing including Reuters.

"You need something much more than government to be able to reach people who don't easily listen to governments and Angelina brings that, as well as having great knowledge and passion about these issues."

Jolie's involvement in humanitarian issues dates back to 2001 when she traveled to Sierra Leone as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and saw the impact of years of civil war when an estimated 60,000 women were raped.

Her link-up with Hague came after he contacted her on seeing her 2011 directorial debut "In the Land of Blood and Honey" set against the 1992-95 Bosnian war in which more than 100,000 people were killed and an estimated 20,000 women believed raped.

"MEN NEED TO SAY NO"

The actress, 39, has attended the summit since the start on Tuesday but her partner, Pitt, joined her for the first time on Thursday for the opening plenary.

"We, as an international community, have never done enough to stop this abuse and we do survivors a disservice when they know we are aware but do nothing to hold the perpetrators accountable," Jolie told the summit on Thursday.

"Today we have an opportunity to begin to change that."

Both Jolie and Hague have stressed the importance of ensuring the summit is not just a talking shop but the start of action to shatter a culture of impunity over sexual violence.

The summit follows a series of shocking cases of violence against women including the kidnap of 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, the stoning of a pregnant Pakistani woman to death, and the gang-rape and murder of two Indian girls.

Last year Hague and Jolie launched a declaration, now signed by about 150 countries, pledging to pursue those responsible for sexual violence and provide justice and safety for victims.

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This week they launched a international guide on how to investigate such crimes, collect evidence and prosecute.

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Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union Commission, said it was vital that attitudes change as "without men saying 'no,' we will not end this cycle".

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Hague said now it was up to governments to take action and for the public and activists to hold them accountable.

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"Together we can unleash a wave of practical action through the world that will make a huge difference to the lives of men, women and children in conflict zones," he said.

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(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Some turn to bullet-resistant blankets after U.S. school shootings

An Oklahoma company that sells a blanket to protect children from gunfire has seen its business grow after a spate of U.S. school shootings has left parents and educators on edge.

ProTecht of Oklahoma originally developed its "Body Guard" blanket product to keep children safe from high-speed debris flying through the air from the tornadoes that frequently hit the state, but many parents see it as armor against bullets, the company said on Thursday.

"The government is not going to do anything in law about guns, and there is nothing else out there to protect the children," said Stan Schone, who helped develop the blanket.

The 5/16th-inch (7.9 millimeter) pad is made from bullet-resistant materials that can be folded and strapped on the back and then unfurled to hide under in emergency situations. The blankets sell for about $1,000.

The company declined to provide sales figures.

Co-developer Steve Walker, an Oklahoma podiatrist, came up with the idea of a protective blanket after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in late 2012 and a tornado a few months later that killed 24 people in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, including seven children at school.

Since Sandy Hook, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the school in Connecticut, scores of school shootings have occurred in the United States. The most recent was in Oregon this week when a teenage gunman shot a student to death and then killed himself.

In ProTecht's home state of Oklahoma, most schools are interested in the product for tornado protection, but orders were also coming from Canada, class="mandelbrot_refrag">France, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany, class="mandelbrot_refrag">South Korea and other countries.

"I’m glad we can make a difference in helping keep kids safe, but it’s a sad thing that we need a product like this," Schone said.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Richard Chang)

In Miami, expat Brazilians crowd cafes, bars to cheer national team

Elie Iskandar, a Brazilian who lives in the United States, could not afford to travel home to see the World Cup. So he opted for what he called the next best thing - his favorite Brazilian hangout in Miami.

Expatriate Brazilians packed Miami-area bars and class="mandelbrot_refrag">restaurants as the World Cup kicked off on Thursday, chanting, dancing and cheering on their national team in its opening 3-1 victory over Croatia.

At the Brazilian bar and restaurant Boteco, a party atmosphere took hold, with virtually everyone dressed in Brazil's famed yellow and green jersey. Those not wearing the jersey drew the occasional cold stare.

 
 
 

Some fans sipped Caipirinhas, Brazil's national cocktail, while others nibbled on Brazilian cheese bread rolls known as pao de queijo.

Iskandar said it was like a slice of home. "It's beautiful," he said.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, at least 325,000 Brazilians live in the United States, with sizable communities in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Florida.

The Brazilian community in Miami is part of a growing South American population in south Florida that has more than doubled over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

South Americans now represent the largest population group in parts of the Miami metropolitan area, including the suburban cities of Doral and Weston.

That means in coming days, contingents of Argentine, Colombian and Uruguayan fans living in Miami will have their turn to show support for their World Cup national teams.

An estimated 600,000 residents of South Florida were born in soccer-playing countries from class="mandelbrot_refrag">Mexico to Central and South America.

On Thursday, however, it was all class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil. Hours before kickoff, a group of Brazilian fans danced samba through downtown.

Paul de Lucena, a 34-year-old Brazilian from Recife, headed to Boteco after arriving in Miami on a connecting flight from New York, where he lives.

Lucena, who planned to stay overnight before flying home to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil, said he was determined to watch Brazil's first tournament match in the company of other Brazilians.

"It's wall-to-wall Brazilians. I love it," he said. "In New York, you could easily find yourself in a half-Croatian bar, but in Miami you know what you're going to find."

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Peter Cooney)

Jamaica to decriminalize personal marijuana possession

The Jamaican government has decided to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, joining the trickle of countries moving to soften laws on the drug known on the Caribbean island as "ganja."

Minister of Justice Mark Golding made the announcement at an afternoon news conference on Thursday saying that Jamaica's Dangerous Drugs Act would be formally amended this summer.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made the decision on June 2, he said.

 
 
 

"Cabinet approved certain changes to the law relating to ganja. These relate to possession of small quantities of ganja for personal use, the smoking of ganja in private places and the use of ganja for medical-medicinal purposes," he said.

"Approval has been given also to a proposal for the decriminalization of the use of ganja for religious purposes," he said.

Uruguay recently became the latest country to legalize marijuana use, joining several countries in Europe as well as the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington.

Possession of small quantities of the drug would become a non-arrestable, ticketable infraction in Jamaica resulting in a fine, Golding said.

"Too many of our young people have ended up with criminal convictions after being caught with a 'spliff,' something that has affected their ability to do things like get jobs and get visas to travel overseas," Golding said.

He added that the government would propose a bill in the Jamaican Parliament soon that will expunge the criminal records of people convicted for possession of small amounts of the drug, which is grown widely across Jamaica.

The change means that a person cannot be arrested if he has in his possession up to 57 grams (2 ounces) of ganja in a public space.

Anyone ticketed will be given 30 days to pay the fine, failure of which will result in it becoming a minor offense, resulting in the offender doing court-ordered community service.

According to Golding, possession of ganja for religious or therapeutic purposes as prescribed by a registered medical practitioner, or for scientific research by an accredited institution, will also be decriminalized.

(Editing by David Adams and Sandra Maler)

After major surgery, simple ice packs may help reduce pain

Patients given ice packs for the first 24 hours after major abdominal surgeries reported less pain and needed fewer narcotic painkillers, according to a new U.S. study.

“We aren’t talking about saying to a patient, here is some ice and then cut off all their pain medication. The ice was only meant to increase the patient care,” Dr. Viraj Master told Reuters Health.

Master, a urologist and professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, led the study. He said post-operative pain is an unavoidable consequence of major surgery. Although you can make it better with pain medication, those drugs are not without side effects like constipation, drowsiness and even dependence.

“The idea was to keep patients out of pain but not have them suffer from using too many narcotics,” he said. “The physician could give the patient any medication he wanted, we just added the ice.”

Using ice as a treatment for surgical wounds, known as cryotherapy, is not new, Master said. The cold reduces pain by reducing inflammation and swelling, which lets more oxygen flow to cells, he said. At the same time, it slows down the metabolism of a cell so that less oxygen is needed. It also makes the nerve endings less sensitive to the pain.

Cryotherapy is commonly used after orthopedic and hernia procedures, Master and his coauthors write in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. They wanted to see if it could help patients after major surgeries too.

The researchers recruited 55 patients scheduled for major abdominal operations, mostly to remove cancers of the liver, pancreas, colon and other organs, then randomly assigned them to two groups. The 27 patients in the cryotherapy group would get ice for their wounds after their procedure while the 28 assigned to the comparison group would get no ice.

Immediately after surgery, members of the cryotherapy group were given their ice pack to wear over their wound for a full 24 hours. Nurses kept the patients supplied with fresh ice packs during that time.

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After the first 24 hours, the patients could use the ice packs only when they wanted to.

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For the three days following their surgeries, the patients rated their pain level twice a day on a scale of 0 to 10. Zero meant no pain, and 10 meant the worst pain imaginable. Their use of narcotic painkillers was also recorded during that period.

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There was no significant difference in how long patients from either group stayed in the hospital, and one hour after their procedures, pain levels were not different in the two patient groups.

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But after the first hour and at all points during days one through three, patients in the cryotherapy group had lower pain scores than in the comparison group. On the first morning after surgery, for example, patients using ice packs rated their pain at 3 while those in the comparison group rated theirs at a 5.

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The researchers also saw a significant difference in pain on the evening of day three when the ice-treatment patients had an average pain score of less than 2 and the non-ice patients had scores that averaged almost 4.

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The researchers standardized the pain medications used by patients into units of morphine equivalents and found that on days one and three, patients in the cryotherapy group used less medication.

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On day one after surgery, patients with ice packs used about 14 morphine equivalents’ worth of pain medication, compared to 17 in the group without ice. Use of the narcotics shot up on the second day in the cryotherapy group, but then fell again on day three, when they used about 11 morphine equivalents compared to 15 in the non-ice group.

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Because ice works locally and only for a short time, it was not surprising that the effect on narcotic use only lasted while patients used 24-hour ice packs, the authors write.

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Some patients did continue using ice packs after the first day and said that it helped their pain. Eighty-one percent of the cryotherapy group said the ice brought them some relief, and 76 percent said they would use ice packs if they had another surgery.

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Master noted that safety was a very important part of the experiment. “There was no wound breakdown caused by the ice and we conducted the treatment on a variety of surgical patients,” he said.

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At $2 per ice pack, the treatment is cost-effective, the researchers point out in their report. They also say that cryotherapy should be complementary to other pain management strategies because it is easy, affordable, well-received by patients and has minimal to no toxicity.

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“Patients may have been getting ice packs from the time they were kids. Sprained ankle - mom gives you ice pack,” Master said.

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Now, he added, patients could reasonably ask their doctor to provide them with ice packs as well.

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SOURCE: bit.ly/UoOFvi Journal of American College of Surgeons, online May 23, 2014.

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Rate of smokeless tobacco use in U.S. unchanged: CDC

While the portion of U.S. working adults smoking class="mandelbrot_refrag">tobacco shrank appreciably between 2005 and 2010, the use of smokeless tobacco remained steady, according to a new study.

In 2005, 2.7 percent of working adults represented in the annual National Health Interview Survey used smokeless class="mandelbrot_refrag">tobacco and in 2010, it was 3 percent. That’s still about 10 times higher than national public health policy goals, researchers said.

“These findings highlight opportunities for reducing the health and economic burdens of tobacco use among U.S. workers, especially those in certain industries (e.g., mining) and occupations (e.g., class="mandelbrot_refrag">construction and extraction) where use of smokeless tobacco is especially common,” the report’s authors write.

Dr. Jacek Mazurek, of the Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), led the study that was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The researchers analyzed data on some 30,000 working adults collected in both 2005 and 2010. Survey participants answered questions about their jobs and their use of smokeless tobacco products such as snus and chewing tobacco, as well as their use of cigarettes.

Smokeless tobacco use was highest in certain industries and regions, the study team found. In mining, about 19 percent of workers used smokeless tobacco. About 9 percent of people employed in wholesale trades and 8 percent of class="mandelbrot_refrag">construction workers were smokeless tobacco users as well.

Among demographic groups, smokeless tobacco use was highest among white males ages 25 to 44 years old, people with no more than a high school education and those living in the Midwest and the South.

The study also found that about 4 percent of working adults who smoked cigarettes also used smokeless tobacco.

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In contrast with smokeless tobacco use, tobacco smoking rates fell among working adults from 22.1 percent in 2005 to 19.1 percent in 2010, the study team points out.

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“The lack of reduction in smokeless tobacco use might be attributable to the introduction of novel smokeless tobacco products into the U.S. marketplace (e.g., snus and dissolvable tobacco), as well as increased expenditures on smokeless tobacco class="mandelbrot_refrag">marketing in recent years,” the authors write in their report.

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Lucy Popova, from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco called the new study very timely.

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“Cigarettes have been at the forefront of attention because they are the most harmful and the most deadly product out there, but there’s been a lot of efforts in the public health community, and cigarette smoking rates are going down, but we don't see equal reduction in smokeless tobacco” Popova told Reuters Health.

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Popova, who was not involved in the new study, said that a tobacco prevention program from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called The Real Cost Campaign, plans to add a specific program targeted at smokeless tobacco use.

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The risks of smokeless tobacco include problems such as receding gums, loss of bones around the teeth, precancerous lesions, and cancers of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas, Popova said.

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“The use of smokeless tobacco is also a risk factor in high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and of course smokeless tobacco is addictive,” she said.

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Popova highlighted a new finding in the report, that the average number of cigarettes smoked per day was significantly higher among dual users compared to those who used cigarettes only.

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“People would expect that if you use two types of tobacco you’d smoke less - you would substitute and so you would reduce your harm, but what we see here is that people who are dual users actually smoke more,” she said.

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But this makes sense, she said, because dual users become more dependent on tobacco and want a higher dose of nicotine.

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The report’s authors note that past research indicates smokers may switch to smokeless tobacco because they think it’s safer than smoking, but it’s not and no evidence suggests it helps smokers transition to quitting.

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They urge employers to make workplaces tobacco free and to offer tobacco-cessation support, and encourage healthcare providers and government to spread the message and fund tobacco-control programs.

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SOURCE: 1.usa.gov/1nvvYiW Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, online June 6, 2104.

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Sierra Leone shuts borders, closes schools to fight Ebola

Sierra Leone shut its borders to trade with Guinea and Liberia on Wednesday and closed schools, cinemas and nightclubs in a frontier region in a bid to halt the spread of the Ebola virus.

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Sixteen people have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, a figure that has doubled in the last week, Ministry of Health figures showed.

Authorities will also mount health checkpoints in the eastern Kailahun district and mandated that all deaths there be reported before burial. Anyone who dies of the virus must be buried under the supervision of health personnel, the Information Ministry said.

The decision to close district schools came after a nine-year-old whose parents died of Ebola tested positive for the virus, Deputy Minister of Information Theo Nicol told Reuters.

 
 
 

"There is more contacts between school-going kids than adults hence the closure of schools in the most affected district," he said. The ban exempted churches and mosques but religious leaders should urge anyone with a fever to go to a clinic, he said.

Local groups welcomed the measures given public concern over the virus, which can be transmitted by touching victims or their body fluids.

The virus initially causes a raging fever, headaches, muscle pain and conjunctivitis, before moving to severe phases that bring on vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding.

Some 328 cases and 208 deaths are linked to Ebola in Guinea, according to the World Health Organization, making the outbreak one of the deadliest for years.

More than half of new deaths in Guinea were in the southern region of Gueckedou, epicenter of the outbreak which began in February, near the Sierra Leone and Liberian borders. The town is known for its weekly market which attracts traders from neighboring countries.

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Janet Lawrence)

Skin moles tied to breast cancer risk: studies

The number of moles a woman has may be tied to her risk of developing breast cancer, according to two new studies.

The studies don’t prove that moles cause breast cancer or that women with a lot of moles will definitely get breast cancer. Instead, they suggest there may be a small genetic or hormonal link between the two.

“This shouldn’t be a concern for women with moles, because we don’t think the relationship is causal,” said Marina Kvaskoff, the lead author of one of the new studies.

Kvaskoff is affiliated with INSERM - the French National Institute of Health and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Medical Research - and the University of Paris 11.

Researchers suspected that moles, also known as nevi, and breast cancer might share links to certain hormones and genes. That would mean moles could be used to help predict a woman’s breast cancer risk.

“We always need to discover more causes of cancer and breast cancer in particular,” Kvaskoff said. “If more studies were to find nevi were associated with breast cancer risk, then nevi could become a risk marker for breast cancer risk.”

In one of the studies, researchers led by Mingfeng Zhang at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston used data collected on 74,523 female nurses between 1986 and 2010 to measure women’s breast cancer risk by the number of moles on their arms.

Women with no moles had about an 8.5 percent chance of developing breast cancer during the study, compared to an 11.4 percent chance of breast cancer among women with 15 or more moles on their left arm.

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Among women who had already gone through menopause, Zhang and her colleagues found those with six or more moles had higher levels of estrogen and testosterone in their blood, compared to women without moles.

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After adjusting their data to account for the differing hormone levels, the researchers found the link between moles and breast cancer disappeared.

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In the other study that was led by Kvaskoff, researchers found that French women who reported having “very many moles” were 13 percent more likely to develop breast cancer between 1990 and 2008 than women who had no moles. That study included 89,902 total women.

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The association disappeared after the researchers adjusted the data to account for other breast cancer risk factors, including family history of breast cancer.

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Kvaskoff said the findings suggest that the link between the number of moles a woman has and her risk of breast cancer could be genetic or hormonal. Her team did not have the data to take hormones into account, however.

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The new studies, published in PLOS Medicine, are also limited because they mostly relied on white women. Additionally, one study asked women to report their own moles, which may be unreliable.

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Kvaskoff said the magnitude of the associations the researchers found was small, which suggests moles may not be an important risk factor.

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In an editorial accompanying the new studies, Barbara Fuhrman and Victor Cardenas from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock write that more research is needed.

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They say that they hope additional studies will add information on the relationship between moles and breast cancer, and help with the assessment of breast cancer risk.

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For now, Kvaskoff said the biggest risk of moles is skin cancer.

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“Women in general should always get their moles checked for this reason,” she said. “But it shouldn’t be a concern with breast cancer.”

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SOURCE: bit.ly/1pkIjK0, bit.ly/1oOFCPc and bit.ly/1n6qd9I PLOS Medicine, online June 10, 2014.

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New psych ward to open on California's death row : report

Under pressure to improve mental health treatment for inmates in California's massive prison system, officials plan to build a new psychiatric ward to provide inpatient mental health care for prisoners on death row, according to a court-ordered report.

The new ward, set to open on Oct. 1, will serve severely mentally ill prisoners on death row at the San Quentin prison near San Francisco, said the report filed late Tuesday.

Matthew Lopes, a special master overseeing mental health care in California's prisons, found that 37 severely mentally ill death row inmates at San Quentin prison near San Francisco were entitled to 24-hour inpatient care in a hospital but were not getting it.

Lopes, assigned to develop the report by federal Judge Lawrence K. Karlton last December, said he had worked with state officials and lawyers representing inmates to draft plans for a new ward.

"They were refusing to transfer them (to a mental hospital) because they said it was too dangerous," said Ernest Galvan, who is part of a legal team representing the state's estimated 36,000 mentally ill inmates.

Currently, 743 prisoners are on death row in California, although the state has not executed anyone since 2006, according to state officials.

The fight over how to best care for those on death row who are severely mentally ill is the latest example of ongoing tensions over medical and mental health care for inmates in the state's massive prison system.

California is also under court orders to reduce the population in its overcrowded prisons, a condition a panel of federal judges said led to inadequate mental health and medical care.

Last summer, inmates protesting the indefinite detention of those believed to be affiliated with prison gangs in near-solitary conditions started a hunger strike that lasted two months and at its peak attracted 30,000 prisoners.

In December, a federal district court ordered the state to provide inpatient hospital care to severely mentally ill inmates on death row.

Lopes' report urged the state to expedite the process of retrofitting an existing section of San Quentin so that qualifying prisoners could receive care as soon as possible.

"We will continue to work with all parties involved to see this project to completion," said Deborah Hoffman, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Jim Loney)

FDA aims to develop e-cigarette standards; nicotine policy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working to develop strong product standards for electronic cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices that will protect public health and enable the agency to withstand legal challenges, its class="mandelbrot_refrag">tobacco chief said on Wednesday.

Mitchell Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for class="mandelbrot_refrag">Tobacco Products, said the agency is exploring potential product standards in the areas of addiction, toxicity and product appeal as it prepares to gain regulatory authority over electronic cigarettes and other nicotine-delivery devices.

The establishment of product standards is one of five priorities for the division over the next few years, Zeller said, outlining them publicly in the most comprehensive manner to date.

They include putting in place regulations for approving new products and monitoring them after they reach the market, ensuring that the agency has in place a strong compliance and law enforcement presence in every state, public education and the formulation of an FDA-wide nicotine policy that recognizes some products are less risky than others.

The agency is formulating product standards at a time when the benefits and risks of e-cigarettes remain the subject of intense debate.

"It's not the nicotine that kills half of all long-term smokers, its the delivery mechanism," he said at a lunch in Washington, D.C. organized by the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco group.

. "We have to recognize some of these realities and figure out how they can impact regulatory policy.".

The 2009 Tobacco Control Act gives the FDA authority, as long as it has scientific evidence to support the policy, to ban or restrict ingredients and compounds in a particular product, though the agency will need to issue a new rule to act on its authority.

In April the FDA proposed rules that would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18 and subject the $2 billion industry to federal regulation for the first time. The proposal would not restrict flavored products, online sales or class="mandelbrot_refrag">advertising, disappointing public health advocates who argue they attract children.

Zeller said that while it is never a good thing for a young person to inhale nicotine, further research is needed to assess the net impact of e-cigarettes on the overall health of the population and that it is important to have "an open mind" about the potential benefits of emerging technologies.

"We share the concerns about the class="mandelbrot_refrag">marketing of e-cigarettes to kids," he said, "We share the concerns that flavors certainly look like they would be appealing to kids; but let's not lose sight of the bigger picture here--tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease principally because of the ongoing use of products that burn tobacco.

The FDA is also considering regulating menthol, but Zeller said he could not estimate how long it will take to formulate a proposal. The agency received 176,000 comments from the public on the matter.

"We are seriously considering all the comments as we consider our regulatory options," he said. "We can only go as far as the science will take us."

(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; editing by Andrew Hay)

Saudi MERS response hobbled by institutional failings

When class="mandelbrot_refrag">Saudi Arabia announced last week it had found 113 more cases of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), it didn't just force a rethink of the threat the virus poses, it exposed institutional failings.

    Saudi health sources and international virologists said poor communication and a lack of accountability in government departments, inadequate state oversight and a failure to learn from past mistakes have all hindered Saudi Arabia's battle against the SARS-like virus.

    They say it is too soon to tell if reforms introduced by a new acting health minister can overcome what they see as underlying problems.

    Some top Saudi health officials say they accept that delays in reporting MERS cases were caused by poor communication between hospitals, laboratories and government departments, but they stress things have improved significantly since the appointment of the new minister in late April.

    The health ministry "has put in place measures to ensure best practices of data gathering, reporting (and) transparency are strictly observed", it says, and "to ensure that from now on, case information will be accurate, reliable and timely".

     class="mandelbrot_refrag">Saudi Arabia has been host to the vast majority of cases of MERS - a viral infection which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia - since it was first found in humans two years ago.

    International concerns over Saudi Arabia's handling of the outbreak grew last week when it said it had under-reported cases by a fifth and revised the case numbers to 688 from 575.

    People in the kingdom are still becoming infected with and dying of MERS every day, and sporadic cases have been found outside Saudi Arabia as infected people travel. The worldwide death toll from MERS now stands at more than 313 people.

    International scientists have complained of a lukewarm response from Saudi authorities to offers to help with the scientific research needed to get a handle on the outbreak, and have questioned the quality of data collection and distribution that could help reveal how the disease works.

   

    UNREPORTED CASES

    Tariq Madani, head of the scientific advisory board at the health ministry, said 58 of the 113 cases added last week had been confirmed as positive in government hospitals and laboratories, but the results had simply not been passed by those institutions to the ministry.

    Another 22 cases tested positive at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah, but duplicate samples were not sent to government laboratories and the institution did not communicate the results to the health ministry, he said.

    A spokesman for King Faisal Specialist Hospital declined to comment further and referred all queries back to the health ministry.

    The remaining 33 cases had tested positive in private laboratories but showed as negative in government ones, Madani said.

    Madani said he did not believe the under-reporting had been deliberate and he thought a 20 percent shortfall in reported cases was not unusual in a disease outbreak.

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    "This can happen anywhere in the world, that 20 percent of patients may not be reported. This is within the limit. It's actually less than 20 percent," he said.

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    However, Ian MacKay, an associate professor of clinical virology at Australia's University of Queensland who has been tracking the MERS outbreak since the virus was first identified in 2012, is skeptical about the notion that it is normal for 20 percent of cases to go unreported.

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    "I know of no global scientific norms that define a threshold below which it is normal to under-report cases of any viral cluster, outbreak or epidemic," he said.

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    Madani said in some cases patients intermittently shed the virus, so it is not caught in a test. The ministry's policy, he said, had been to say that if there was a discrepancy between test results, only government laboratory results should stand.

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    The new acting health minister Adel Fakieh has changed that policy, Madani said, and from now on positive tests from any laboratory accredited by the health ministry will count as confirmed cases.

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    The appointment of Fakieh has also led to other changes, he said. Authorities have brought in tighter infection procedures in hospitals and are trying to be more transparent about how they are tackling MERS.

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    "After the change of minister they involved people more in preventative methods. There were text messages on hand washing, the public has been more involved," said a Saudi public health expert who was critical of the ministry earlier this year. He, like some others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

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    But some international scientists still complain that data published online by Saudi authorities, which includes daily updates on confirmed new infections and deaths in different cities, is not comprehensive enough to allow them to research the disease. [ID:nL6N0OM2VH]

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The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), for example, said it was not clear whether the new cases listed by Saudi authorities met the World Health Organisation's definition of confirmed cases. The ECDC also noted the absence of detail such as age, gender, residence, probable place of infection and other information.

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    Madani said the ministry only published information it considered immediately relevant to the public. He said more detailed data, collected on all patients since the first confirmed case in June 2012, could be made available to scientists who wanted it and had already been given to the World Health Organization.

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     A spokesman for the WHO confirmed the organization had received detailed information which it was now verifying with Saudi authorities to ensure there was no double counting of cases in the WHO's global tally.  

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     "We collect extensive data on demographics, location of the patient, their nationality. Then we collect...data in terms of clinical manifestations, complications that happened to the patients while they are in hospital, and the outcome," Madani said. Officials also follow up contacts of known MERS cases daily for 14 days, he added, asking them to stay home in isolation and admitting them to hospital if they show symptoms. 

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    Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Saudi authorities should be congratulated on their pledge to be more open. "From talking to people inside the Kingdom right now, I'd say there is a very new sense of transparency in the last few weeks," he said.

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    DOCTORS NOT INFORMED

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    However, challenges remain. The problems are evident in the case of one kidney patient who fell ill in Jeddah in April, a main location of the outbreak.

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    The man was transferred from another hospital to the King Faisal Specialist Hospital (KFSH), but doctors there were not officially informed by medical staff who had previously cared for him that they suspected he might have contracted MERS, said a city health source.

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    As a result, King Faisal Specialist Hospital staff took no extra precautions and within a week the head of the intensive care unit and other staff, including a pregnant nurse, fell ill. Both the nurse and ICU head have now recovered.

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    The problem was that suspicions of MERS were only communicated verbally, rather than being put on paper in a patient's file, said Sabah Abuzinadah, a former head of nursing for a government commission on healthcare workers. 

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    The King Faisal spokesman declined to comment.

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    Such problems were familiar to people inside Saudi Arabia who had been involved in cases of MERS over the previous two years.

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    "At first the government would only accept that those patients already in intensive care had MERS. Even when cases were coming to the emergency room with severe respiratory symptoms they were told to go home and not investigated," said the head of a private hospital where some MERS cases occurred last year.

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    He denied that there was any deliberate attempt to hide MERS cases, but said officials - and sometimes emergency room doctors - found it hard to accept that a new disease had raised its head in their hospital. The hospital declined to comment.

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    He said the extent of the outbreak in Jeddah in April and May showed that complacency had set in after the rate of infection slowed throughout last summer, autumn and winter, and when there were no confirmed cases during last year's pilgrimage season. "We did not learn from the outbreak last year. The Health Ministry did not get the severity of the issue. But it was not just them who underestimated it. Even in the best private hospitals there were cases," he said.

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    COMPLEX SYSTEMS

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    Abuzinadah said nursing groups in the kingdom had warned the health ministry about systemic problems in hospitals and poor government oversight.

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She said they had called for better enforcement of infection control procedures - something Madani says is now being implemented - and independent regulators for hospitals and healthcare professionals.

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    The only official body now overseeing healthcare workers is the Saudi Commission for Health Specialities, whose board is chaired by the minister. According to its website, it is responsible only for training and setting standards, not for regulating or evaluating performance.

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    Hospital regulation is run by the health ministry, which also manages many of the country's hospitals.

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    Other hospitals are run by private healthcare companies and by other state bodies, adding to the complexity of the system.

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    "It's a complicated country. Even people like Memish (the deputy minister sacked last week) don't really have access to everything (in terms of patient data and information)," said Christian Drosten, a University of Bonn virologist who has worked on MERS with Saudi scientists.

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    Many of the people who spoke to Reuters for this story said the creation of a new control and command center should help coordinate the response to MERS.

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    The new center, announced by Fakieh on June 1, aims to bring together public health, research, infection control, clinical operations and data analysis into a new unit.

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    "Before, our issue was with communication - other ministries only knew what was going on by reading the newspapers," said the private hospital head who had dealt with MERS last year. "Now, everyone is involved."

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(Editing by Janet McBride)

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FDA lifts partial hold on study testing Geron's only drug

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Geron Corp said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had lifted a partial clinical hold on a study testing its sole drug as a treatment for myelofibrosis, a rare form of blood cancer, sending the company's shares soaring in morning trading.

Enrollment in the early-stage trial, sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, was halted in March over concerns about liver toxicity pending followup data from Mayo's investigator on the possible reversibility of the liver damage.

Enrollment for the study ceased in January, and about 20 of the 79 patients dropped out.

Geron, whose shares rose as much as 33 percent on Thursday, did not then disclose the reason behind the dropouts, but said the remaining enrolled patients would continue to receive the drug, imetelstat.

 
 
 

However, in March the FDA also imposed a halt on separate company-sponsored trials evaluating the use of the drug in thrombocythemia and multiple myeloma, citing similar concerns.

Geron said on Thursday the company-sponsored trials remain suspended.

Stifel Nicolaus & Co analyst Brian Klein said that while the FDA's lift on the partial hold was positive, it was unlikely that the Mayo Clinic would enroll new patients.

As the partial hold had not prevented Mayo from dosing patients already enrolled, Thursday's announcement will make no difference to the final results of the study, he said.

Klein said he did not expect the FDA to lift its hold on company-sponsored trials in the next few months.

Geron, once one of the leading firms in the race to develop the first commercial stem-cell therapy, divested its stem-cell assets last year to focus on cancer treatments.

Imetelstat was touted as the company's savior after curing 22 percent of myelofibrosis patients in a trial last year.

Geron is likely to ask the FDA to lift the hold on the company-sponsored trials before providing all toxicity data from prior trials in order to initiate its own study in myelofibrosis patients, George Zavoico, an analyst at brokerage MLV & Co said.

"We believe the FDA will allow Geron to proceed, and if so the next trial could start in early 2015," he told Reuters.

If approved, Geron's drug would compete with Incyte Corp's myelofibrosis drug, Jakafi, which generated sales of $235.4 million last year.

Some analysts have indicated that imetelstat's ability to evoke a disease-modifying effect - defined as partial or complete remission - suggests it would be superior to Jakafi.

Incyte's shares were slightly higher at $53.90, while Geron's shares were up about 27 percent at $3.31 in early afternoon trading on the class="mandelbrot_refrag">Nasdaq.

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Imetelstat is designed to inhibit telomerase, an enzyme that enables the rapid multiplication of tumor cells.

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The company had earlier discontinued testing the drug for treatment of breast and lung cancer after trial failures.

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(Reporting by Natalie Grover in Bangalore; Editing by Don Sebastian and Ted Kerr)

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Weight gain differs with various antidepressants

People who take antidepressants tend to put on a few pounds, a new study confirms, and some of the drugs are linked to more weight gain than others.

Using health records from one New England healthcare system, researchers studied 19,244 adults treated with antidepressants, recording their weights over the course of a year.

The results showed that people taking citalopram (Celexa), from a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, gained more than two and a half pounds, on average.

Other SSRIs were associated with weight gain similar to citalopram, with people taking fluoxetine (Prozac) gaining on average a pound and a half and those taking sertraline (Zoloft) gaining nearly two pounds, the authors write in JAMA Psychiatry.

On the other hand, people taking bupropion (Wellbutrin) lost on average nearly half a pound. The tricyclic antidepressants nortriptyline and amitriptyline were also linked with significantly less weight gain than the SSRIs.

“Our study provides more support for the idea that if weight is a major concern, Wellbutrin is a good option,” senior author Dr. Roy Perlis told Reuters Health. Perlis is a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Experimental Drugs and Diagnostics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“There’s no question we see less weight gain with Wellbutrin,” he said. “But in absolute terms, the difference is rather small.”

On average, people taking antidepressants “will gain a very modest amount of weight . . . between half a pound and perhaps two pounds if they stayed on the medicine for about a year,” he said. But some people will gain much more, he said.

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About one in 10 Americans takes antidepressants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Use of the drugs rose 400 percent over the past two decades, making them the most frequent prescription for Americans ages 18 to 44.

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At the same time, the obesity rate has swelled, with more than one-third of U.S. adults now considered obese.

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“We in practice have long since watched the effect of antidepressants on weight,” Dr. Anne Peters told Reuters Health. “The key to this medicine is don’t overmedicate; don’t use drugs unless there’s a good reason.”

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Peters directs the University of Southern California Clinical Diabetes Program in Beverly Hills and was not involved in the current study.

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In addition to depression, a substantial percentage of study participants were prescribed antidepressants for anxiety or pain or as an aid to quit smoking. People who take antidepressants for reasons other than depression and are prone to weight gain may want to consider alternatives, Peters said.

_9">

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“We’ve got to individualize this and not keep people on antidepressants forever,” she said. “People shouldn’t stay on these drugs if they’re contributing to their weight gain and they’re no longer needed.”

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On the other hand, she said, “Nobody wants to gain weight, but I sure don’t want to see people depressed.”

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More than 60 percent of Americans taking antidepressants have been on them for two years or longer, and 14 percent have taken the drugs for 10 years or more, according to the CDC.

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Peters noted that Wellbutrin can agitate anxious people and therefore may be a poor match for some people with depression.

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_2">

Wellbutrin affects different brain chemicals than do SSRIs, and some of those chemicals may play a role in appetite. Researchers don’t know all the reasons why some antidepressants appear to cause weight gain and others do not, Perlis said.

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_4">

Some people gain weight and others lose weight as a result of depression. Consequently, researchers have trouble untangling the effects of medication and the effects of depression on weight, Perlis said.

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_6">

The new study also can’t prove the antidepressants were responsible for weight gain.

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“A one-size-fits-all solution isn’t right,” Perlis said. “We desperately need newer, better antidepressants in terms of effectiveness.”

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Perlis and one of his co-authors have consulted for and received funding from numerous antidepressant drug manufacturers. But Perlis said all the drugs he studied are now available as generics.

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SOURCE: bit.ly/1p2CpwS JAMA Psychiatry, online June 4, 2014.

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Shire to test its ADHD drug in 4 to 5-year olds in U.S.

Shire Plc SHP.L has agreed to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration request to study its stimulant Vyvanse in preschool children as concern rises over the diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the drugmaker said on Thursday.

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A report last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of children diagnosed with ADHD increased 41 percent from 2003 to 2011 and that 6.4 million children, or 11 percent of those aged 4 to 17, have been diagnosed with that condition.

Drugs treatments include Ritalin, Adderall and Vyvanse. Only Adderall, which is also made by Shire, is approved to treat children under the age of 6. Yet children much younger are taking the drugs and the FDA wants additional information to ensure they are safe in this very young population.

 
 
 

Gwen Fisher, a spokeswoman for U.K.-based Shire, said the company is designing three clinical trials for children aged 4 to 5. One will examine how the body absorbs, breaks down and excretes drugs. Another will test for safety and efficacy. A third will test for safety over a longer period.

The company said it expects to launch the trials in the first half of 2015.

ADHD patients have difficulty paying attention and may have poor impulse control. Most drugs that treat the condition are potentially addictive stimulants which, paradoxically, can help organize thoughts and calm behavior.

But the drugs have been associated with growth suppression in children and they can also cause hallucinations, mania and delusions.

Very little research has been done on the effect of stimulants in children. A search by researchers from the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy, found just six studies that monitored a total of 3,000 children for side effects for at least 12 weeks.

Worldwide sales of Vyvanse grew 18 percent in the first quarter to $351 million.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Paul Sandle in London; editing by Sarah Young and Richard Chang)

Ackman seeks court ruling on Allergan special meeting

William Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management said it had filed a lawsuit seeking confirmation that its request to hold a special shareholder meeting of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Allergan Inc would not trigger Allergan's poison pill takeover defense.

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Ackman, who owns nearly 10 percent of Allergan, last week filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission to call a shareholder meeting to elect new directors to the company's board. The Botox maker has rejected a $53 billion joint offer from Ackman and Canadian drugmaker class="mandelbrot_refrag">Valeant Pharmaceuticals International.

An Allergan spokeswoman declined to comment immediately.

Allergan adopted the one-year shareholder rights plan on April 22, the day Valeant and Ackman made the offer, saying it needed time to consider takeover proposals.

 
 
 

Allergan's shareholder rights plan, or poison pill, will be triggered if a person or group acquires 10 percent or more of its shares. A poison pill aims to dilute a stock's value by flooding the market with more shares; this makes it pricier for a shareholder to get a controlling stake.

The lawsuit filed in Delaware Court of Chancery said that it followed a request to Allergan from Pershing Square on June 6 seeking confirmation that Allergan would not use its poison pill to impede Ackman's request for a special meeting.

Allergan's bylaws require that a group calling a special meeting collectively represents 25 percent of shares outstanding. In the suit, Ackman says that he is concerned that by calling the meeting, it will trigger the pill.

A response from Allergan’s counsel dated June 11 did not provide confirmation that it would not, the document said.

Allergan said in the letter to Pershing Square that its solicitation and receipt of proxies from other Allergan stockholders for the purpose of requesting a special meeting would not, in and of itself, trigger the pill.

Allergan declined to answer more specific questions about the details of Pershing Square's plan for soliciting those proxies in the absence of all the facts, according to a copy of the letter included in the lawsuit.

Allergan rejected a sweetened offer from Valeant and the activist investor on Tuesday. [ID:nL2N0OR0L0]

Valeant was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Natalie Grover and Sweta Singh and Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by Ted Kerr and Bernadette Baum)

Vermont climate change report warns of catastrophic flood risk

A warming world could pose a risk of more frequent catastrophic flooding but also be a long-term boon for Vermont farmers and a shorter-lived thrill for its skiers, according to a state report released on Tuesday.

The Vermont Climate Assessment found that higher rates of precipitation expected to come with climate change could bring heavier winter snows over the next 25 years, good news for ski resorts until the state becomes too warm to sustain significant amounts of snow.

It was the first state report to follow the model of the National Climate Assessment released last month by the White House, which was intended to help U.S. states prepare for concrete ways a changing climate could affect agriculture, transportation and other aspects of life.

The report, based on records from weather data to farmers' observations on when ice thaws on ponds and plants bloom, found that average temperatures in Vermont have risen by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit (0.7 C) and average annual rainfall has risen by 5.9 inches (15 cm) since 1960, with almost half the growth coming since 1990.

It projected that average temperatures in the state would rise another 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 C) by 2050, with the most pronounced changes in winter months and overnight temperatures.

One major risk posed by rising temperatures and more intense rain storms is flooding similar to what the state experienced in August 2011 when the remnants of Tropical Storm Irene blew through, washing out 500 miles (800 km) of roads, cutting off towns and destroying homes.

Many of Vermont's poorest residents live in mobile home parks in floodplains, areas that can be "catastrophically destroyed" by one to two feet (30-60 cm) of flood water, the report said.

"Every town in Vermont is thinking about flooding and how flooding will impact their town and how they can build a better capacity to handle those flood events," said the report's author, Gillian Galford, a University of Vermont climate scientist.

A warming climate will bring longer growing seasons, which could help Vermont's dairy and fruit farmers, though also increase the risk from pests now killed off by cold winters, the report said.

It forecast that energy demand in Vermont would rise by 0.7 percent a year through 2030, with increased use of air conditioning in warmer summer months more than offsetting reduced heating expenses in winter.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Chile rejects HidroAysen, hydro power project can appeal

A special Chilean ministerial committee on Tuesday canceled the massive HidroAysen hydro-power project's permit, after environmentalists protested it would wreck pristine valleys in Chile's wild south.

While the decision is a big blow to the controversial project, it is not deadly. HidroAysen can still tweak the project or take its case to courts, suggesting more bitter legal wrangling over the fate of the 2,750 megawatt project may still be ahead.

Still, the $8 billion-plus project faces a steep uphill battle if it decides to fight on in court.

"Although the project isn't formally dead the litigation strategy has become a lot harder for the company now," said Luis Cordero, law professor at the Universidad de Chile, who estimated a fresh legal battle would yield a final decision in about a year.

The HidroAysen joint venture, made up of leading generators Endesa Chile and partner Colbun, was not immediately available for comment.

Some industry observers said the companies, exhausted by so many legal battles, may tweak the project to make it more environmentally and socially acceptable, before re-submitting it to authorities.

Potential modifications could include changes of ownership or design of the complex, for instance a scaling down to four dams instead of five, said energy analyst Sergio Zapata of Corpgroup.

POLEMIC PATAGONIA PROJECT

"This project has many aspects that were poorly thought out," said Energy Minister Maximo Pacheco, at the end of a three-hour meeting to discuss the project.

Anti-HidroAysen protesters outside the ministry building hugged each other and popped champagne when the announcement was made.

Unpopular HidroAysen is a political hot potato for center-left president Michelle Bachelet, who started her term in March.

World No. 1 copper producer Chile is facing an energy crunch just as environmental activists gain more traction in battling what they call excessively large and disruptive power projects.

Rejecting the project will boost moderate Bachelet's green credentials, and likely help her gain support from a key senator from the southern Aysen region who essentially conditioned his support for her reforms on axing HidroAysen.

Insufficient provision had been made for those who would be displaced and the quantification of damage to the environment and wildlife was inadequate, said Environment Minister Pablo Badenier as he announced the decision.

Supporters of the project call the massive complex an environmentally friendly way to meet the Andean country's soaring energy needs.

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Power-dependent miners in Chile will be especially dismayed by the decision. Bachelet is eyeing liquefied class="mandelbrot_refrag">natural gas (LNG) and renewables to fight the looming power woes.

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A series of other energy and mining projects have been blocked due to concerns about damage to water, health, indigenous communities and glaciers in the Andean country.

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Experts blast a nebulous regulatory framework for letting projects to sink into legal limbos, sometimes for years, exasperating environmentalists and companies alike.

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(Additional reporting by Fabian Cambero.; Editing by David Gregorio)

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U.S. judge orders ExxonMobil produce documents on Arkansas spill

A U.S. federal judge has denied ExxonMobil Corp's bid to dismiss a government lawsuit and instead ordered the oil giant to hand over documents going back decades on a pipeline that ruptured last year and inundated an Arkansas town with oil.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled on Tuesday the company must hand over requested information on the entire 850-mile (1,370-km) Pegasus pipeline, which spilled about 5,000 barrels of class="mandelbrot_refrag">crude oil in a residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, in March 2013.

She also said ExxonMobil should speed up the handover of documents sought by the state's attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice, which brought the case, and set a deadline of July 10.

 
 
 

The company had said it needed more time to go through millions of electronic and paper records to comply with requests from overlapping state and federal cases related to the spill.

"The court understands the defendants have a large amount of discovery to produce. However, providing defendants an unduly long period of time to complete that discovery raises the possibility of prejudice to plaintiffs," Baker wrote.

Exxon had argued it should only produce information going back to 2000, but Baker ordered the company release material dating back to 1988.

On Monday, Baker rejected the oil company's motion to drop the suit brought by the state and federal government.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel told Reuters the aim was to gather as much information as possible as the case heads toward trial.

About 22 homes in Mayflower were evacuated after the oil slick swamped the town and nearby wetlands, flowing into a lake and the Arkansas River, the state claims in the case.

Arkansas is seeking civil penalties from the company for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act as well as state laws, claiming the oil spill contaminated land and waterways and potentially harmed public health.

ExxonMobil had no comment on the order, which the company has yet to fully review, spokesman Aaron Stryk said in an email.

U.S. regulators said last year the leak in the nearly 70-year-old pipeline was likely caused by an original manufacturing defect. The 95,000-barrel-per-day pipeline is still shut down, Stryk said.

The case is USA et al v. ExxonMobil Pipeline Company et al in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Arkansas (Little Rock), No. 4:13-cv-00355-KGB

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)

EU agrees tougher nuclear safety rules after Fukushima disaster

The European Union has agreed a new law to strengthen safety standards and improve supervision of nuclear facilities in response to lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Japan, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

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In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami caused the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years, spewing radiation over a swathe of Fukushima and forcing 160,000 people from their homes.

The European Union, in response, carried out a series of stress tests to examine the resilience of  class="mandelbrot_refrag">nuclear power stations and used the results to draft a response plan based on the latest international standards.

"We need to put all our efforts into making sure that the highest safety standards are followed in every single class="mandelbrot_refrag">nuclear power plant across the EU," Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement.

The Commission found that safety improvements costing anywhere between 10 billion and 25 billion euros were necessary in European nuclear plants. There are 132 nuclear reactors in operation in Europe today.

The new framework says that new nuclear power plants need to be designed in a way that reactor damage will not have any consequences outside the plant in order to prevent radioactive leakage.

National regulators will also be required to draft a strategy on how to communicate with the public if an accident happens and citizens must be given the opportunity to take part in the decision-making process to grant licenses for new nuclear plants.

The new legislation also introduces a system of European peer reviews to be carried out at least every six years.

It strengthens the independence and the powers of national regulators. For the first time it sets out a clear nuclear safety objective to further reduce safety risks, the Commission said.

The EU's executive arm signed a cooperation memorandum with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September last year, designed to strengthen emergency preparedness and response capabilities among others.

The agreement still needs formal approve from EU heads of government in order to become law.

(Reporting by Martin Santa; editing by Jason Neely)

EU, Faroe Islands reach deal to lift herring ban soon

The European Commission could lift its import ban on herring from the Faroe Islands within months after reaching a deal to protect fish class="mandelbrot_refrag">stocks in the Atlantic, it said on Wednesday.

EU authorities banned imports of herring and mackerel from the Faroe Islands in August in a row over alleged over-fishing, with the world's biggest fish importer saying it had to protect a fish stock referred to as the Atlanto-Scandian herring.

The Faroe Islands, a self-governed territory within the Danish Realm and not part of the European Union, said at the time that the EU rules do not give it a sufficient share of the herring catch and that a higher quota is justified by an increase in the number of herring in its waters.

 
 
 

On Wednesday, the European Commission said the Faroe Islands had agreed to a new catch limit for Atlanto-Scandian herring. Once that limit is fixed, the EU would end the ban on Faroese herring imports.

"After long and intensive negotiations, I am satisfied that we can soon consider the herring dispute as something of the past," European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki said in a statement.

For decades Europe has been taking fish from the sea faster than they can be reproduce themselves, but a reform program seeks to recover fish class="mandelbrot_refrag">stocks and fish at sustainable levels by 2020.

Until 2012, the Atlanto-Scandian herring stock was managed jointly by class="mandelbrot_refrag">Norway, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the European Union. Last year, the Faroese unilaterally decided to treble its herring quota, prompting the EU ban of herring and mackerel and preventing some boats from docking at EU ports.

The Faroe Islands, a small archipelago in the north Atlantic Ocean halfway between class="mandelbrot_refrag">Norway and Iceland, responded by launching a case with the World Trade Organization (WTO), accusing the EU of violating international maritime law.

The row eased in March, when the EU settled a dispute over mackerel with the Faroe Islands and Norway.

Once the European Union ends its trade ban, the Faroese have agreed to withdraw their case with the WTO, the Commission said.

The Commission says that it has helped cut the number of overfished stocks in the northeast Atlantic to 39 percent from 94 percent in 2005, with all catch limits now decided on the basis of scientific advice.

From 2019, caught fish can no longer be thrown overboard, a rule aimed at encouraging fishermen to be more selective about what they catch and reduce unwanted catches. Caught fish must be used for food or in class="mandelbrot_refrag">pharmaceuticals. At the moment, a fifth of caught fish is thrown back into the water.

(Editing by Robin Emmott and James Macharia)