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Health Highlights: Feb. 25, 2013

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

Ex-Surgeon General Koop Dead at 96

Dr. C. Everett Koop, the influential U.S. Surgeon General who was a vigorous opponent of smoking but was best known for his unvarnished talk about AIDS during the early days of the epidemic, died Monday at his home in Hanover, N.H.

He was 96, officials at Dartmouth University's Geisel School of Medicine in New Hampshire said.

Koop was a pediatric surgeon with a conservative bent who sported an Amish-like beard. He was surgeon general from 1981 to 1989, serving during the Reagan administration and the early months of the administration of George H.W. Bush, USA Today reported.

"Dr. Koop will be remembered for his colossal contributions to the health and well-being of patients and communities in the U.S. and around the world," Chip Souba, dean of the Geisel School of Medicine, and Joseph O'Donnell, senior scholar at the C. Everett Koop Institute, said in a statement. "As one of our country's greatest surgeons general, he effectively promoted health and the prevention of disease, thereby improving millions of lives in our nation and across the globe."

Koop's tenure was marked by a headline-grabbing 1986 report on AIDS. The blunt 36-page report discussed the ways that AIDS spread (through sex, needles and blood), the ways it didn't spread (through casual contact in homes, schools and workplaces) and how people could protect themselves, USA Today reported.

The report was highly controversial among conservatives because it called for condom use for the sexually active and sex education for schoolchildren as early as third grade. An eight-page version of the report was mailed to every U.S. home in 1988. It arrived in a sealed packet with the warning that "some of the issues involved in this brochure may not be things you are used to discussing openly," USA Today reported.

Koop insisted that sexual abstinence and monogamy were the best ways to fight the spread of AIDS. But he also said health experts were obligated to inform the public on proven scientific methods to ward off the disease, the newspaper said.

An evangelical Christian, he dismayed his conservative supporters with his endorsement of condoms and sex education in elementary school to combat AIDS.

"My position on AIDS was dictated by scientific integrity and Christian compassion," Koop wrote in his 1991 biography, Koop: The Memoirs of America's Family Doctor.

Koop, a one-time pipe smoker, also spearheaded a crusade to end smoking in the United States. He said cigarettes were as addictive as heroin and cocaine, the Associated Press reported.

After leaving office, he continued to promote public health causes, from preventing childhood accidents to better training for doctors, the AP reported.

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FDA Approves Stivarga to Treat Rare Intestinal Tumors

The approved use of the drug Stivarga (regorafenib) has been expanded to include treatment of patients with advanced gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) that cannot be surgically removed and don't respond to the drugs Gleevec (imatinib) and Sutent (sunitinib), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday.

According to the American Cancer Society, GISTs are uncommon tumors that begin on the wall of the intestinal tract.

The decision was based on a study of 199 patients. It found that treatment with Stivarga increased progression-free survival by an average of 3.9 months, compared to placebo.

The most common side effects in patients taking Stivarga were weakness and fatigue, hand-foot syndrome, diarrhea, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, mouth sores, infection, changes in voice volume or quality, pain, weight loss, stomach pain, rash, fever and nausea, the FDA said.

Serious side effects occurred in less than one percent of patients and included liver damage, severe bleeding, blistering and peeling of skin, very high blood pressures requiring emergency treatment, heart attacks and holes in the intestines.

The FDA approves Stivarga in September 2012 to treat colorectal cancer.

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Many Feel Unwell After Watching 3-D Movies: Study

More than 55 percent of people who watched a 3-D movie said it made them feel unwell, according to a new study.

These people had at least one physical complaint after watching a 3-D movie. The most common complaints were headache or tired eyes. But nearly 11 percent of the moviegoers said they felt like they might throw up, NBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

"I was surprised by the relatively high proportion of people who reported symptoms after a 3-D movie," said study author Angelo Solimini, an adjunct professor and research scientist in hygiene and public health at Sapienza University of Rome, NBC News reported.

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Asthma Drug Eases Itching from Chronic Hives: Study

The asthma drug Xolair (omalizumab) shows promise in relieving itchiness in patients with chronic hives who aren't helped by traditional antihistamine treatment.

In a phase 3 clinical trial, a monthly injection of Xolair significantly reduced hives and itchiness in these patients, according to a study published online in the The New England Journal of Medicine.

"This is the magic bullet that patients have been waiting for for the last 40 years," said study lead author Dr. Marcus Maurer, a professor of dermatology and allergy at Charit-Universitatsmedizin in Berlin, The New York Times reported.

Maurer has received consulting fees from several drug companies, including Genentech and Novartis, which paid for the study.

The study results are encouraging, according to Dr. Jonathan Bernstein, a professor of medicine and an allergy specialist at the University of Cincinnati, who was not involved in the study.

"The drug is not a cure, but it will advance our ability to manage these patients," he told the Times.

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Doctor Performs Bloodless Lung Transplants

Bloodless lung transplants being performed by an American doctor hint at a possible new way of performing surgery in the future.

Dr. Scott Scheinin, of The Methodist Hospital in Houston, said a growing body of research led him to believe that blood transfusions often pose unnecessary risks and should be avoided when possible, even in complicated cases, The New York Times reported.

By choosing patients with low odds of complications, he felt he could operate almost as safely without blood transfusions as with it. Some patients refuse blood transfusions due to religious beliefs or for other reasons.

The first so-called bloodless lung transplant was conducted in 1996 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. So far, 11 so-called bloodless lung transplants have been attempted at Methodist over three years, the Times reported.

Hospital officials were initially reluctant to approve this type of procedure.

"My job is to push risk away, so I wasn't really excited about it. But the numbers were very convincing," Dr. A. Osama Gaber, the hospital's director of transplantation, told The Times.


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