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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 19:43 GMT
Babies 'undergo gene therapy tests'

Doctors in France are reported to have carried out a world first by testing gene therapy treatments on babies.

The four babies, one of whom is a British girl, are all suffering from immunity disorders, and were treated at the Necker children's hospital in Paris. The British girl is recovering in hospital in London, reported the French daily Le Parisien

Gene therapy consists of introducing modified genes via a disabled virus into an organism to replace dysfunctional or abnormal genes causing disease.

Because of the babies' age it would have been hard to find compatible bone marrow donors.

Lymphocyte levels used to test the therapy's results are said to have returned to normal in two cases while a third baby was still under observation.

The National Institute for Health and Medical Research, where the doctors carried out the research, said: "It is a matter of tests, the results of which are being studied before their publication in a few weeks."

'Faulty' HIV tests blocked

Self-diagnosis HIV kits sold over the internet have been blocked by a temporary restraining order requested by the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

And another kit, said to not detect HIV anitbodies in blood samples, has led to the manufacturing company - Medimax Inc - being charged with false representation.

Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, said: "The commission is committed to pursuing internet marketers of faulty HIV tests. One can scarcely imagine a more pernicious and harmful form of deception."

An FTC analysis found that in nine out of ten cases, the Medimax test showed false-postive results. The tenth case did not work at all.

The Federal Drug Administration approves only one home test kit - produced by Home Access Health Corp.

Eyes 'tell truth behind smiles'

People judge the genuineness of others by looking for their laughter lines, claim psychologists.

Experiments showed that the eyes, not the mouth, were the main focus of attention in a smiling face.

The researchers suggested this could be an instinctive way of assessing whether or not a smile - and the person behind the smile - were genuine. Fake smilers gave themselves away because they did not produce laughter lines around the eyes.

Dr Carl Senior, cognitive psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, told a British Psychological Society conference: "Smiling is vital to social communication. If someone smiles at you during a conversation, your attention focuses on the area around the eyes. If the lines were absent, you might unconsciously perceive that person as not being genuine."

Cancer Tsar was a smoker

Cancer Tsar Professor Mike Richards admitted he was a smoker until four years ago, despite knowing that the habit massively increased his chances of getting the disease.

He said he had smoked for more than 20 years and had tried "several times" to kick the habit.

Although he saw the effect of the disease on patients, Professor Richards told the launch of a series of Government television advertisements encouraging people to quit, that he had found it tough himself.

The advertisements feature ordinary people talking about the best ways to kick the habit and video diaries of two smokers talking about their attempt to quit.

The TV advertisements will start on December 27 and run until the end of January.

Lung transplant girl in 'critical condition'

A 10-year-old who received a lung transplant after a British stranger answered a plea for help is reported to be 'deteriorating'.

Lisa Ostrovsky, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, was given a chance to live by British caretaker Ronald Johnson, who donated part of his lung after reading about her plight in a Jewish newspaper.

The operation gave Lisa a 50:50 chance of surviving for another five years, but in the past week she has suffered additional complications and her condition is now described as "critical" by the St Louis Children's Hospital in the US.

Mr Johnson was unavailable for comment at the weekend.

'One in five Americans mentally ill'

As many as 20% of Americans will have some sort of mental illness this year, according to the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher.

At a news conference at the White House, he said half of those with a serious disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disease, will not get treatment.

Up to half the population will suffer from mental illness, from depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder, at some time in their lives.

People fail to seek treatment because they do not know about the drugs available, because they fear the stigma attached to mental illness or because they lack insurance to pay for it, Dr Satcher said.

"This report underscores the need to continue to strengthen our nation's mental health system and fight the stigma associated with mental illness so all Americans can get the treatment and services they need," said past depression-sufferer Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Al Gore.

Farm visit leads to E.coli outbreak

Seventeen people contracted food poisoning after coming into contact with animals on a farm which is open to the public.

A total of nine children and one adult required hospital treatment for a strain of E.coli after visiting Foel Farm Park on the shores of the Menai Straits at Brynsiencyn, Anglesey, north Wales.

The outbreak of E.coli O157 infection, which affected 16 youngsters and an adult in May and June this year, was the first among visitors to an open farm in Wales.

Health officials from the Outbreak Control Team said the infection "was shown conclusively to have been acquired from contact with animals on the open farm".

Dr Richard Roberts, consultant in Public Health Medicine at North Wales Health Authority, said outbreaks of E.coli O157 associated with visits to open farms were rare.

Guidance issued on sick notes

The Doctor Patient Partnership announced a sick notes campaign after a survey showed one in three people do not know the rules on statutory sick pay.

The nation-wide survey showed that one third of people thought sick notes were needed after three days - the legal requirement is actually seven days.

The campaign brings together the partnership, the Department of Social Security and the Confederation of British Industry.

GPs are concerned that they could be deluged by people wanting sick notes over the Christmas and millennium holiday.

Dr Simon Fradd, chairman of the Doctor Patient Partnership, said: "the misuse of doctors' sick notes creates problems for GPs, employers and employees."

Woman 'inflated like balloon'

A woman who accidentally impaled herself on a gas canister in a toy shop was pumped up like a balloon.

Samantha Munns, who fell on a nozzle used for inflating helium balloons, told reporters she thought she was going to explode as her legs and abdomen swelled to twice their normal size.

"Doctors gathered around me but they didn't know what to do. It's not every day they have a woman full of helium gas to treat," she said.

After abandoning plans to puncture the swollen woman with needles, doctors eventually decided to allow the body to absorb the non-toxic gas, which took two weeks.

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