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Health Highlights: Dec. 10, 2013

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

Couric Apologizes for HPV Segment on Talk Show

Talk show host Katie Couric apologized Tuesday for an HPV segment on her program last week that was widely criticized, including accusations of irresponsibility and scaremongering.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Couric said that some of the criticism that the show was "too anti-vaccine and anti-science" was valid, USA Today reported.

"We simply spent too much time on the serious adverse events that have been reported in very rare cases following the vaccine. More emphasis should have been given to the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines. As someone who has spent the last 15 years relaying important medical information with the goal of improving public health, it is critical to me that people know the facts," Couric wrote.

She noted that some people have concerns about vaccine in general and that this is an emotional issue, USA Today reported.

"But based on the science, my personal view is that the benefits of the HPV vaccine far outweigh its risks," Couric wrote. "That is why, as I said on my show, I had my own two daughters vaccinated against HPV. I hope that other parents will look at the research and the facts, and make a reasoned decision on the HPV vaccine and what is best for their children."


Aspartame in Diet Sodas is Safe, Report Says

It's safe to consume the artificial sweetener aspartame at levels currently used in diet sodas, according to the European Food Safety Authority.

The agency's conclusion, announced Tuesday after a major review of evidence, ruled out any "potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and inducing cancer," the Associated Press reported.

Aspartame, also known under the brand name NutraSweet, is the sweetener used in Diet Coke. Sales of the drink declined after other studies showed that aspartame might be a health threat.

Coca Cola Co. recently launched an advertising campaign to ease consumers' fears about Diet Coke, the AP reported.


States' Spending on Antismoking Programs Decreasing: Report

Only a small portion of money from tobacco taxes and settlements with tobacco companies is being used by states for antismoking programs, according to a report by an coalition of advocacy groups.

They said that in 2014, states would earn about $25 billion in this type of revenue but are expected to spend only $481 million on programs to prevent or reduce tobacco use. That's far below the $3.7 billion recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The New York Times reported.

In 2002, states spent $750 million on anti-smoking efforts.

Next year, only Alaska and North Dakota are set to meet the CDC recommendations for tobacco prevention spending, according to the report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and four other anti-smoking groups.

"I would call it horrible health policy and horrible fiscal policy," Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told The Times "They are passing up an opportunity to save lives, save suffering and save health care dollars for the state."


White House Announces $100M More for Mental Health as Newton Shooting Anniversary Nears

Increased funding for mental health will be promised by Vice President Joe Biden as the first anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. approaches.

When he meets relatives of shooting victims at the White House on Tuesday, Biden will announce that $100 million will become available to improve access and quality of mental health services, the Associated Press reported.

That will include $50 million through the Affordable Care Act to help community health centers hire care providers and add services for people with mental illness and addiction. The other $50 million will help finance rural mental health facilities.

Efforts to strengthen gun control failed following the Dec. 14, 2012 Newton shooting. Since then, the Obama administration has made mental health a major part of its efforts to reduce gun violence, the AP reported.


Singer Susan Boyle has Asperger's Syndrome

Scottish singer Susan Boyle has revealed that she's been diagnosed with a mild form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, which affects social and communication skills.

Boyle, 52, had learning disabilities as a child and was told that this was the result of oxygen deprivation at birth. But a year ago, she went to see a specialist and learned that she had an above average IQ, Boyle said in an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Observer, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I was told I had brain damage. It was the wrong diagnosis when I was a kid," she told the Observer. "I always knew it was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself."

Boyle rose to fame in 2009 when her audition for "Britain's Got Talent" TV show went viral, the Times reported.

The Asperger's diagnosis "will not make any difference to my life. It's just a condition that I have to live with and work through," Boyle said. "I think people will treat me better because they will have a much greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do."


Princeton Students Begin Getting Meningitis Shots

Nearly 2,000 Princeton University students received shots against bacterial meningitis on Monday, which was the first day of a free vaccination program meant to stop an outbreak of type B meningitis at the school.

The initial round of voluntary vaccinations will continue through Thursday, and a booster will be given in February. The vaccine is being offered to nearly 6,000 students, the Associated Press reported.

Since March, seven students and one prospective student who visited the campus became ill with potentially fatal type B meningococcal disease. No one has died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that students get the shots, the AP reported. The vaccine is called Bexsero, which is approved in Europe and Australia but not in the United States. However, the CDC has approved the vaccine for use at Princeton.


Group Urges Filming Halt After Another Porn Actor Tests Positive for HIV

A porn film advocacy group has called for another moratorium on filming after an actor became the third to positive for HIV this year.

The Free Speech Coalition said filming should be stopped while all the actor's possible partners are tested. The group did not release the name or any other details about the actor, who came up positive at one of the coalition's testing centers, the Associated Press reported.

The request for a moratorium isn't binding, but industry members generally comply.

In August, an adult film actress who used the name Cameron Bay tested positive for HIV. Her on-screen partners tested negative but boyfriend and fellow performer Rod Daily announced he had also tested positive for HIV, AP reported.

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