Health Highlights: Dec. 19, 2008

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  • High Mercury Levels Sideline Actor Jeremy Piven
  • New Federal Rule Poses Threat to Women's Health: Critics
  • Zimbabwe's Cholera Epidemic Death Toll Passes 1,000: U.N.
  • Richer Men More Likely to Be Overweight: Study

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

High Mercury Levels Sideline Actor Jeremy Piven

The actor Jeremy Piven has been pulled out of the Broadway play "Speed the Plow" because he has "shocking levels" of mercury, Fox News reported.

Piven's doctor said he yanked him from the show after finding the actor had mercury levels six times the allowable limit. Dr. Carlon Colker said they were the highest levels he'd ever seen.

Colker said Piven's high mercury levels were caused by eating too much sushi and consuming Chinese herbs. Piven had complained of fatigue and was told to quit the show after he spent three days in hospital.

David Mamet, the play's writer, mocked Piven, saying the 43-year-old actor was leaving his role as leading man to "pursue a career as a thermometer," Fox News reported.

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New Federal Rule Poses Threat to Women's Health: Critics

A new regulation the Bush administration says is designed to protectfederally funded health care providers who refuse to perform procedures,such as abortion, that conflict with their religious and moral beliefs willseriously hinder millions of women's ability to get reproductive health services, critics charge.

The new rule gives federal health officials the power to halt federalfunding for any state or local government, hospital, clinic, health plan,doctors' office or other body that fails to accommodate staff who exercisetheir "right of conscience." The regulation would apply to more than 584,000health care facilities, the Washington Post reported.

The regulation, which was sought by conservative groups and abortionopponents, goes into effect in 30 days. Not only does it protect healthcareprofessionals, it also covers a range of workers, including support staff,trainees and even volunteers.

A wide range of groups are outraged by the new rule.

There are more than 17 million women across the country who will bearthe burden of this harsh regulation, a disproportionate number of them low-income and women of color. Both groups rely heavily on public healthprograms as their only access to reproductive health services. But the newregulation allows almost any worker in a health care facility -- even areceptionist -- to turn them away, withhold information, and refuse to referthem elsewhere," Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup saidin a statement released Thursday.

"As it is, low-income women and women of color already face tremendousbarriers getting health care, including racial discrimination, inadequatefunding of medical assistance programs, logistical obstacles such asinflexible work schedules and inadequate child care," said Northup, whocalled on President-elect Obama to immediately rescind the regulation whenhe takes office in January.

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Zimbabwe's Cholera Epidemic Death Toll Passes 1,000: U.N.

The death toll from the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe has reached 1,111,and 20,581 suspected cases have been recorded, the United Nations said.

The capital city of Harare has been hit the hardest, with 328 deaths andmore than 9,700 suspected cases, according to the U.N.'s Office for theCoordination of Humanitarian Affairs, CNN reported.

Crumbling health care and water systems have allowed the waterbornedisease to spread throughout Zimbabwe and into the neighboring nations ofSouth Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.

This week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Zimbabwegovernment's response to the epidemic, CNN reported. Ban noted thatnearly 80 percent of people in Zimbabwe don't have access to safe drinkingwater and the majority lack proper sanitary facilities.

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Richer Men More Likely to BeOverweight: Study

Wealthy men are twice as likely as lower-income men to be overweight, butricher women are no more likely to pack extra pounds than poorer women,according to a Statistics Canada report.