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Health Highlights: Aug. 8, 2012

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

Hair-Loss Drug Propecia Linked to Depression in Men

A new study supports a connection between use of the hair-loss drug Propecia (finasteride) and a rise in risk for depression or even suicidal thoughts in men.

In prior research published in 2011, a team at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences had found links between Propecia use and long-term sexual problems in users, Fox News reported.

In the new study, the same team studied 61 former users of Propecia who had experienced persistent sexual side effects lasting for three months or more. They found that 11 percent also suffered from symptoms indicating mild depression, 28 had symptoms suggesting moderate depression, and 36 percent showed signs of severe depression. Forty-four percent of the men also had suicidal thoughts.

In contrast, just 10 percent of men who were balding but did not take Propecia had signs of depression, and only 3 percent said they had suicidal thoughts.

"I definitely think this study has very important messages when you're looking at something like suicide and suicidal ideations," lead researcher Dr. Michael Irwig, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology at the university, told Fox News. He believes the drug may need stronger warnings on the label to alert users of the increased risk for depression.

For their part, Propecia's maker Merck contends that the drug "has demonstrated safety and efficacy profiles and that the product labeling appropriately describes the benefits and risks of the drug to help inform prescribing [depression is listed as a potential risk on the label]."

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

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Don't Wait Too Long to Vaccinate Girls Against HPV: Study

A new study finds that more than half of girls aged 13 or older already carry the human papillomavirus (HPV), reinforcing recommendations to give girls the shot at an early age.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends vaccination against HPV -- the leading cause of cervical cancer -- by the time girls are 11 or 12 years of age. However, parents and doctors may delay the vaccine, thinking that preteen girls have a low risk of acquiring the sexually transmitted virus.

But according to a study published Aug. 7 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, waiting until the teen years may already be too late, ABC News reported.

A team led by Dr. Lea Widdice, assistant professor of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, tested 259 females aged 13 to 21. Among the 190 who said they were already sexually active, 70 percent were already infected. Even among girls who'd had sexual experience without intercourse, 11 percent were infected with HPV, the study found.

Widdice stressed that the HPV vaccine is only preventive -- it is useless in fighting HPV in already-infected women.

She also told ABC News that "HPV is different from other sexually transmitted infections in that it appears to be transmitted a lot more easily. Although it's most efficiently transmitted through sexual intercourse, it can definitely be transmitted through genital skin-to-skin touching."

Widdice believes the finding "supports the recommendation that the HPV vaccine be given to girls when they're 11 and 12 years old."

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