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Health Highlights: Dec. 18, 2018

Last Updated: December 18, 2018.

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

Actor, Director Penny Marshall Dies at 75

Penny Marshall, best known as a star of the 1970s sitcom "Laverne & Shirley," and director of hit films such as "Big" and "Awakenings," has died at age 75, her publicist announced Tuesday.

The cause was complications from diabetes. Marshall had also battled brain and lung cancer in 2009, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Marshall came from Hollywood royalty -- she was the sister of the late writer-producer-director Garry Marshall and first wife to actor-director Rob Reiner of "All in the Family" fame.

Her own big break came in 1976, when she starred as the Laverne character in "Laverne & Shirley" (along with Cindy Williams as her roommate Shirley) for eight seasons. The show was a spinoff of "Happy Days," another hit created by brother Garry.

"People were dying for someone that didn't look like Mary Tyler Moore, a regular person," Gary Marshall said in a 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television. "My sister looks like a regular person, talks like a regular person."

After "Laverne & Shirley" ended, Marshall moved into a field that was relatively new to American women: directing. She quickly turned out a slew of some of the biggest hit movies of the 1980s: "Big", starring Tom Hanks; "A League of Their Own," with Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna; and "Awakenings," with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Marshall was born in the Bronx in 1943 to father Anthony, who made industrial films and mother Marjorie, a dance instructor, according to The Hollywood Reporter. After high school she went to the University of New Mexico in 1961, but dropped out and had a daughter, Tracy, her only child, in a marriage that lasted just two years.

She moved to Los Angeles in 1967 and decided to look up her brother Garry, who, because of a 10-year age difference, she barely knew.

"He was doing well," she told Tavis Smiley in 2012. "He was writing for Dick Van Dyke and Joey Bishop and every show, so why not to meet him?"

She studied acting and worked as a secretary and in commercials before her first starring TV role as Oscar Madison's secretary in "The Odd Couple." Other stints in TV occurred until she landed the role of Laverne in 1976. The show was the highest-rated TV show for the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons.

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Morning Sickness Drug Linked With Slight Increase in Cleft Birth Defects

Use of the anti-nausea "morning sickness" drug ondansetron (brand name Zofran) during pregnancy is associated with a slightly increased risk of oral cleft birth defects, but not with an increased risk of heart defects or birth defects overall, according to a new study.

Ondansetron is mainly used to prevent nausea and vomiting after cancer chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery. It may also be prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, even though it's not officially approved for that use, CNN reported.

But concerns have been raised about the safety of using the drug during pregnancy.

The study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked into those concerns. Researchers examined data on more than 1.8 million pregnant women in the United States between 2000 and 2013. Of those women, 88,467 filled at least one ondansetron prescription during their first trimester.

The small increased risk of oral clefts, including cleft lip and cleft palate, in babies born to women who used ondansetron during pregnancy amounted to about three additional cases of oral clefts per 10,000 women taking the drug, 14 per 10,000 pregnancies vs 11.1 per 10,000, CNN reported.

That increased risk is less than what has been suggested in other studies, according to the first author of the new study, Krista Huybrechts, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an epidemiologist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"There have been some studies conducted in the past that have suggested that there might be a doubling in the risk of cardiac malformations and a doubling in the risk of oral clefts associated with ondansetron use during the first trimester of pregnancy," Huybrechts said, CNN reported.

"Our study is much larger than any of the others that have been published in the literature so far," she said. "We ended up seeing no association for cardiac malformations, no association for malformations overall, and then a much smaller potential increase in the risk of oral clefts than what had been suggested by previous studies."

Huybrechts and some of her co-authors reported that their institutions have received research grants from various pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, which developed Zofran. The study itself was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and GSK had no involvement, CNN reported.

Some previous studies have found that taking ondansetron during pregnancy does not pose a risk to fetuses.

The new study's finding are "reassuring," according to Marlena Fejzo, faculty researcher, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles.

"It would be helpful in the future to determine exactly which week of first trimester exposure is associated with the increase in risk of oral clefts. Then patients could avoid exposure specifically during that time," Fejzo told CNN.

She was not involved in the new study but has conducted separate research on the use of ondansetron during pregnancy.

The use of ondansetron to treat nausea and vomiting during pregnancy rose from less than 1 percent of U.S. pregnancies in 2001 to 22.2 percent in 2014, according to a study published last year in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety, CNN reported.

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'Aggressive Steps' Needed to Stop Teen Use of E-Cigarettes: U.S. Surgeon General

"Aggressive steps" must be taken by parents, teachers, health providers and government officials to prevent children and teens from using electronic cigarettes, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in an advisory issued Tuesday.

For young people "nicotine is dangerous and it can have negative health effects," he told the Associated Press. "It can impact learning, attention and memory, and it can prime the youth brain for addiction."

The sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18 is illegal under federal law.

Parents, teachers and health professionals should educate themselves about e-cigarettes, explain the risks to children, and be a role model by not using tobacco products, Adams said.

The latest federal figures show that 3.6 million teens use e-cigarettes, which works out to 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, the AP reported.

Twice as many high school students used e-cigarettes this year compared to last year, according to separate survey results released Monday.


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