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Health Highlights: Dec. 20, 2013

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

E-Cigarettes Added to NYC’s Smoking Ban

Electronic cigarettes have been added to the ban on smoking in New York City offices, parks, restaurants and bars.

The measure passed in a 43-8 city vote at a city council meeting Thursday and will take effect in four months, Bloomberg News reported.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that simulate smoking by producing nicotine vapor. They may be a gateway to smoking regular cigarettes and make it more difficult for smokers to quit, according to Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“The council has worked for well over a decade to curb smoking in New York City and I really believe it’s one of our greatest accomplishments,” Quinn said prior to the vote, Bloomberg reported. “E-cigarettes threaten, in my opinion, to undermine enforcement of the Smoke-Free Air Act.”

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Researchers Discover How HIV Harms Immune System

Two new studies reveal how HIV damages the immune system, but researchers say an existing drug can protect the immune system from the AIDS-causing virus.

Scientists found that in a desperate attempt to rid the body of HIV, throngs of white blood cells self-destruct in a mass suicide. This action attracts more unsuspecting white blood cells to the scene to help, leading to a domino effect that decimates the immune system, the Washington Post reported.

White blood cells protect the body against infectious diseases.

The findings, published online Thursday in the journals Nature and Science, solve a decades-long mystery that has baffled scientists since HIV/AIDS first emerged.

“For literally thirty years, we thought it was directly the virus killing the cell. This wasn’t a particularly satisfying explanation since many, many more cells die than were infected,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Post. He was not involved in the studies.

The good news is that the scientists believe an existing drug that was originally developed to prevent seizures may be able to stop this white blood cell destruction. The researchers are currently trying to develop a clinical trial to test the drug in HIV/AIDS patients.

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