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  Health Highlights: Feb. 7, 2014

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

Merck to Offer $100 Million Settlement in NuvaRing Lawsuits: Reports

Merck will pay $100 million to settle thousands of lawsuits over the company's NuvaRing birth control device, according to insiders.

The settlement will be announced Friday and provide an average payout of more than $58,000 per case, two people familiar with the deal told Bloomberg News. They did not want to be identified because they hadn't been authorized to talk publicly about the accord.

The deal will resolve several thousand cases in federal and state courts in Missouri and New Jersey. Women accused Merck of selling NuvaRing even though the company knew that the device put them at higher risk for blood clots than products from other companies. Blood clots can cause heart attack and stroke.

A Merck spokeswoman declined to comment on the settlement, Bloomberg reported.

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Stress of Birth May Cause Some Cases of Autism: Study

Some cases of autism may be caused by the stress infants experience at birth, according to a new study.

Yehezkel Ben-Ari, of the Mediterranean Institute of Neurobiology in France, and colleagues, said their findings from experiments with rats and mice may lead to new ways to treat the condition earlier in life, NBC News reported.

The authors of the study in the journal Science are currently testing a simple drug for treating children with autism.

"This is exciting stuff to people in the field, because it's getting at a basic mechanism," Andrew Zimmerman of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who reviewed the study, told NBC News.

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'Star Trek' Actor Leonard Nimoy has COPD

Leonard Nimoy says he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung condition that makes breathing difficult.

The 82-year-old actor who is best known for his role as Mr. Spock on "Star Trek" revealed that he has COPD in series of tweets, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In one of the messages, Nimoy said: "I quit smoking 30 yrs ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP [live long and prosper]."

In another tweet, the actor said he's "doing OK. Just can't walk distances. Love my life, family, friends and followers," WSJ reported.

COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Health.

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Concerns Raised About Surgical Method to Remove Uterine Fibroid Tumors

There is increasing concern about a surgical procedure widely used to remove fibroid tumors from the uterus, or to take out the entire uterus, experts say.

The technique, called morcellation, is performed on tens of thousands of women in the United States each year. During the minimally invasive procedure, doctors cut tissue into pieces and remove them through tiny incisions, The New York Times reported.

The operation can be performed with a knife or with an electrical device with a high-speed blade. Two articles published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association outline problems linked with the procedure, mostly associated with the electrical device.

The articles explain that the technique can spray bits of benign fibroid tumors around the inside of the abdomen, and these tissue fragments can grow on organs and cause pain, infection or bowel obstruction, The Times reported.

In some cases, morcellation has spread cells from an undetected cancerous tumor through a patient's abdomen, resulting in advanced cancer. Damage to blood vessels and abdominal organs have also been caused by power morcellators.

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Newer Norovirus Strain Caused Cruise Ship Outbreak: CDC

Stomach illness that swept through nearly 700 passengers and crew members on a cruise ship was caused by a newer strain of norovirus, U.S. health officials say.

The Sydney strain of norovirus was responsible for the outbreak on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas during a recent Caribbean cruise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By the time the ship docked in New Jersey last week, 630 passengers and 54 crew members had been affected, making it one of largest norovirus outbreaks on a cruise ship in the last 20 years, the Associated Press reported.

The Sydney strain of norovirus, which appeared in recent years, isn't especially dangerous. However, it has become a common cause of symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting that can last for days, the AP said.

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