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Health Headlines - April 3

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Study Questions Claims of U.S. Autism Epidemic

There's little actual data to support warnings about an autism epidemic in the United States, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

U.S. Department of Education statistics on special education show a 657 percent increase in autism from 1993 to 2003. However, this new study says those numbers are misleading and may be partly due to what the researchers called "diagnostic substitution," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

They noted that while the number of reported autism cases has increased, there's been a decline in cases of students with mental retardation and learning disabilities.

The study authors said that different sorts of data may have to be used in order to accurately estimate autism rates in the United States.

Non-Bleach Cleaners May Help Hospital Bacteria Thrive

Cleaners that contain bleach are the only ones that can kill dangerous hospital bacteria called Clostridium difficile. Some cleaners without bleach may actually help the bacteria thrive, says a U.K. study.

C. difficile causes severe diarrhea and is especially dangerous to older patients.

University of Leeds researchers tested five cleaning products against different strains of C. difficile and found that all the strains produced more spores when they were exposed to two cleaners that did not contain bleach, BBC News reported.

The increased production of spores increases the odds that the bacteria will survive for months or even years in hospitals and infect more patients.

The study authors did not reveal the names of the two cleaning products, BBC News reported. The findings were presented at a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology.

High Protein Diet During Pregnancy Can Stress Babies

Pregnant women should not eat a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet because they may give birth to children who are more susceptible to stress, says a U.K. study to be presented Tuesday at a meeting of the European Congress of Endocrinology.

The study tracked 86 children born in 1967-68 to mothers who were instructed by an obstetrician to eat a pound of red meat a day while they were pregnant. This advice was given to the women in order to prevent the pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia, BBC News reported.

When the children were in their 30s, the researchers had them do a series of stressful tasks, such as public speaking and mental arithmetic. The participants' blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol were measured before and after those tasks.

The more red meat their mothers had consumed during pregnancy, the higher the levels of cortisol in the adult children.

"We don't know why this occurs -- it may that the baby is put under stress during pregnancy which causes irreversibly high levels of cortisol," study leader Dr. Rebecca Reynolds told BBC News.

Brain Scans Predict Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Brain scans can predict which patients suffering from depression will benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, a new study says.

Results of the study, by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, appear in the April issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"We found that people with depression who have increased activity in one area of the brain and decreased activity in another in response to emotional stimuli are more likely to respond to a specific treatment -- cognitive therapy," said Greg J. Siegle, assistant professor of psychiatry at the university.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the brain areas that were active or inactive when exposed to a negative stimulus. While undergoing fMRI, 14 unmedicated participants with depression and 21 control subjects who had never reported symptoms of depression were presented with emotional words and asked if those words applied to them. The participants with depression then completed 16 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy over 12 weeks as part of a larger clinical trial.

The researchers found that compared to the control participants, nine of the people with depression had decreased activity in a region of the brain called the subgenual cingulate cortex after they read negative words. Of those nine, seven recovered from their depressive symptoms after cognitive behavioral therapy, the researchers said.

Mumps Epidemic Reported in Iowa

In what U.S. health officials are describing as the nation's largest mumps outbreak in at least 17 years, nearly 245 diagnosed or suspected cases of the disease have been reported in Iowa since mid-January.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is the nation's only outbreak, which the agency defines as five or more cases in a concentrated area, the Associated Press reported.

"We are calling this an epidemic," said Iowa state epidemiologist Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, adding that mumps has spread to more than one-third of the state and does not appear to be limited to certain age groups or other segments of the population.

The CDC said the agency has no explanation for the outbreak. But Quinlisk said one possible explanation is that the infection originated in England because the strain in Iowa has been identified by the CDC as the same one that has caused tens of thousands of cases of mumps in a major outbreak in Britain over the past two years, the AP said.
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