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Health Headlines - December 7

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Cheap Drug Waiver for Poor Nations Made Permanent

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has decided to make permanent a 2003 waiver that permits poor nations to import cheaper generic copies of patented drugs to help them combat serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

They will be allowed to import generic drugs for humanitarian reasons but not for commercial purposes. The measure will become permanent by Dec. 1, 2007, and the current waiver will remain in effect until then, BBC News reported.

The move demonstrates the humanitarian concern of the organization, said WTO chief Pascal Lamy.

The move was backed by the United States and the European Union, BBC News reported.

"This is a landmark achievement that we hope will help developing countries devastated by HIV/AIDS and other public health crises," said U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.

Larger Head at Birth May Increase Childhood Brain Cancer Risk

Babies born with larger heads may have a greater risk of childhood brain cancer than other children, says a Norwegian study based on the health records of more than one million children.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health researchers concluded that for every centimeter increase in head circumference at birth, there was a 27 percent increase in relative tumor risk, BBC News reported.

They noted that further research is needed to confirm their findings.

The findings suggest that brain cancers might begin to develop before birth, the researchers said. The study found no significant association between head size at birth and risk for other forms of cancer, BBC News reported.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to report an association between increased head circumference at birth and brain cancer in childhood," said lead researcher Dr. Sven Ove Samuelsen. "Our findings suggest that brain pathology originates during fetal life in children diagnosed with brain cancer."

China Confirms Fourth Human Bird Flu Case

China's fourth human case of bird flu has been confirmed and the World Health Organization is warning that more bird-flu outbreaks can be expected in China over the next few weeks.

The latest human case involves a 10-year-old girl from the southern Guangxi region who contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. She fell ill about two weeks ago and is currently receiving emergency treatment, but no longer has a fever, Agence France Presse reported.

The girl's parents are also hospitalized under medical supervision but show no signs of infection.

So far, there have been 30 H5N1 bird flu virus outbreaks confirmed in China this year. Most of those have been reported over the past five to six weeks. More than 20 million poultry have been killed in an effort to halt the spread of the disease, AFP reported.

The WHO praised Chinese government actions to control bird flu. Even so, there will likely be more outbreaks in that country in the weeks ahead, the WHO said.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed nearly 70 people in South East Asia -- most of them in Vietnam and Thailand -- since the outbreak began in 2003. While person-to-person transmission of the H5N1 strain is rare, health officials are worried that the germ could mutate, making human transmission much easier, leading to a global pandemic of the disease.

DNA Testing to Begin on Unidentified Katrina Victims

DNA testing will begin immediately on the hundreds of unidentified victims of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana officials said.

Several private companies have been hired to do the genetic tests on the 263 unidentified bodies. DNA collected from the victims will be compared with DNA from relatives of missing people or from personal items of the missing, CNN reported.

Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the state coroner, said that by the end of the year, there should be significant progress in identifying many of the victims.

He noted that officials already have good leads on the identities of 140 of the bodies but identifying the remainder could prove difficult, even with DNA testing, CNN reported.

The DNA testing will be paid for by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FDA Official Third to Quit Since Summer

The third official to quit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since summer announced Tuesday that he's leaving the agency to work in the private sector.

Dr. David Orloff is a division director who oversees reviews of drugs designed to treat metabolic and endocrine disorders. His office was involved in a recent controversial application for approval of a diabetes drug called Pargluva, The New York Times reported.

In September, an FDA advisory panel recommended that the drug be approved. However, a decision about the drug has been postponed indefinitely due to concerns about cardiovascular risks.

Orloff has been at the FDA for 11 years and spent five years as a division director. He said his decision to leave the agency wasn't related to any problems or frustrations, the Times reported.

After he leaves the FDA, Orloff will join Medpace, a Cincinnati-based contract research organization that conducts clinical drug trials.

In September, FDA Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford resigned for reasons that haven't been fully explained. He resigned just weeks after being appointed to the job. In August, the FDA's top women's health official, Dr. Susan F. Wood, resigned to protest delays in agency approval for over-the-counter sales of the Plan B contraceptive, the newspaper reported.

Both Sides Prepare for Lawsuit Over School Soda Sales

Battle preparations are being made in advance of an expected lawsuit to be filed within the next few months that will seek a sales ban of sugary beverages in American schools.

The action will be taken by Stephen Gardner, staff lawyer for the Center for Science in the Public Interest and about a half dozen other lawyers, including some who were involved in successful legal action against big tobacco companies, The New York Times reported.

The lawsuit, which will be filed in Massachusetts, will name Coca-Cola and its local bottlers. Some of the lawyers are based in Massachusetts, which has strong consumer-protection laws.

The lawyers said this will be the first of many such state lawsuits against the beverage industry, the Times reported.

In anticipation of the legal challenge, the American Beverage Industry last week released a study that indicated that soda sales in schools aren't a major factor in rising childhood obesity rates in the United States.

The study was paid for by the association and conducted by an outside economist.

The beverage industry has a lot to lose if it's banned from schools. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report released in August said that 75 percent of high schools, 65 percent of middle schools and 30 percent of elementary schools have exclusive contracts with beverage companies.

While these deals are often promoted as an important source of revenue for schools, a study of public school beverage contracts in Oregon found that most of the revenue goes to the beverage companies, not to the schools, the Times reported.

Food Fact:
Like buttermilk...

Despite its rich-sounding name, buttermilk is tremendous for low-fat cooks. Today's commercial buttermilk is made from skim or low-fat milk that has healthful bacteria added to it, which thickens the milk and gives it a pleasant dairy tang. Use buttermilk in salad dressings, low-fat biscuits and muffins, or in our favorite, buttermilk mashed potatoes. But what about that name? It's a relic of the past, when buttermilk was the liquid left after churning butter.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Sore feet?

The problem may be your running shoes. Buy new footwear every time you log 300 - 500 miles, or every 6 months or so. You'll avoid blisters, corns, calluses and many more serious injuries. Your shoes should be suitable for daily workouts -- be sure they're the right size and in good shape. If you have persistent knee, hip or back pain after walking or running, or problems that don't respond to self-treatment, see a podiatrist.

FAQ of the day:
Does "spot reducing" really work?

Steve Blair of the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research says: While specific exercises have specific effects -- for example, a leg press on a weight machine will improve strength and endurance of the involved muscles -- fat isn't selectively metabolized by exercise. The possible exception is "abdominal obesity," the "apple shape" common in men and some women. There is some evidence that exercise effectively targets this "visceral fat" associated with a high risk of heart attack and Type 2 diabetes. Generally speaking, as you burn more calories than you consume, you will burn fat from all over your body. Focus on a balanced exercise program for both aerobic and musculoskeletal fitness, which can give you a strong, healthy, fit body, no matter what its shape.
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