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Health Headlines - February 27

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Niger Is 2nd African Country to Confirm Bird Flu

The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has been found in birds in Niger, making it the second African country to have confirmed cases of the disease, the Associated Press reported.

The virus had previously been confirmed in Nigeria, which is Niger's southern neighbor. The virus in Niger was detected in a small village about 45 miles from the border with Nigeria. There was no information available on how many birds may have died, a senior Health Ministry official said.

Confirmation of the H5N1 virus in a second African country is cause for increased concern among health experts who fear it may be a prelude to the virus becoming widespread in Africa, which is poorly equipped to deal with such a crisis.

In France, a program began Monday to give nearly a million domestic free range ducks and geese vaccinations to protect them against bird flu, BBC News reported.

The inoculation effort comes after 15 dead swans in France were found to have the H5N1 virus. The swans were found in the same district where a turkey farm was found to be contaminated with bird flu. The virus killed about 400 of the 11,000 turkeys on the farm and the rest were slaughtered. It was the first known bird-flu outbreak in commercial poultry in the European Union, BBC News reported.

The French geese and ducks -- destined for production of foie gras -- are being vaccinated because it's not practical to move them indoors to protect them against bird flu.

Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has spread from Asia to Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. It has decimated poultry flocks in many countries and has killed more than 90 people. Experts worry that the continued spread of the virus increases the likelihood that it will mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans, resulting in a pandemic.

In other news:

China reported two new human cases of bird flu, bringing to 14 the known number of human infections in that country, Bloomberg news reported.
Pakistan reported its first cases of bird flu, but tests have yet to confirm whether it's the H5N1 virus.
Switzerland said it had identified its first case of bird flu, in a wild duck in Geneva.
In Kenya, officials are testing for bird flu in hundreds of dead chickens found dumped in the capital Nairobi.
Three days of house checks in Indonesia turned up 37 poultry infected with the H5N1 virus, which as killed at least 20 people in that country.
There's no word yet on whether bird flu killed about 1,000 chickens in India's northeastern Assam state. Bird flu led to the slaughter of about 250,000 fowl in two other Indian states earlier this month.

Campaign Targets Obesity and Diabetes Among U.S. Veterans

U.S. veterans are about three times more likely than the general population to have diabetes, which is one of the major health complications of being overweight and obese.

The rate of diabetes among veterans receiving VA health care is 20 percent, compared to a rate of 7 percent in the overall U.S. population, says the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

That's why the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services have launched a coordinated campaign to educate veterans and their families about how to prevent obesity and diabetes.

The HealthierUS Veterans campaign will promote healthy eating and physical activity. VA medical centers will be the hubs of the program.

"Inactive lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits can cause needless suffering for America's veterans. Obesity and diabetes are major threats to the health and lifestyles of our veterans, who are deserving of a robust campaign to educate them on healthy habits," VA Secretary R. James Nicholson said in a prepared statement.

Overweight patients receiving VA health care can sign up for individualized weight-loss programs.

Steroids May Have Long-Term Effect on Brain: Report

A U.S. study suggests that anabolic steroids may have a long-term effect on teens' brains.

Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston studied the effects of the steroids in adolescent hamsters and found that the steroids "flip a switch" in the brain and trigger lasting aggression, BBC News reported.

When injected with the steroids, the hamsters became about 10 times more aggressive than normal. The effects of the steroids lasted for nearly two weeks, which is about half the length of adolescence in hamsters.

The hamsters injected with the steroids had changes in brain activity in a part of the brain that regulates aggression and social behavior, the study found.

In human teens, the effect of the steroids may last for at least two years and cause permanent brain changes, the researchers warned. The findings appear in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

However, Professor Jonathon Seckl of the University of Edinburgh told BBC News that it's not possible to use results in hamsters to predict the length of effect that steroids would have in humans.

Premature Birth Affects Personality: Study

Very premature babies are more likely than full-term babies to be anxious and withdrawn as adults, and may also have a greater risk of depression, says an Institute of Psychiatry study in the journal Pediatrics.

The study included 108 young adults who had been born before 33 weeks' gestation and 67 people the same age who were born at full-term. They were all asked to complete a personality questionnaire, BBC News reported.

When the researchers analyzed the results, they concluded that the participants who'd been born very prematurely were less likely to have outgoing and confident personalities and more likely to have lower self-esteem and increased anxiety. This was especially true for girls who were born early.

The scores on the questionnaires suggest that very premature birth may be linked to a type of personality that increases the likelihood of developing anxiety and depression disorders, the researchers said.

Their study did not examine how premature birth might affect personality, but there are a few theories.

"It's possible that being born very small might be linked to some damage to the brain, possibly an infection," research leader Dr. Matthew Allin told BBC News.

"It may be that being in an incubator makes it difficult to bond with parents, and for them to bond with you. While another possibility is that personality is in the genes to some extent, so could be inherited to some degree," Allin said.

Food Fact:
Soymilky way.

A splash of soy milk on your breakfast cereal may help lower your cholesterol. According to the FDA, 25 grams of soy protein, or about four daily servings, is a good part of a dietary plan for a healthy heart. One cup of soymilk has 6.25 grams. Calcium-fortified soymilk is sold in supermarkets and whole foods stores. It's available in plain, vanilla, chocolate or strawberry flavors. Not all soymilk is calcium-fortified, however, so check labels. You can also use soymilk in custards, baked goods and other desserts -- just as you would with regular dairy milk.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Exercise? It's in the bag.

Road trips won't stop you from exercising -- if you know what to pack. Find a little room in your suitcase for exercise tubes, a great compact tool for weight training and resistance exercises when away from home or your gym. If you travel a lot, ask a fitness pro to design an on-the-go exercise program.

FAQ of the day:
What's a Daily Value?

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) and a related number, the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), are suggested intakes of nutrients based on age and sex. They do not appear on food labels, but they were used to develop the Daily Values you see on a label. The Daily Value is a single number for everyone that is set high enough to ensure that the vast majority of people get enough of each nutrient. It's the best general guide for the public.
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