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Health Headlines - November 17

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Climate Change Linked to 150,000 Deaths a Year: Report

More than 150,000 people die and five million more become sick each year due to the effects of global climate change. And those numbers could double by 2030, says a World Health Organization (WHO) report published Thursday in the journal Nature.

The WHO data indicate that climate change is causing increasing rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea and that poorer countries are disproportionately affected by the rising temperatures, the Washington Post reported.

"Those most vulnerable to climate change are not the ones responsible for causing it. Our energy-consumptive lifestyles are having lethal impacts on other people around the world, especially the poor," study lead author Jonathon Patz, professor at the Gaylord Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told the Post.

The Asian and South American Pacific coasts and the Indian Ocean coast and sub-Sahara Africa are the regions that face the greatest threats due to climate change. These areas are most vulnerable to abrupt climate shifts and have more climate-sensitive diseases, Patz said.

Climate change could also cause more severe health problems in large cities due to the urban "heat island" effect, the report said.

FDA to Review Tamiflu Deaths

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it will review the deaths of 12 Japanese children who took the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, which is being stockpiled by many countries in anticipation of a potential global flu pandemic.

In a report posted on its Web site, the FDA said that four of the deaths were due to "sudden death, an unusual phenomenon in otherwise healthy" children aged 16 and under. Asphyxiation, cardio-respiratory arrest, pneumonia and suicide were the other causes of death among the Japanese children taking Tamiflu, the FDA said.

The FDA review of deaths and injuries among Tamiflu users is part of a review meant to gather information on how medicines work in children, Bloomberg news reported. As part of that review, the FDA panel will also examine reports about other drugs.

On its Web site, the FDA noted that Japan is the source of more than 90 percent of reports of serious complications in children using Tamiflu. The FDA is examining whether genetics might be a factor or whether herbal medications taken by Japanese people could predispose them to complications while taking Tamiflu, Bloomberg reported.

HIV/AIDS May Make it Easier for Bird Flu to Mutate: Expert

The bird flu virus may have an easier time mutating into a deadly pandemic form if it infects people with HIV/AIDS, a U.S. flu expert said at a conference in New York City sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.

If the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus infects people with HIV/AIDS -- who have weakened immune systems -- the virus could become better adapted and more dangerous to humans, said Dr. Robert Webster of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Currently, the H5N1 virus cannot pass easily between people.

Webster noted that immune-compromised cancer patients have difficulty clearing normal flu viruses from their systems and can produce copies of a flu virus for weeks, BBC News reported.

The same thing could happen in people with HIV/AIDS who contract bird flu. Being able to reproduce for long periods inside humans would provide ideal conditions for the H5N1 virus to mutate into a more infectious form, Webster said.

He said a crisis could erupt when the H5N1 virus reaches East Africa, where many people have HIV/AIDS, BBC News reported.

The virus has not yet reached East Africa, but that region is the destination for many birds migrating from areas that currently have bird flu outbreaks.

Airborne Mold Levels in New Orleans Called Excessive

Levels of airborne mold in New Orleans are so high that the U.S. federal government needs to closely monitor the levels and should provide protective gear to residents, according to a national environmental group.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said that excessive concentrations of mold spores were found inside and outside when test samples were taken in 14 locations across New Orleans in October. One indoor test of mold spores in a neighborhood barely affected by Hurricane Katrina floodwaters was higher than a sample taken from one of the worst-hit areas, USA Today reported.

The Mid-City neighborhood had the highest outdoor readings -- 102,000 mold spores per cubic meter. A mold spore count above 50,000 is considered "very high," according to National Allergy Board standards.

High concentrations of mold can pose a serious health risk for people with allergies, asthma, respiratory problems or immune system deficiency.

Overall, the mold spore readings taken October 15-17 were at least two to four times higher than normal for New Orleans, USA Today reported.

Federal, state and local government agencies are using the Internet and fliers to inform New Orleans residents about the dangers of mold and how to protect themselves by wearing masks and protective clothing.

Coffee Increases Risk of Stillbirth: Report

Pregnant women who drink more than three cups of coffee a day greatly increase their risk of delivering stillborn babies, says a Danish study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers analyzed data from 88,482 women who'd provided information about their consumption of coffee, tea, cola and alcohol, along with smoking and other possible risk factors when they were four months pregnant. In this group of women, there were 1,102 stillborn babies, United Press International reported.

After they adjusted for all the risk factors, the study authors concluded that drinking one-half a cup to three cups of coffee a day increased the risk of fetal death by 3 percent, while drinking four to seven cups of coffee a day increase the risk by 33 percent. Drinking eight or more cups of coffee a day increased the risk by 59 percent.

The study found that the association between coffee consumption and fetal death was strongest after the fifth month of pregnancy, UPI reported.

The researchers found no link between fetal death and tea or cola consumption. This suggests that caffeine may not be the compound responsible for the association between fetal death and coffee. Further research into other chemical compounds in coffee is needed, the researchers said.

DuPont Reportedly Hid Information on Chemical's Health Risks

Studies that identified the health risks of a Teflon-related chemical used to line many kinds of food containers were hidden by DuPont Co., according to internal company documents and a former DuPont chemical engineer.

The documents about the chemical Zonyl were made public Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy organization.

Zonyl is used to line pizza boxes, candy wrappers, microwave popcorn bags and many other kinds of food containers. Zonyl can rub off these package liners and get into the food. When it's ingested, Zonyl can break down into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its salts, the Associated Press reported.

Food Fact:
Sprig fever!

Parsley isn't just pretty on the plate -- the green herb may help keep you in the pink. Parsley is rich in potassium, vitamins C and A, folic acid, iron and copper. It also contains phytochemicals that may have cancer-fighting and heart-protective properties. Research into these potential health benefits is in its infancy, however, and there's no data directly relating parsley consumption and lowered disease risk. To wash fresh parsley, dunk the leaves in a large bowl of cold water. Shake off the excess, wrap in paper towels and refrigerate in a plastic bag. It'll keep for several days. Add larger quantities to pilafs, potatoes, egg dishes and vegetable sautes shortly before you finish cooking for a nutritious boost that's not just cosmetic.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Food for thought.

If weight loss is part of your plan, you've got good reasons to watch your portions. Don't deny yourself your favorite foods, but don't go overboard, either. Keep track of what you eat and each day focus on small successes. They can add up to a new you, and a lifetime of feeling better about yourself and your weight.

FAQ of the day:
How do I know if I have Type 2 diabetes?

The initial symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are far less severe than those of Type 1. In fact, it is estimated that half the Americans who have Type 2 diabetes don't even know it. But early diagnosis is extremely important. Left uncontrolled, Type 2 diabetes silently damages the body's large blood vessels. One reason we didn't hear much about Type 2 diabetes in the past was that many deaths related to it were blamed on heart disease. Talk to your doctor, and above all else, strive to maintain a healthy weight.
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