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Health Headlines - November 24

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Happy Thanksgiving!

China to Test Bird Flu Vaccine in Humans

China is readying a trial of bird flu vaccine to be tested on adults over the next year, according to a report published Thursday in the official China Daily newspaper.

As reported by the Associated Press, Lu Zhenyou, a spokesman for vaccine developer Sinovac Biotech, told the paper that 100 people aged 18 to 60 will be tested with the vaccine in the two-phase trial.

Should it prove successful in protecting against the H5N1 strain, the vaccine would first be given to high-risk groups, such as poultry farmers and veterinary and lab workers.

The announcement came alongside news that the country has detected a new bird flu outbreak in its far western province of Xinjiang, where officials in the city of Turpan have already killed 5,180 birds in an effort to curb the spead of the infection, the AP reported.

On Wednesday, Chinese health officials reported the country's second confirmed human death from bird flu.

The victim was a 35-year-old female farmer in Xiuning county in the eastern Anhui province. A Health Ministry officials said she died Tuesday after developing a fever and pneumonia-like symptoms following contact with sick and dead poultry.

Another woman from the same province was the first confirmed human to die of bird flu in China. A 12-year-old girl in the province of Hunan who died was listed as suspected bird flu case. But her body was cremated before the cause could be confirmed.

The only other confirmed case of bird flu in a human was the nine-year-old brother of the 12-year-old girl who died. The boy recovered from his illness.

Also on Thursday, a top Indonesian agriculture official announced the first outbreak of bird flu in Sumatra's Aceh province, where 130,000 people were left homeless by last December's deadly tsunami.

S. Korean Cloning Scientist Quits After Egg Scandal

The South Korean who helped produce the world's first cloned human embryos has resigned all public posts, after admitting that eggs used in his research came from his own team of researchers, the BBC reported.

"I am very sorry that I have to tell the public words that are too shameful and horrible," Professor Hwang Woo-suk said at a press conference in Seoul on Thursday.

International ethical standards forbid the use of ova from women working in a researcher's lab, due to concerns that these eggs might be given under duress.

The South Korean health ministry insists that female researchers donated their eggs without Dr. Hwang's knowledge and before the country passed new bioethics laws in January.

Suspicions as to the eggs' origins first arose late in 2004 when the journal Nature questioned Dr. Hwang, who denied at the time that the ova had come from his own researchers. Hwang now admits to lying to the journal.

The researcher -- who earlier this year created Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog -- said he will resign as chairman of the newly created World Stem Cell Hub, which was created to produce stem cell lines for research. "It is my way of seeking repentance," Hwang told reporters.

Medicare May Change Rules for Weight-Loss Surgery

U.S. health officials on Wednesday proposed expanding Medicare coverage of weight-loss surgery for disabled individuals, but cutting coverage of these procedures for the elderly, the Associated Press reported.

While studies have shown that gastric bypass and other weight-loss surgeries can help reduce extreme, disabling obesity, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the elderly face two to three times the risk of death from these procedures compared to younger patiets.

It's these data that are prompting the proposed changes, officials at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. "Some beneficiaries may significantly reduce their health risks through surgery," agency administrator Mark McClellan told the AP.

Over 8,000 Medicare beneficiaries had their weight-loss surgeries covered by the program in 2004, at about $13,000 per procedure, Medicare officials said.

The new proposal is not final and the agency is now seeking public comment on the proposed changes.

Domestic Violence a Global Health Threat

A new report from the World Health Organization finds high rates of domestic violence in countries worldwide, with similar effects on women's health regardless of where they live, the Associated Press reported.

"Whether you are a cosmopolitan woman in Sao Paolo or Belgrade, or you are a rural woman in Ethiopia or Bangladesh, the association between violence and poor health is there," said the WHO's Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno, who coordinated the first-ever international survey of more than 24,000 women in 10 countries.

Rates of domestic violence occurring over the preceding year ranged from 4 percent in Japan and Serbia, to between 30 percent and 54 percent in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Tanzania. Women who reported being attacked were more likely to report pain, gynecological problems, miscarriage or mental health woes, compared to those who had not suffered domestic violence.

Because most of the research into domestic violence has been done in North America and Europe, countries in those regions were not included in the survey. However, earlier studies have found rates of about 20 percent in the U.S. and 23 percent in Canada and Britain, one expert told the AP.

Toxic Slick Threatens Chinese City

A 50-mile-long slick of water carrying poisonous benzene has begun entering the northern Chinese city of Harbin after a chemical plant explosion released the toxin Nov. 13, the Associated Press reported.

Many of the city's 3.8 million residents began frantically hoarding water and the government announced it would commence digging 100 wells to help ensure a safe water supply. Harbin shut down its water system Tuesday in anticipation of the coming slick.

Bezene and a related chemical, nitrobenzene, have been found in very high levels in the Songhua River, according to the official China Daily. "Massive amounts can lead to the disorder of blood cells -- in other words, leukemia," Zhang Lanying, director of the Environment and Resources Institute at Jilin University, was quoted as saying by the AP.

Across the border in Russia, officials there are voicing concern over the threat to the health of residents in the nearby city of Khabarovsk, 435 miles downstream from Harbin. One official there complained that the Chinese have not released enough information on the amount and type of contamination released into the river.

Food Fact:
Boil meets grill.

If you're boiling vegetables, you're losing key nutrients. There is a better way. Turn up the oven to 425 degrees and roast 'em. High heat seals in the veggies' juices -- and the nutrients, which leech out in boiling water. The flavor is remarkably better, too -- roasting caramelizes veggies' natural sugars, and you won't need a pat of butter or a cheese sauce to dress them up. When roasting, cut the vegetable into evenly sized pieces to ensure even cooking. Spray a baking sheet with heart-healthy canola or olive oil. Spread the veggies evenly out on the sheet, and spray with the oil. Add your favorite seasoning and roast until the veggies are tender on the inside.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Home sweat home.

A home gym can remake your body and save money -- if you know how to use it. For home exercise programs to succeed, you need to treat a room in your home like your own private health club. When you enter the room you have entered the gym. Be sure to establish a training time that you will stick to keep all other activities OUT of the room.

FAQ of the day:
Do I burn calories even when I''m just sitting around?

You burn calories all the time, even when you're asleep. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy (calories) your body uses for basic chores such as breathing, circulating blood, powering the nervous system and maintaining body temperature. A normal BMR for the average healthy male is around 1 calorie per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight per hour; for women it is slightly lower, at around .9 calorie/kg/hr. But BMRs are very personal. Body composition helps determine BMR; a woman's BMR is generally lower than a man's because she carries more body fat. Other factors that affect BMR include age, activity level, nutrition, growth, pregnancy, body size and overall health.
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