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Health Headlines - September 30

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Chinese Horseshoe Bat is SARS Carrier

The Chinese horseshoe bat is a healthy carrier for SARS and the hiding place for the virus in nature, say two separate studies published this week.

This information is significant because it could enable scientists to sever the SARS transmission chain and prevent outbreaks of the disease, which has killed 774 people worldwide, The New York Times reported.

Many people in Asia eat bats or use bat feces in traditional medicine to treat kidney problems and asthma.

One team from the University of Hong Kong reported its findings in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The other team, which included researchers from Australia, China and the United States, published its study Thursday in the online version of Science.

"It's pretty pleasant to see two teams that did not know each other reach similar findings," Dr. Lin-Fa Wang, a virologist at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, told the Times.

The teams collected hundreds of bats from their natural habitat and from Chinese markets. Both studies found that the bats carried viruses from the coronavirus family, which is closely related to the SARS virus.

Gene May Predict Aggressive Ovarian Cancer

A gene called Rsf-1 that may predict aggressive ovarian cancer has been identified by Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers.

This is the first study to establish a role for a gene in ovarian cancer and may lead to development of a test that can predict at an early stage which patients will develop aggressive cancer. The findings were published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We hope new therapies can be tailored to target Rsf-1, in the same way that Herceptin for breast cancer attacks the Her2/neu gene pathway," researcher Tian-Li Wang, assistant professor of gynecology/obstetrics and oncology, said in a prepared statement.

In their study, the researchers found a surge in the number of Rsf-1 gene copies in 13.2 percent (16 of 121) of high grade ovarian cancers. They did not find the same thing in low grade or benign ovarian tumors.

The 16 ovarian cancer patients with this surge in Rsf-1 gene copies lived an average of 29 months compared to 36 months for patients who did not have Rsf-1 amplification.

The Hopkins team said a surge in Rsf-1 may cause changes that promote tumor growth.

Infection May be Linked to OCD

An immune reaction following an infection may be responsible for some cases of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in some children, says a U.K. study in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The study compared 50 children with OCD to 190 children in a control group. Children with OCD were much more likely (42 percent) to have anti-basal ganglia antibodies than the children in the control group (5 percent), BBC News reported.

These antibodies are associated with streptococcal infection.

The study authors, from the Institute of Psychiatry and the Institute of Neurology, said the findings suggested that, "autoimmunity may have a role in the genesis and/or maintenance of some cases of OCD."

"Further examination of this autoimmune subgroup may provide insight into the neurobiology of OCD, and explain whether the antibodies concerned are causing the disease," the researchers wrote.

More research is needed to confirm these findings, they added.

6 U.S. States Chosen for Youth and Environment Study

Pregnant women and others of childbearing age in six states will be the first participants in the largest-ever U.S. study of children that will track 100,000 kids from the womb to age 21 to learn how the environment affects their health, the Associated Press reported.

Participating communities and the institutions leading the research will include:

Orange County, Calif.; University of California, Irvine.
Duplin County, N.C.,; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Queens County, N.Y.; Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Montgomery County, Pa.; Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Drexel University.
Salt Lake County, Utah; University of Utah.
Waukesha County, Wis.; University of Wisconsin-Madison and Medical College of Wisconsin.
The researchers plan to enroll 1,500 women in each county over five years. They will record environmental exposures during pregnancy and assess how each one may have contributed to the subsequent onset of pediatric diseases, including asthma, learning disabilities, and autism, the AP reported.

Initial results could come as early as 2010, a National Institutes of Health spokesman told the wire service.

New Hormone Therapy for Menopause Approved

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Berlex Inc. drug Angeliq (drospirenone and estradiol) as a form of hormone-replacement therapy for moderate-to-severe menopausal symptoms, according to a company statement issued Thursday.

The active ingredient drospirenone, already found in the company's Yasmin oral contraceptive approved in 2001, acts as a mild diuretic, the company said. Berlex said it is studying whether it could help reduce blood pressure in menopausal women with hypertension.

The estrogen component is estradiol, the same estrogen produced by the ovaries prior to menopause, the company said.

Women with liver, kidney or adrenal disease shouldn't take Angeliq, and patients on drugs that increase body levels of potassium should ask their doctor before beginning Angeliq, Berlex said.

Since 2002, when a major U.S. study found that women taking HRT had a higher incidence of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and breast cancer, doctors have been asked to prescribe drugs containing estrogen at the lowest effective doses and for the shortest duration possible. Estrogen therapy shouldn't be used by women with undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding or a suspected or known history of breast cancer, Berlex said.

Why Most Children Don't Walk to School

Despite the benefits of walking -- including a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer -- only 15 percent of American children walk to school, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded from new research.

Distance from home to school is seen as the biggest barrier, followed by the perceived dangers of too much traffic, crime, and inclement weather, the CDC said in Thursday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Compared with a similar survey in 1969, when nearly half of American children walked to school, distance has become a growing factor. There was an increase of 2 million students from 1969 to 2001, and a corresponding decrease in the number of schools, from 70,869 to 69,697. More students and fewer schools means a greater percentage of kids now live farther than 1 mile from their schools, the CDC said.

The survey involved 1,705 adults who reported having at least one child aged 5 to 18, the agency said.

Health Tip: Is Your Catch Safe to Eat?

For many people, fishing is more than just a sport -- it's a way of putting food on the table.

But before you make your catch tonight's dinner, heed this advice from the Virginia Department of Health:

Eat smaller, younger fish, because they're less likely to contain harmful levels of contaminants.
Remove the skin, the fat from the belly and top, and the internal organs before cooking the fish.
Bake, broil, or grill on an open rack to allow fats to drain away from the meat.
Discard the fats that cook out of the fish.
Eat less deep-fried fish since frying seals contaminants into the fatty tissue.

Health Tip: Avoid Gum Disease

Your risk of developing gum (periodontal) disease increases as you age. Over time, your gums may begin to detach from your teeth.

Left untreated, the supporting bone may dissolve, and when this happens, your teeth may become loose and fall out, says the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

So if you notice that your gums are swollen, red, tender or bleed easily, or that your teeth feel loose, see your dentist as soon as possible. Meanwhile, don't forget to floss and brush your teeth after every meal using a fluoride toothpaste.
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