Health Buzz: Earlier HIV Treatment and Other Health News

DNA fingerprinting and anthrax, a cancer-fighting Olympian, and caffeine’s effect on athletes


Earlier HIV/AIDS Treatment Suggested

New guidelines for treating HIV and AIDS patients with antiretroviral medications suggest earlier therapy might be more effective, according to findings presented this weekend at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The guidelines, written by the International AIDS Society-USA Panel, suggest starting therapy before immune-system CD4 cell counts decline to fewer than 350 cells per microliter. Experts say that additional factors, such as the existence of other diseases like hepatitis B or C and cardiovascular risk, should be taken into account when considering when to start antiretroviral therapy.

 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that about 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in the United States in 2006—a figure 40 percent higher than the former estimate of 40,000 infections each year. The revised estimate is the result of a new and improved calculation method.

Also, a report from the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, issued at the AIDS conference, explores the possibility of whether taking daily medication can prevent HIV infection. In June, after the CDC reported an increase in false positives on certain oral fluid tests, U.S. News offered a caution about rapid HIV tests.

DNA Fingerprinting Helped ID Anthrax Source

DNA fingerprinting techniques allowing experts to identify unique parts of genetic code were integral in helping law enforcement officials track the 2001 anthrax mailings to Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., the Associated Press reports. These techniques ultimately led authorities to a very specific type of anthrax overseen by Bruce Ivins, the lead suspect in the investigation. What remains unknown is how Ivins could have distributed anthrax through the mail or how he kept it a secret. Ivins committed suicide last week before a possible indictment on murder charges. Five people were killed in the attacks.

Last week, U.S. News's Kevin Whitelaw explained this unsatisfying end to the anthrax investigation.

What Eric Shanteau's Cancer Means for All Men

Eric Shanteau, a 24-year-old swimmer from Lilburn, Ga., received staggering news a week before the Olympic trials: He had testicular cancer and needed surgery. He could have—some doctors have reportedly argued he should have—abandoned his Olympic dreams to aggressively pursue treatment, Adam Voiland reports. Instead, Shanteau chose to delay surgery, with stunning results. He swam in the trials and won a spot on the American team with - an upset second-place finish in the 200-meter breast stroke. Now the world will be watching closely when Shanteau takes to the pool in Beijing. Comparisons to Lance Armstrong, the American cyclist who managed to transform testicular cancer into a source of motivation and strength, are inevitable.

U.S. News provides information about the causes, incidence, and risk factors for testicular cancer. You can find the latest in men's health news and advice in Voiland's On Men blog.

An Athlete’s Legal Aid: Caffeine

A recent survey of British athletes showed that 33 percent of track and field athletes and 60 percent of cyclists consumed caffeine for the purpose of boosting performance, Katherine Hobson reports. Most studies have indeed shown that caffeine enhances performance by as much as 20 percent, but because the people getting caffeine in a controlled trial can probably feel it, it's possible they could be imagining the athletic boost. Read more of Hobson's column to see whether you should start downing the Pepsi.

U.S. News's Nancy Shute covered the pros and cons of caffeine last year. Also, Hobson previously reported on another legal performance aid: sleep.

—January W. Payne