Health Highlights: June 4, 2008

HealthDay SHARE
  • Estrogen Cream Could Protect Men Against HIV
  • Scientists Block Sexual Development of Malaria Parasite
  • Simple Infection Control Steps Reduce Student Absenteeism
  • Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Tomatoes
  • Group Wants Food Colorings Banned
  • Massachusetts' Insurance Program Making Progress

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Estrogen Cream Could Protect Men Against HIV

A once-a-week application of the female hormone estrogen to the penis may act as a "natural condom" that helps protect men against HIV infection, suggest Australian researchers.

They said an estrogen cream could quadruple the thin layer of the protein keratin on the skin, providing a natural defensive layer, Agence France-Presse reported.

"You create what you could call a natural condom. You create a biological membrane which (HIV) can't get through," Professor Roger Short, of the University of Melbourne, said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting System.

He said this method wouldn't protect against other types of sexually transmitted diseases and wouldn't prevent pregnancy, but could offer a safe and simple method of reducing HIV infection around the world, AFP reported.

Clinical trials are expected to be conducted in Africa. The research was outlined in the journal PLoS One.

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Scientists Block Sexual Development of Malaria Parasite

U.K. scientists have found a way to block the sexual development of the malaria parasite, a finding that could lead to the development of a drug that greatly reduces the spread of the disease.

The researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine identified an enzyme critical to the parasite's sex cycle and developed a way of halting it. The finding was published in the journal PLoS Biology.

"It acts as an inhibitor that stops the parasite from developing sexually," team leader David Baker told Agence France-Presse. "If we could develop a drug for patients, it would enable us to block malaria transmission from individual to individual," via the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

Such a drug may even have a curative effect, Baker said.

Each year, half a billion people worldwide are made severely ill by malaria, and more than a million die of the disease, AFP reported.

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Simple Infection Control Steps Reduce Student Absenteeism

Student absenteeism can be reduced through a few simple infection control measures such as daily disinfection of desktops and other often-touched surfaces, and having children use alcohol-based hand sanitizers before and after lunch, say Children's Hospital Boston researchers.

Their study of children in Avon, Ohio, found that these measures did not affect levels of respiratory illness in third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders, but did reduce absenteeism for gastrointestinal problems by 9 percent, United Press International reported.

The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

"The best ways to avoid common infections are cleaning your hands and preventing exposure to the germs that cause these illnesses," study leader Dr. Thomas Sandora, pediatric infectious diseases specialist, said in a prepared statement. "Our research indicates that elementary schools should consider a few simple infection control practices to help keep students healthier."

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Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Tomatoes

An outbreak of salmonella poisoning linked to uncooked tomatoes has sickened 40 people in Texas and New Mexico, and tomatoes are being investigated as the cause of 30 illnesses in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Idaho, Illinois and Indiana, the Associated Press reported.

In Texas and New Mexico, at least 17 people have been hospitalized, but there have been no deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the victims in those two states said they ate raw tomatoes from stores or restaurants before they became ill between April 23 and May 27.

Lab tests confirmed that the 40 illnesses in Texas and New Mexico were caused by the same type of salmonella. Another 17 cases in New Mexico are under investigation. No farm, distributor or grocery chain has been pinpointed as the main source of the contamination, the AP reported.