Health Highlights: Aug. 17, 2007
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Genetic Test Spots Patients at Risk From Viral Infections
A genetic method of identifying patients most likely to develop life-threatening complications from SARS, bird flu and other dangerous viral infections has been discovered by Canadian researchers.
They analyzed blood samples from 40 people infected with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) during the 2003 outbreak in Toronto. They found that patients with one kind of interferon gene-expression pattern recovered quickly, while those with another pattern became seriously ill or died, the Toronto Star reported.
Interferons -- proteins produced by white blood cells -- are the body's first-line defense against viruses. SARS patients with abnormal interferon patterns didn't produce enough antibodies to fight the virus, the study found. It was published Thursday in the Journal of Virology.
The findings provide new insight into how the immune system responds to SARS and could help doctors identify which patients with severe viral infections require specialized treatments, the Star reported.
Depression Over-Diagnosed, Psychiatrist Says
Many people diagnosed with depression are actually just unhappy, says an Australian psychiatrist who contends that the clinical threshold for depression is too low, BBC News reported.
Professor Gordon Parker of the University of New South Wales wrote in the British Medical Journal that almost all people experience symptoms such as "feeling sad, blue or down in the dumps" at some time in their lives. However, that's not the same as clinical depression.
He conducted a 15-year study of 242 teachers and found that more than 75 percent of them met the current criteria for depression. Parker described depression as a "catch-all" diagnosis driven by clever marketing, BBC News reported.
"Over the last 30 years the formal definitions for defining clinical depression have expanded into the territory of normal depression, and the real risk is that the milder, more common experiences risk being pathologised," Parker wrote.
However, the same issue of the British Medical Journal featured an article by another psychiatrist who contradicted Parker's opinion. Increased diagnosis of depression has helped prevent suicides and reduced the stigma of mental illness, Professor Ian Hickie wrote.
Employer-Sponsored Health Premiums Jump
Between 2000 and 2005, the average annual premium for employer-sponsored family health coverage increased from $6,772 to $10,728, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The average annual cost for single-person coverage increased from $2,655 to $3,991 during the same period.
Workers paid $971 more for family coverage in 2005 than they did in 2000 ($2,585 vs. $1,614). Single-person annual premiums increased an average of $273.
Employers paid an average of $2,985 more for each family plan, from $5,158 in 2000 to $8,143 in 2005, a 58 percent increase. Each single plan cost employers $1,063 more in 2005, a 48 percent increase.
New York City had the highest average overall cost for a family plan premium in 2005 ($11,819), while Los Angeles had the lowest premium ($10,122).
Delayed Umbilical Cord Clamping Better for Babies: Expert
Doctors and midwives should delay clamping the umbilical cord for three minutes after birth to reduce the risk of anemia in newborns, says an article in the British Medical Journal.
Dr. Andrew Weeks, an obstetrics lecturer at Liverpool University in the U.K., said delayed clamping of the umbilical cord sends oxygen-rich blood to the newborn's lungs until breathing is fully established, and increases iron levels, Agence France-Presse reported.
Delayed clamping would especially benefit premature babies and babies delivered by Caesarean section, Weeks said.
He noted that there is considerable evidence that early cord clamping doesn't benefit mothers or babies, AFP reported.
"Both the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics have dropped (early clamping) from their guidelines," Weeks said. "It is time for others to follow their lead and find practical ways of incorporating delayed cord clamping into delivery routines."
Hypertension Could Affect 1.56 Billion People by 2025
The number of people with high blood pressure could top 1 billion worldwide within 20 years, experts warn in The Lancet medical journal.
Currently, about one in four adults has hypertension, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and death, BBC News reported.
In 2000, there were 972 million people with high blood pressure. Unhealthy lifestyles and poor compliance with treatment could drive that number up to 1.56 billion by 2025.
An editorial in The Lancet noted that even though there are highly effective treatments, target blood pressure levels are rarely achieved, BBC News reported.
"Many patients still believe that hypertension is a disease that can be cured, and stop or reduce medication when blood pressure levels fall," the editorial said. "Physicians need to convey the message that hypertension is the first, and easily measurable, irreversible sign that many organs in the body are under attack."
Suicide Rate for U.S. Army Soldiers Highest in 26 Years
The suicide rate among U.S. Army soldiers in 2006 was the highest in 26 years, and more than 25 percent of those who committed suicide did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, says an Army report to be released Thursday.
The report said there were 99 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers in 2006, compared to 88 in 2005, according to the Associated Press. The number of suicides last year was the highest since 1991, the time of the Persian Gulf War, when there were 102 suicides.
Over the past 26 years, the suicide rate in the U.S. Army has ranged from last year's high of 17.3 per 100,000 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.
The 99 suicides in 2006 included 28 soldiers deployed to either Iraq and Afghanistan and 71 soldiers who weren't, the AP reported. Among women, the suicide rate was nearly twice as high for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan than for those who weren't sent to war.
Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and job stress were motivating factors in the suicides, according to the report. And about a one fourth of those who killed themselves had a history of at least one psychiatric disorder, including 8 percent who had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which includes post-traumatic stress.
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