Health Highlights: Sept. 3, 2007
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Highly-Trained Athletes May Need Heart Screening More than the General Population
Athletes who participate in the most strenuous sports, such as soccer and American football, are more likely than the general population to develop an abnormal heartbeat known as arrhythmia, which can lead to death, European cardiologists heard Monday.
And, according to the Associated Press, a universal screening program can prevent cardiac death in many athletes who outwardly show no sign that there is anything wrong with them.
The only country known to do heart screening for all its professional athletes is Italy, the wire service reports. Dr. Domenico Corrado of the University of Padua told colleagues at the European Society for Cardiology meeting in Vienna that since the program was begun in 1981, the rate of fatal heart attacks among professional Italian athletes has been reduced from four cases per 100,000 to 0.4 cases per 100,000.
Intense physical training in high-intensity sports can cause adrenaline production to over-stimulate the heart, Carrado said. "Sport acts as a trigger," the A.P. quotes him as saying.
"Athletes may have a silent but important heart disease that's not... manifest," said Dr. Douglas Zipes, a cardiologist at Indiana University School of Medicine.
How much does the heart screening cost? About $82 per athelete, Corrado told the wire service.
Increased Demand for Leafy Vegetables Hikes Contamination Risk, Experts Say
It's almost a contradiction in terms: The more "healthy" fresh, leafy vegetables people eat, the more the likelihood that some sort of food poisoning bacteria will be in found in some of it.
That grim conclusion comes from experts speaking Monday at the Society for General Microbiology's 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The desire for fresh produce, especially by Europeans and North Americans, has caused year-round production of leafy vegetables, which are particularly susceptible to the E. coli and salmonella bacteria.
The demand for this produce -- in part because it is believed to be good for one's health -- has required new methods to clean, package and quickly deliver it across large distances to consumers in many parts of the world, a society news release says.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 73,000 cases and 61 deaths occur in the United States each year from E.coli. And 40,000 cases of salmonella are reported in the United States annually, the CDC says. In fact, 20 tons of ground beef were recalled late last week in four states because of possible E. coli contamination, and a nationwide recall for bags of fresh spinach was announced Aug. 30 in the United States because of possibility of salmonella bacteria.
The problem of keeping massive amounts of produce free from these contaminants is not easily solved, says a U.S. expert. "This situation complicates strategies for eliminating illnesses and outbreaks due to the complex ecosystem of multiple potential sources, such as water, wildlife, and nearby livestock, all of which could be sources of bacteria causing food poisoning", says Robert Mandrell, from the US Department of Agriculture's Research Service in the news release.
DNA Variant Confirms Genetic Link to Differences in Height
The scientific theory that a person's height is most often influenced by how tall his or her forbears were now has genetic confirmation.
Reporting in the Sept. 2 online edition of the journal Nature Genetics, American and British scientists say they have found a genetic variant in human DNA associated with height, and this is the first time such a genetic link has been confirmed.
The key to finding the "height" variant came through examining the coding in the human genome, according to a news release from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, one the organizations that conducted the research. Scientists examined DNA from 35,000 people and found that a gene known as HMGA2 had different coding, to indicate a person's height. A "C" code instead of a "T" code was found in taller people, the researchers said.
"Because height is a complex trait, involving a variety of genetic and non-genetic factors, it can teach us valuable lessons about the genetic framework of other complex traits such as diabetes, cancer and other common human diseases," said co-senior author Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, an associate professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Broad Institute, in the news release.
Linking height to DNA is just the first step in using DNA to identify many different human variables, the researchers report. "Soon the scientific community will have access to many more large-scale genomic data sets, making it feasible to identify additional genes involved in height," Hirschhorn added.
Cancer Society Using Entire Advertising Budget as an Alert to Problems of the Uninsured
The American Cancer Society has decided to use its $15 million annual advertising budget to attack a health problem that its chief executive says overwhelms almost every other one in the United States: the rising number of uninsured Americans.
The New York Times reports that recent U.S Census figures have shown that the number of Americans without health insurance rose in 2006 to 47 million, almost 16 percent of the population. And it is this growing number of people who don't have the coverage to get preventative tests, such as mammograms, that may be slowing down a successful fight against cancer, the Times reports.
With 560,000 Americans estimated to die from cancer this year, the financial burden actually causes poverty in one-in-five families, the newspaper says. "I believe, if we don't fix the health care system, that lack of access will be a bigger cancer killer than tobacco," the Times quotes John R. Seffrin, cancer society chief executive, as saying. "The ultimate control of cancer is as much a public policy issue as it is a medical and scientific issue."
Two other health organizations are using a significant amount of their advertising budgets to campaign for more affordable health insurance: AARP and the American Medical Association.
First New Smallpox Vaccine Since 1931 Approved by FDA
After a number of clinical trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced the licensing of a new smallpox vaccine.
The vaccine, ACAM2000 -- made by Acambis Inc. of Cambridge, England -- will be for inoculating people at "high risk of exposure to smallpox and could be used to protect individuals and populations during a bioterrorist attack," the FDA says in a news release. It is the first smallpox vaccine approved by the FDA since 1931.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paid $30 million for 10 million doses of ACAM2000 in 2006, and the FDA's announcement of the vaccine's licensing indicates that it will become a main source to protect against smallpox if it becomes necessary.
The last case of smallpox, which is often fatal, was reported in Somalia in 1977. But since the 2001 World Trade Center attack, closely followed by the mailing of anthrax spores that struck 22 people and killed five, the U.S. government has worked to prevent bioterror attacks, including smallpox.
"The licensing of ACAM2000 will make us better prepared as a nation because it provides an important, effective tool for protecting first responders and individuals with a high risk of exposure from this potentially lethal disease," said Rear Adm. W. Craig Vanderwagen, M.D., assistant secretary for preparedness and response, in the news release.
And although the vaccine is designed to be available to those who would be most exposed to smallpox initially, the supply would also be much more available to the general population with the production of ACAM2000, the FDA said.
Symptoms of Gestational Hypertension Intensifying, Study Finds
Increased stress during pregnancy may be causing hypertension to become life-threatening, new research concludes.
Writing in the September-October issue of the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, Temple University lead author Kathleen Black reported that the condition, known as preeclampsia and gestational hypertension, appears to be getting more severe in the 6-to-8 percent of pregnant women who suffer from it.
Preeclampsia and gestational hypertension occur at about 20 weeks into pregnancy, according to a Temple University news release. Black's research team found that the intensity of the condition is increasing, as are the the symptoms. "The condition is variable and can change quickly," Black said in the news release. "We need to be aware of symptoms changing from mild to worse."
The commonest symptoms of preecalmpsia and gestational hypertension are headaches, dizziness, frequent vomiting and malaise, Black said. The severest forms of this condition can cause fetal developmental problems in the fetus and sometimes can cause death, either in the baby or the mother, according to the news release.
Pregnant women with symptoms associated with preecalmpsia and gestational hypertension should contact their doctor immediately, Black emphasized.
Ground Beef Recalled for E. Coli Contamination
As one of the most popular holidays for grilling is here, some 20 tons of ground beef are being recalled in four states due to possible E. coli contamination, the Seattle Times reported Friday.
At least nine people in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho were sickened by the meat, which was processed between July 19 and July 30. The meat was also sold in Alaska.
While the sell-by dates have expired and the meat is no longer believed on store shelves, federal and state officials issued a consumer alert in case any of the meat remained in consumers' freezers.
Affected products included 16-ounce packages of "Northwest Finest 7% Fat, Natural Ground Beef" with UPC code label "752907 600127" and 16-ounce packages of "Northwest Finest 10% Fat, Organic Ground Beef" with expiration dates between Aug. 1 and Aug. 11, the newspaper said. Packages also bear the establishment number "Est. 965" inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture mark of inspection.
The beef, produced by Oregon-based Interstate Meats, was sold by grocers including Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer, and possibly other stores.
E. coli can cause mild-to-severe intestinal illness including possible symptoms of bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.
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