Health Highlights: April 24, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Proximity to Mercury Pollution Source Linked to Autism Risk
The first study to show a statistical relationship between autism and proximity to industrial sites that release mercury has been published by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Their analysis of data from 1,040 Texas school districts and data from 39 coal-fired power plants and 56 industrial facilities in the state showed that autism rates decreased by one percent to two percent for each 10 miles of distance from a mercury pollution source.
Among the other findings:
- For every 1,000 pounds of mercury released by all industrial sources in Texas in 1998, there was a corresponding 2.6 percent increase in autism rates in Texas school districts in 2002.
- For every 1,000 pounds of mercury released by Texas power plants in 1998, there was a corresponding 3.7 percent increase in autism rates in Texas school districts in 2002.
The research appears in the journal Health & Place.
"This study was not designed to understand which individuals in the population are at risk due to mercury exposure. However, it does suggest generally that there is greater autism risk closer to the polluting source," lead author Raymond Palmer, associate professor of family and community medicine, said in a prepared statement.
Experts Stress Importance of Childhood Vaccinations
As part of National Infant Immunization Week (April 19-26), parents, caregivers and health providers are being reminded of the benefits of vaccination and the importance of routine childhood vaccination.
"A substantial number of children in the United States still aren't adequately protected from vaccine-preventable diseases," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a prepared statement.
"The suffering or death of even one child from a vaccine-preventable disease is an unnecessary human tragedy. Let us renew our efforts to ensure that no child, adolescent or adult will have to needlessly suffer from a vaccine-preventable disease," she said.
Schuchat said there are vaccines to protect children against 15 diseases before the age of 2, yet more than 20 percent of 2-year-olds in the United States aren't fully immunized against infectious diseases to which they're especially vulnerable.
While vaccinating infants is especially important because they're more vulnerable to many diseases than older children and adults, "it's important for adults to also be vaccinated to keep themselves healthy and to keep from spreading infections to vulnerable people, including children," Schuchat said.
Senate to Vote on Genetic Information Bill
The U.S. Senate was to vote Thursday on a bill that would protect people from losing their jobs or health insurance if they have genetic testing to find out if they're predisposed to serious diseases.
Under the proposed legislation, insurance companies could not use genetic information to set premiums or determine eligibility, and employers would be prohibited from using genetic information to hire, fire or promote workers, the Associated Press reported.
It's expected the Senate will pass the measure by a large margin and the House of Representatives could take it up early next week, before sending it to President Bush for his signature. A similar bill approved last year had White House support.
While genetic testing could help patients with a wide range of hereditary-based diseases get early, lifesaving treatment, many people have expressed concern that genetic information could be used against them.
If patient protection is guaranteed by law, ""researchers and clinicians can actively encourage Americans to participate in clinical trials and appropriate genetic testing unencumbered by the fear of discrimination based upon the results," Aravinda Chakravarti, president of the American Society of Human Genetics, told the AP.
New Law Strengthens Mad Cow Disease Safeguards
Certain cattle materials that carry the highest risk of mad cow disease cannot be included in any animal feed, including pet food, says a U.S. Food and Drug Administration final regulation announced Wednesday.
The prohibited materials include the brains and spinal cords from cattle 30 months of age and older. The entire carcass of cattle not inspected and passed for human consumption is also prohibited, unless the cattle are less than 30 months old, or the brains and spinal cords have been removed, the FDA said.
It's believed the risk of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- BSE) is extremely low in cattle less than 30 months old.
The final rule is effective a year from now in order to give the livestock, meat, rendering, and feed industries time to adapt their practices to the new regulation, which is designed to strengthen existing safeguards against mad cow disease, the FDA said.
Atlantic City Bans Smoking in Casinos
Many employees of Atlantic City casinos felt like they won the jackpot after city council voted 9-0 Wednesday to plug a loophole in a statewide ban on smoking in public places that excluded casinos.
The casino smoking ban takes effect Oct. 15, but customers will still be allowed to smoke in unstaffed smoking lounges away from the table games and slot machines -- if individual casinos decided to build such lounges, the Associated Press reported.
Casino workers who attended the council meeting burst into applause and chanted, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," when the votes were counted. Many of the workers wore T-shirts with the slogan "Nobody deserves to work in an ashtray."
The city council tried in January 2007 to ban smoking in casinos. But intense pressure from the casino industry forced council to adopt a compromise law that restricted smoking to no more than 25 percent of the casino floor. But the smoking areas aren't walled off from nonsmoking areas, and secondhand smoke still drifts throughout the casino floor, the AP reported.
Acupuncture Relieves Hot Flushes Caused by Breast Cancer Drug
Acupuncture helped relieve hot flushes in women taking the drug tamoxifen after breast cancer surgery, says a Norwegian study.
It included 59 patients randomly selected to receive either 10 weeks of traditional Chinese acupuncture or sham acupuncture. The women who received traditional acupuncture had a 50 percent reduction in daytime and nighttime hot flushes, United Press International reported.
"Acupuncture is increasingly used in western countries to treat the problem of hot flushes in healthy postmenopausal women, so we wanted to see whether it was effective in women with breast cancer suffering from hot flushes as a result of their anti-estrogen medication," study author Jill Hervik, a physiotherapist and acupuncturist at Vestfold Central Hospital in Tonsberg, said in a prepared statement.
Tamoxifen can cause hot flushes and many other symptoms experienced by women going through menopause, UPI reported.
The study was presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Berlin.
Copyright © 2008 ScoutNews LLC. All rights reserved.