Health Menu

Sponsored Links


Meningitis outbreak kills at least 110 in Uganda

KAMPALA (AFP) - A meningitis outbreak in Uganda has killed at least 110 people in nearly two months, officials said Saturday, amid plans to expand vaccinations against the disease.

Health officials said many more people might have died in inaccessible rural areas in the impoverished and mostly restive northern region, since the outbreak was reported in the beginning of the year.

"Accumulatively, a least 110 people have died and up 3,000 cases reported in mainly the West Nile region and in Karamoja regions," Sam Okware, the health ministry's director of communicable diseases, told AFP by phone.

He said half of the fatalities were reported in the northern Arua district.

"Many died in the villages, but the situation is now getting much better," he added.

Officials said health authorities have vaccinated about half a million people and were planning to expand the programme to cover an additional 300,000 others in a efforts to contain the situation.

"Together with the World Health Organisation, we have worked to contain the epidemic and the treatment has been effective," said Health Minister Stephene Malinga.

Meningitis is an often fatal airborne infection transmitted through sneezing and coughing that infects the brain and spinal cord and its symptoms include fever, rash and vomiting.

Despite early diagnosis and treatment, nearly 10 percent of cases are fatal.

In Uganda like in many African nations, outbreaks can quickly turn fatal and take time to control owing to lack of resources.


Drug helps fight brain tumors, study finds

WASHINGTON - Avastin, one of a new family of drugs that starves tumors of their blood supply, can slow the growth of the most common and deadly form of brain cancer, researchers reported on Monday.

Avastin combined with standard chemotherapy could temporarily stop the growth of brain tumors known as gliomas, the researchers reported in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Made by Genentech under the chemical name bevacizumab, Avastin is currently approved to treat lung and colorectal cancers.

“These results are exciting because of the possible implications for a patient population that currently has the poorest possible prognosis going into treatment — those with malignant brain tumors that have recurred after initial treatment,” said Dr. James Vredenburgh of Duke University, who led the study.

Vredenburgh’s team tested Avastin in 32 patients with stage III or stage IV cancer.

When they added Avastin to the more standard chemotherapy drug irinotecan, the combination either shrank the tumors or restricted their growth in nearly all the patients, the researchers found.

They said 63 percent of the patients had their tumors shrink by at least 50 percent and the tumors did not start to grow again for at least six months in 38 percent.

Vredenburgh said chemotherapy usually slows the growth of gliomas for just six weeks to three months.

Life expectancy after diagnosis of a stage IV glioma — the most aggressive type — is eight to 15 months, Vredenburgh said. People with slightly less aggressive stage III glioma live between 16 months and two years on average.

An estimated 18,000 people are diagnosed with gliomas in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

They are difficult to treat because many drugs cannot reach the brain.

“When the tumor recurs after treatment, there are no standard therapies,” Vredenburgh said. “This study may lead to options where there previously were none.”


China bans imports of US peanut butter after food scare

BEIJING (AFP) - China's ministry of health has warned consumers against eating two brands of US-made peanut butter and has banned imports and sales of the products, state press said Saturday.

The ministry banned the "Peter Pan" and "Great Value" brands of peanut butter after the World Health Organization warned that the products could be contaminated by the food-borne bacterium salmonella, Xinhua news agency said.

The ministry warned people not to buy the brands and suggested that those who have eaten the foods seek medical advice if they come down with fever, abdominal pain or diarrhoea, it said.

Chinese import agents of the two brands were also ordered to immediately recall their products, it added.

Food-borne illness, which affected at least 288 people across 39 US states, has been linked to the consumption of varying types of peanut butter, US officials said last week.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned Americans not to eat the contents of certain jars of Peter Pan peanut butter or Great Value peanut butter "due to risk of contamination with Salmonella Tennessee, a bacterium that causes food-borne illness."


Kuwait detects cases of deadly bird flu

KUWAIT CITY (AFP) - Kuwait announced on Sunday that it had detected the deadly strain of avian influenza in poultry and birds such as falcons and had shut the nation's only zoo.

"Twenty cases of avian influenza have been detected in birds, most of them falcons," Sheikh Ahmed Abdallah Al-Sabah said in a statement.

Ministry spokesman Ahmad al-Shatti told AFP it was the deadly H5N1 form of the disease, which according to the World Health Organisation has killed 167 people worldwide since it emerged in 2003.

A nationwide emergency response programme has been enacted, including the banning of all bird imports and the temporary closure of Kuwait Zoo and bird market.

The last case of avian flu in Kuwait was discovered in November 2005.

The statement said the cases, mostly in falcons, were confirmed by local and British laboratories and that more tests were being conducted.

Shatti said the ministry has taken blood samples from all people suspected of having contact with the infected birds and were being tested.

He said about 30 teams have been deployed to various parts of the oil-rich Gulf states following the discovery of the virus.

Some of the infected birds were found in Wafra farms area on the border with Saudi Arabia, while others were found at the only zoo in the country.

Kuwait is a member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council which has drawn up a common strategy to combat the virus amid warnings by officials that the region was vulnerable because of migratory birds.

Individually, GCC states have recently adopted measures to prevent the spread of avian flu, including the ban of birds, poultry and their products mainly from countries in Asia and Europe where bird flu cases have surfaced.

Some countries, including Saudi Arabia, have also earmarked millions of dollars to buy drugs to combat the disease.


More Teens Are Saying, 'Have a Cigar'

Slowly but surely, American kids have gotten the message that cigarette smoking is stinky, smelly and a hazard to your health.

Now, if only they would believe the same about cigars.

While cigarette consumption declined in the United States by 10 percent from 2000 to 2004, cigar consumption jumped 28 percent, according to a recent report published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Other studies have found that teens who smoke cigars are definitely behind some of that increase. For instance, a 2004 survey conducted in Cleveland found that 23 percent of the 4,409 teens polled preferred cigars, compared to 16 percent choosing cigarettes.

And the increase may not yet have peaked, said John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, a national legal action anti-smoking organization based in Washington, D.C.

"Many of the factors that began leading to the [cigar] increase are still present," Banzhaf said. They include the perception that cigars look fashionable and the fact that high-profile politicians and others are seen smoking them regularly, he said.

"We have Arnold (Schwarzenegger, California's governor), smoking cigars and occasionally,Bill Clinton," he said. "More and more women are smoking cigars."

But it's not just politicians and women who are fueling the image that cigars are hip, said Scott Goold, director of Tobacco Freedom, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based group. "Our popular culture is filled with images of cigars," he said.

Your neighbor passes them out, for instance, when the family has a new baby. And businessmen smoke them when they cinch a business deal, he noted.

For cash-strapped teens, finances may play a role in their tobacco of choice, Banzhaf said. "Many states raise cigarette taxes but not cigar [taxes]," he said.

There's also the perception that cigars are just not as dangerous as cigarettes in terms of cancer risk, a perception Banzhaf and other experts said is incorrect.

While it's difficult to compare cigarettes and cigars head-to-head in terms of health risk,Banzhaf said, it's clear both are risky. Cigar smoking is strongly linked to a host of deadly cancers of the lip, tongue, mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx and lung. According to data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, smoking just one or two cigars a day doubles the risk for oral and esophageal cancer and increases larynx cancer risk six-fold.

Risks rise even higher once users decide to inhale cigar smoke. Compared to nonsmokers, cigar smokers who inhale deeply face 27 times the risk of oral cancer and 53 times the risk of cancer of the larynx, according to the NIH report.

So, what works and what doesn't if you're a parent trying to convince your teen to avoid cigars and other tobacco?

Dwelling on the long-term risk of cancer -- that they may come down with lung cancer at 40 -- is not usually effective, Banzhaf said, because the typical teen thinks of the 40th birthday as an eternity away.

Teens also have a hard time personalizing risk. They tend to think they are immune to life's dangers -- that something bad could happen to the next person, but not them.

Parents should instead focus on the reasons kids light up to begin with. "Kids like to start smoking not so much for the taste but because it is a sign of growing up," Banzhaf said. Peer pressure plays a role, too.

"If parents can start to convince kids that smoking makes you stinky and smelly, not sexy and sophisticated, that can have a great impact," he said.

Goold tells parents to maintain an ongoing dialogue with their children, the same as they would when talking about not taking drugs. Spending time together as a family, such as eating dinner together, can help make that conversation flow more naturally, he said.


Religious faith may help stroke victims recover

DALLAS - People of faith have long contended that the power of prayer can help heal the sick. Now a study conducted in Rome suggests that religious faith may help people recover from a stroke.

The study does not point to a “higher cause” but suggests that a strong dose of spirituality can reduce the emotional stress linked to obstacles in stroke recovery, according to a report Thursday in the journal Stroke.

Researchers at the San Raffaele Pisana Rehabilitation Center in the Italian capital of Rome interviewed 132 stroke survivors about their religious beliefs and spirituality. The median age of the study participants was 72.

The responses were compared with their scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, a self-assessment tool.

“The analysis showed higher scores on the anxiety and depression scale correlated significantly with lower scores on the religious and spirituality questionnaire,” said the American Heart Association, which publishes Stroke.

“The association remained significant after adjusting for other factors that could influence a stroke patient’s degree of emotional distress (such as mental and physical functioning, living conditions and marital status),” it said in a statement.

The reasons for this possible link between faith and post-stroke emotional distress are hard to pin down, though the researchers gave tentative explanations.

“Religious people who are active in their communities are more likely to receive external aid that can be provided by volunteers,” said Dr. Salvatore Giaquinto, chairman of the department of rehabilitation at the San Raffaele Pisana Rehabilitation Center.

“Social support lets them experience feelings of care, love and esteem. The new experience of support and the background of faith tell the patients that they are not alone.”

The research chimes to some extent with other studies that have suggested that spiritual pursuits such as reciting the rosary and yoga chanting may be beneficial for heart rate variability and stress relief.

But some researchers say the possible links uncovered in the Rome study should not be mistaken for direct causality.

“The study does not establish that religious beliefs will definitely reduce emotional distress but shows that people who are religious have better coping abilities,” Dr. Lalit Kalra, a stroke professor at King’s College London School of Medicine in Britain, wrote in an accompanying commentary.

“Hence, both these variables may define personal attributes of the patient, in other words religious beliefs do not make a person cope better but identify patients who have better abilities to cope with chronic illness,” Kalra wrote.

The researchers did note that most of Rome’s residents are Catholic. But they said their findings might extend to other religions as well.


Most U.S. women face heart, stroke risk

Nearly all American women are in danger of heart disease or stroke and should be more aggressive about lowering their risk — including asking their doctors about daily aspirin use, the American Heart Association said Monday in new guidelines.

It is the first time guidelines have urged all women to consider aspirin for preventing strokes, although specialists warn that it can cause ulcers and dangerous bleeding. They said it is probably not a good idea for young women with no big health problems.

“We do not want women to go to the drugstore and just start taking this themselves. It is critical that every woman talk to her doctor,” said Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and chair of the expert panel that wrote the guidelines.

The guidelines also advise daily exercise and less fat, and declare vitamins C and E, beta carotene and folic acid supplements worthless for preventing heart disease.

The guidelines were published in the journal Circulation with related studies on women’s health, including one suggesting that hormone skin patches may be safer than pills for menopause symptoms.

In general, the guidelines aim to get women and doctors to focus on the long-term risk of high blood pressure, smoking, lack of exercise or being overweight — even if a woman’s current health seems fine. Even a single risk factor at age 50 greatly raises the chance of heart disease or stroke later, and only about 10 percent of American women are free of these problems.

“We do not want women to wait until they develop symptoms to begin to take action,” Mosca said.

The guidelines were drafted by dozens of groups worldwide, including the American Academy of Family Physicians and the U.S. government. Of the 33 people who wrote the advice, 13 have financial ties to heart drug makers, only three of them to a large degree.

“This is a really good gathering of evidence in women,” after years of studies done mostly on men, said Dr. Sidney Smith, heart disease chief at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and past heart association president.

The evidence shows that many more women than thought are at risk of heart disease and stroke — even those whose only weakness was failure to exercise every day. Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women worldwide.

The advice for women:

* Exercise. Get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise on most and preferably all days, 60 to 90 minutes if you need to lose weight.
* Diet. Eat mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grain and high-fiber foods, fish at least twice a week, and little salt. Limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories, 7 percent if possible, and trans fats to less than 1 percent. Limit alcohol to one drink or less a day.
* Don’t smoke. Use nicotine replacement products if needed to stop.
* Weight. Keep body-mass index under 25.
* Supplements. Consider omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) if you already have heart disease. Do not take extra folic acid or antioxidants like vitamins E, C and beta carotene, for heart disease prevention.
* Blood pressure, cholesterol. Keep under control, with medicine if needed. Keep LDL or bad cholesterol under 100 if at high risk of heart disease and under 70 if at very high risk.
* Aspirin. Daily use is already urged for women at high risk, and the guidelines now say the dose can go up to 325 milligrams. All other women should consider 81 milligram “baby aspirin” daily or 100 milligrams every other day for stroke prevention.

The last is controversial. Aspirin is recommended now to prevent heart disease in men 45 and older; but in women, a large study found it prevented heart disease only for those 65 and older.

Warnings about aspirin

Aspirin did prevent strokes in women, but again, the benefit was substantial only among older ones, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, a Harvard University women’s health expert who helped lead that study.

Putting young women on aspirin for stroke prevention is not justified by the evidence, Manson warned. In the 10-year study, aspirin prevented only one additional cardiovascular problem among roughly 35,000 women under 65 and led to 20 cases of bleeding requiring transfusion, she said.

Aspirin also can be dangerous for people whose blood pressure is not under control — another reason women should see their doctor before starting on it, Smith said. Many people are unaware they have high blood pressure.

Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said the benefits of low-dose aspirin must be weighed against the risk of internal bleeding, “and it is important for women to check with their doctor about this.”

Mosca conceded that in her own practice, “I would probably limit this to women 45 and above,” but would consider it for a younger woman who is overweight, doesn’t exercise and has high cholesterol and is unwilling to change her lifestyle enough to lower her risk.

The guidelines also say that estrogen and progesterone supplements, while often justified for menopause symptoms, should not be taken to prevent heart disease. Nor should so-called SERM drugs, such as tamoxifen and raloxifene, which are used to prevent breast cancer in women at high risk of that disease.

Millions of women stopped taking menopause hormones after a landmark study several years ago found the pills raised the risk of heart problems and breast cancer. A new study in Circulation gives hope that skin patches may prove safer in one key respect.

A French study found that women, aged 45 to 70, taking estrogen pills were four times more likely to suffer a blood clot than women getting it through a patch or not taking estrogen at all.

“If confirmed, these findings could really benefit women who are in need of these hormones to control their post-menopausal symptoms,” said Dr. Alice Jacobs, a Boston University cardiologist and past heart association president


Meningitis shot could save your child

A reporter’s life is a little like a doctor’s life. We get to meet people, step into their lives and then leave. We don’t expect to stay and rarely do we expect relationships to develop.

But I realized that rules like this are meant to be broken when I met Lynn and Alan Bozof in 1999. I was the medical correspondent for ABC News and was reporting on a series of outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis on college campuses.

Meningococcal meningitis is a serious bacterial infection that affects the bloodstream and the linings of the spinal cord and brain. Most cases occur in babies and children, although it can affect adults. Meningococcal infection is spread by close or prolonged contact, such as coughing, sneezing or sharing of eating or drinking utensils.

Although I trained as a pediatrician and knew that meningococcus was a particularly virulent type of meningitis, I was unprepared for the effect that this particular story would have on my life.

The Bozofs were like so many other middle American families. They were raising two good boys — brothers who dreamt of being doctors and one day practicing together.

Evan, the eldest, was a sophomore at the University of Georgia Southwestern, Americus. Like so many college students, he was studying hard, partying on the weekends and not getting enough sleep. On March 24, 1998, Evan called his mom. He thought he was coming down with the flu. He had a headache, sore throat, aches, fever, nausea and vomiting. But this was not the flu and, within hours, the seemingly simple infection evolved into a nightmare.

The Bozofs drove to the community hospital where Evan was hospitalized. Before their eyes, his flu-like symptoms turned to a rash and then, limb by limb, gangrene. Evan had been a star baseball player. The Bozofs were told that in a desperate move to save Evan’s life, the doctors would need his parents’ permission to amputate a limb. They said yes.

The Bozofs also worried about what Evan would think when he woke up, so they documented his hospital stay with photos. How else could you explain to your student athlete son why you compromised his athletic future in order to save his life?

The harrowing decisions did not stop there.

The decision to amputate a limb was one that they would make four times. Twenty-one days later, after multiple surgeries, Evan died without ever gaining consciousness.

It’s an understatement to say that this family has never been the same since Evan’s death.

Their grief and their outrage fueled a change in American medicine. Lynn and Alan Bozof found out that for the price of a pair of sneakers Evan could have had the meningococcal meningitis vaccine. But it was not required for college and never offered by their doctor. They are on a mission to change that.

I was so struck by the Bozoffs’ pain and kept trying to put myself in Lynn’s shoes – the maternal guilt, sorrow and pressure on the marriage. At the Bozoffs' invitation, I joined the advisory board for the National Meningitis Association.

Through the awareness campaigns of the NMA and the tireless efforts of meningitis survivors and the families that have been affected, there is a push to get teenagers vaccinated.

The military has known for years that soldiers in tight communal living have a greater chance of contracting meningitis, so it vaccinates recruits.

College dormitories have tight living quarters, too, and getting vaccinated against meningitis has not been an admissions requirement at schools. Yet, our public health-care policy has not reflected what we know.

There are 2,500 to 3,000 cases of meningoccal meningitis a year and most could be prevented with the vaccine. The death rate is 15 percent. The complication rates from organ failure and amputations are even higher.

A year-round disease

For my husband, me and our three children, this vaccine was a must. We have a college sophomore, a high-school senior, and a sixth-grader. I may not be able to protect them against everything, but this was a no-brainer.

Menactra is the newest and longest-lasting vaccine. At a cost of $70 to $100, it’s not cheap and not perfect — it’s only 85 percent effective against four of the five strains. But it’s the best we have right now. It’s safe and it saves lives.

While there have been calls to make this vaccination a requirement for admission to college, some states have been slow to mandate the shot. Not all colleges have the same immunization requirements. I think that’s a shame.

Since high demand for meningitis shots led to a vaccine shortage last year and caused the government temporarily to change its recommendations, there’s been confusion over who should get the shots and when. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention want parents and physicians to understand that the vaccine is available now. Meningitis is a year-round disease. Don’t wait for back-to-school season.

The National Meningitis Association or the CDC can provide more information about this disease and what you can do to prevent it. If you decide that your children should be vaccinated, don’t be talked out of it.

I’m quite serious when I tell you that this could save your child’s life.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman
Chief medical editor
NBC News


When pregnant mom eats fish, kids do better

LONDON - Women who eat seafood while pregnant may be boosting their children’s IQ in the process, according to new research published Friday in The Lancet. The results of the study were surprising, say the authors,
and contradict American and British recommendations that pregnant women should limit seafood and fish consumption to avoid potentially high levels of mercury. The study relied on mothers’ observations of their children’s development and their reports of their food intake while pregnant.

Mercury is found in small concentrations in fish and seafood, but can accumulate in the body. High amounts of the metal can damage the human nervous system, particularly those in developing fetuses. On the other hand, seafood — including fish — is also a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, essential to brain development.

While experts believe further research is necessary to confirm these conclusions, the study’s failure to find evidence of increased harm from eating fish is significant. Because seafood contain both nutrients and toxins, it remains a dilemma for regulatory authorities what kinds of recommendations should exist for pregnant women.

The study, led by Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the United States’ National Institutes of Health, tracked the eating habits of 11,875 pregnant women in Bristol, Britain.

Smarter kids?

At 32 weeks into their pregnancy, the women were asked to fill in a seafood consumption questionnaire. They were subsequently sent questionnaires four times during their pregnancy, and then up to eight years after the birth of their child. Researchers examined issues including the children’s social and communication skills, their hand-eye coordination, and their IQ levels. As with any study based on self-reporting methods, however, the results cannot be considered entirely definitive.

The study was primarily funded by Britain’s Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the University of Bristol, and the British government.

Hibbeln and his colleagues concluded that women who ate more than 340 grams per week of fish or seafood — the equivalent of two or three servings a week — had smarter children with better developmental skills. Children whose mothers ate no seafood were 48 percent more likely to have a low verbal IQ score, compared to children whose mothers ate high amounts of seafood.

“These results highlight the importance of including fish in the maternal diet and lend support to the popular opinion that fish is brain food,” wrote Dr. Gary Myers and Dr. Philip Davidson of the University of Rochester Medical Center, in an accompanying commentary. Myers and Davidson were not connected to the study.

Eating even more than three portions of fish or seafood a week could be beneficial, Hibbeln suggests. “Advice that limits seafood consumption might reduce the intake of nutrients necessary for optimum neurological development,” he and his colleagues wrote.

The researchers said limiting pregnant women’s weekly intake to 12 ounces (340 grams) of fish and seafood, as advised by the U.S. government, did not protect their children from developmental problems. Women who avoid seafood, they said, may actually be harming their babies by depriving them of essential nutrients needed for the developing fetal brain.

“It was very surprising,” Hibbeln said in a telephone interview. “We did not expect such clear-cut results of the harm of low seafood consumption.”

Pollution worries

The Environmental Working Group, which calls the U.S. recommendations too lenient, said the study highlighted the need for governments to take actions to keep pollutants out of seafood, like cracking down on coal-burning power plants.

“The study reinforces the importance of keeping our seafood supply clean, making sure it’s not overly contaminated with mercury and other chemicals that could actually harm brain development,” said Jane Houlihan, the group’s vice president for research.

Mercury can build up in fish living in waters contaminated with it due to industrial pollution. Mercury can be particularly bad for fetuses and children because it can cause neurological and developmental problems.

In 2004 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration advised pregnant women and young children to eat no more than 12 ounces per week of light tuna and other seafood lower in mercury.

The agencies recommended they eat none of some fish with high mercury levels — shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish — and no more than 6 ounces (170 grams) a week of albacore tuna because of mercury.

Labels: ,

Circumcision May Help Protect Against HIV

THURSDAY, Feb. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Getting circumcised may reduce men's risk of acquiring HIV, according to a study conducted in Africa.

"Our study shows that circumcised men had 53 percent fewer HIV infections than uncircumcised men," lead study author Robert Bailey, professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), said in a prepared statement.

For the study, which is published in the Feb. 24 issue of The Lancet, researchers followed a group of 2,784 HIV-negative, uncircumcised men aged 18-24 years for two years.

The men were living in Kisumu, Kenya, where an estimated 26 percent of uncircumcised men are infected with HIV by age 25. Most of the men were Luo, a group that does not traditionally practice circumcision.

The researchers assigned half of the men to voluntary circumcision, and the other half remained uncircumcised during the study.

All of the participants received free HIV testing and counseling, medical care, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, condoms and behavioral risk counseling during periodic assessments throughout the study.

Forty-seven of the 1,391 uncircumcised men contracted HIV during the two-year study, compared with 22 of the 1,393 circumcised men.

The risks associated with circumcision were minimal, the researchers said. According to Bailey, 1.7 percent of the circumcision surgeries were associated with minor complications (e.g., bleeding, mild infection), and there were no severe adverse effects.

Bailey cautioned that there could be a downside to this approach: that circumcised men may feel like they are protected from HIV and may be therefore more likely to engage in risky behavior.

"Circumcision is by no means a natural condom," said Bailey.

But the researchers are hopeful that, when integrated with other prevention and reproductive health services, circumcision may be able to help prevent the spread of HIV.

"This is really the first good news we've had in quite a long time. If we can reduce the risk of infection by such a substantial amount, then we can save a lot of lives," said Bailey.

Labels: ,

Bill Gates, Canada team up to fight AIDS

OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was blasted for shunning AIDS talks in 2006, and software mogul Bill Gates pledged funding to accelerate the development of anHIV/AIDS vaccine.

Ottawa will contribute 111 million Canadian dollars (95 million US) toward international research efforts and to build a Canadian facility to make vaccine candidates for use in clinical trials, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will provide 28 million Canadian dollars (24 million US).

The collaboration will "accelerate the pace towards the discovery of an HIV vaccine ... move vaccines to the clinical trial stage more quickly and improve access to an eventual vaccine," Harper told reporters.

The result would spare "millions of people from the horrific reality of HIV-AIDS," he said.

Bill Gates echoed Harper, saying the funding will "make a big difference."

"Most scientists think that it probably will take more than ten years (to create a vaccine). We could get lucky, it could happen sooner than that. But with all tough problems, the more energy we put into it, clearly that's going to cut down the amount of time required," he said.

Gates and his wife, in a keynote speech at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in August vowed that the mighty cheque-wielding charity that bears his name would make AIDS its top priority.

In the run-up to the six-day AIDS meet that attracted 21,000 delegates, the Gates Foundation announced help of 500 million dollars to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, bringing their pledges to the agency to 650 million dollars.

This came only weeks after a contribution of 287 million dollars to speed the development of an HIV vaccine. The Foundation stumped up 60 million dollars for microbicide research in 2003, and 50 million dollars for Botswana in 2000.

Harper meanwhile was criticized for not attending the conference and for postponing a much-anticipated AIDS funding announcement, until now.


American Cancer Society gets $10 million gift

ATLANTA - A drug company is pledging $10 million to The American Cancer Society — one of the largest gifts in the organization’s history — to help provide one-on-one support for cancer patients in U.S. hospitals, the organization announced Wednesday.

The unusual gift is from AstraZeneca PLC, an international pharmaceutical company.

It’s earmarked for a program that stations specially-trained Cancer Society employees in 60 hospitals and cancer treatment centers. The “navigators” guide patients to social and emotional support, transportation, medical and financial assistance services.

The gift will allow the program to expand to 50 more locations in medically underserved areas, said Nancy Single, the Cancer Society’s vice president for mission strategy.

The Atlanta-based Cancer Society, founded in 1913, receives just under $1 billion in gifts and grants each year. Less than 2 percent of that comes from drug companies, she said.

The largest single gift to date was a $13 million unrestricted estate bequest in 2005, from an undisclosed donor. AstraZeneca’s is the second largest gift, and is the biggest from a corporation.

AstraZeneca, based in London, had health care sales of more than $26 billion last year. The company developed the popular breast cancer drug tamoxifen, and makes about a half-dozen other breast and prostate cancer medications.

Last year, the company gave $7 million to help the Cancer Society develop a Hope Lodge in Boston. AstraZeneca has been looking for important ways to work with the Cancer Society to help patients, said Lisa Schoenberg, the company’s vice president of specialty care.

“There’s probably few ways we could have as big of an impact across the nation with these important institutions and these important patients and their families,” she said.


Family of dead Israeli soldier can use his sperm

JERUSALEM - In a precedent-setting decision, an Israeli court has ruled that a dead soldier’s family can use his sperm to impregnate a woman he never met.

Keivan Cohen, 20, was shot dead in 2002 by a Palestinian sniper in the Gaza Strip. He was single and left no will. But at the urging of his parents, a sample of his sperm was taken two hours after his death and has been stored in a hospital since.

When the family tried to gain access to the sperm, however, the hospital refused, on the ground that only a spouse could make such a request. Arguing that their son yearned to raise a family, his parents challenged that decision in court. And on Jan. 15, after a four-year legal battle, a Tel Aviv court granted the family’s wish and ruled that the sperm could be injected into a woman selected by Cohen’s family.

The ruling also ordered the Ministry of Interior to register any children born as a result of the insemination as children of the deceased.

“On the one hand I’m terribly sad that I don’t have my boy; it’s a terrible loss,” Rachel Cohen said in an interview in Monday’s Chicago Tribune. “But I’m also happy that I succeeded in carrying out my son’s will.”

Cohen did not return phone calls from The Associated Press.

Precedent-setting decision

Irit Rosenblum, a family rights advocate who represented the Cohen family, said the ruling was significant because it set a precedent for those seeking to continue bloodlines after death.

At the trial, Rosenblum presented testimony, including video recordings, in which Cohen expressed his desire to have children.

“He always said he wanted children,” she told The Associated Press. “But there were no regulations in the law that deals with using sperm from dead people.”

Rosenblum said soldiers increasingly have been leaving sperm samples, or explicit instructions on post-mortem extraction, before heading to battle.

She said she knew of more than 100 cases of Israeli soldiers who, before last summer’s war with Lebanese guerillas, asked to have their sperm saved if they were killed. American soldiers have also begun donating sperm before heading to Iraq, she said.

“I think it is a human revolution,” Rosenblum said. “Ten years ago, who would believe that a human being can continue after he has died. I think it is great for humanity.”

Rosenblum said the woman who is to act as surrogate mother has requested to remain anonymous.

“She’s like family to us,” Rachel Cohen told the Tribune. “Cruel and good fate brought us together.”


Retired NFL players focus of health push

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Before the echocardiogram or the prostate exam, before blood was drawn or body fat measured, the patients had a simple task amid the nearby Super Bowl pomp: Sign the football.

The biceps drifting into this South Beach medical office recently were bigger, the attire perhaps a bit sportier and the fingers far more likely to be wearing a Super Bowl ring. The doctor was collecting autographs on more than just insurance forms; all of the patients played in the NFL.

NFL stars of the past are feeling the effects of tackle-filled, turbocharged careers — and players’ advocates and the medical community are trying to help.

“It’s a given that by the time you leave the game you have a very thick medical file,” said Dick Anderson, a 60-year-old NFL retiree who played in three Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins. “You can’t play the game and not come away with problems.”

Anderson was among about 60 former players expected at medical screenings sponsored by the Living Heart Foundation, a Little Silver, N.J.-based organization that is studying health risks facing professional football players. The foundation has screened about 1,000 players — mostly retired — and is compiling the most in-depth study of NFL athletes’ health.

That study continues, but data from about 550 players was analyzed and presented at the International Symposium on Endovascular Therapy, which was held recently a little north in Hollywood.

Linemen at biggest risk

It found the game’s biggest players — linemen — are most at risk, with more than a third having enlarged hearts, as many as 75 percent suffering from obstructive sleep apnea and more than half with metabolic syndrome, which puts them at greater risk for heart disease. Those rates are far greater than the general population.

“There’s no question that the large body size of retired NFL players is the most significant single health problem that many of them face,” said Dr. Arthur Roberts, a former NFL quarterback who founded and heads the Living Heart Foundation. “If they’re former lineman and they’re weighing 300 pounds or more, from the doctor’s perspective I would say you’re clearly at the increased risk for a bad outcome.”

The trouble is, while weight-loss might alleviate current or future problems, players’ size is often key to their on-field success.

“In my career, losing weight is not really an option,” said New York Giants center Shaun O’Hara, who carries 300 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame and has sleep apnea.

This was the third year Roberts and his team have held screenings where the Super Bowl was being played and more than a dozen others have been held in cities with NFL teams.

The number of players participating, observers say, is a sign of a new level of health consciousness in the NFL partly fueled by the proliferation of life-curtailing injuries and the early deaths of big stars such as Reggie White.

“The old-timers sat in the locker room and smoked and drank beer at halftime,” said Dr. Allan Levy, a longtime team physician for the Giants. “The players are very different now from what they were.”

Jarring adjustment

Still, doctors say there is a jarring adjustment to post-athlete life. Players often see their movement limited by injuries and must learn to adjust their eating to a more sedentary lifestyle.

“I didn’t used to have this right here,” said Frank Marion, a 55-year-old retired New York Giant, as he pointed to his ample midsection. “I became one of the worst eaters because I’m not competing anymore. Once you’re not playing you don’t have to maintain that weight.”

Football players’ health first got a formal look with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s 1994 release of a mortality study of 6,848 players. It defied conventional wisdom, showing NFL players overall had a death rate 46 percent lower than the general population of men of similar age and race. But it also found those on the offensive and defensive lines had a 52 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than the general population.

The NFL Players Association has funded health efforts and is trying to educate members through its newsletter and in meetings.

“We want to get to these guys early,” said Andre Collins, who heads outreach to retired players for the NFLPA. “We want to educate them, we want them to lose weight, we don’t want their hearts to work so hard.”

Those desires were clear as players weaved through the hallways of “The South Beach Diet” author Dr. Arthur Agatston, who loaned his exam rooms for the screenings.

The patients endured blood tests and urine analysis, sleep apnea screening and lung evaluations, not to mention measures to predict heart disease and stroke risk.

The mood was congenial. Athletes were armed with lists of the maladies for which their football careers could be blamed, but there were no regrets.

“I think if you polled everyone here today,” said Keith Sims, who played on the offensive line for the Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins, “we’d all go back.”


Gambia's president claims he has cure for AIDS

BANJUL, Gambia - From the pockets of his billowing white robe, Gambia’s president pulls out a plastic container, closes his eyes in prayer and rubs a green herbal paste onto the rib cage of the patient — a concoction he claims is a cure for AIDS.

He then orders the thin man to swallow a bitter yellow drink, followed by two bananas.

“Whatever you do, there are bound to be skeptics, but I can tell you my method is foolproof,” President Yahya Jammeh told an Associated Press reporter, surrounded by bodyguards in his presidential compound. “Mine is not an argument, mine is a proof. It’s a declaration. I can cure AIDS and I will.”

In a continent suffering from the world’s worst AIDS epidemic, Jammeh’s claims of a miracle cure are alarming public health workers already struggling against faith-healers dispensing herbal remedies from inside thatched huts.

The biggest concern is that the Gambian leader requires patients to cease their anti-retroviral drugs, a move that risks weakening their immune systems and making them even more prone to infection, said Dr. Antonio Filipe Jr., head of the World Health Organization in neighboring Senegal.

WHO: ‘There is no cure for AIDS’

Since January, when he announced his cure to a gathering of foreign diplomats, Jammeh has thrown the bureaucratic machinery of this small West African country behind the claim. The last six news releases on Gambia’s official Web site are dedicated to the president’s treatment, available to Gambians free of charge. Regular radio and TV addresses publicize it and the Health Ministry has issued a declaration of support.

Although the HIV rate is relatively low in Gambia compared to other African nations — 1.3 percent of the country’s 1.6 million people are infected — the president’s claim has left international health organizations in a bind.

WHO’s Filipe was diplomatic about Jammeh’s claims, saying his organization respects the president’s point of view. But, he added: “As the World Health Organization, we would like to state quite clearly the following — No. 1: so far there is no cure for AIDS.”

Jammeh, a 41-year-old former army colonel who wrested gained control in a 1994 coup, says his treatment is entirely voluntary and argues that his medications cannot be mixed with other drugs because “I don’t want any complications.”

The claim of a cure has prompted comparisons to the South African minister of health who won international ridicule last year for suggesting that a diet of garlic, beet root and lemon juice is more effective than anti-retroviral drugs. South African President Thabo Mbeki has been accused of not addressing the epidemic: His government did not provide AIDS drugs until a lawsuit by AIDS activists forced it to in 2002.

Jammeh has gone to great lengths to prove his claim, sending blood samples of the first nine patients to a lab in Senegal for testing.

A letter on the lab’s stationery indicates that of the nine, four had undetectable viral loads, one had a moderate viral load and three had high loads, a result posted on the government’s Web site as proof of a cure.

However, the lab technician who performed the tests warned they are not conclusive since the blood samples were only taken after the treatment.

“There is no baseline ... You can’t prove that someone has been cured of AIDS from just one data point. It’s dishonest of the Gambian government to use our results in this way,” said Dr. Coumba Toure Kane, head of the molecular biology unit at Senegal’s Cheikh Anta Diop University.

Waiting in plastic chairs for treatment at the presidential compound last week, Jammeh’s patients said they don’t need lab results to tell them they feel better.

“It feels as if the president took the pain out of my body,” Ousman Sowe, 54, told the AP. Diagnosed with HIV in 1996, he is among the first nine men and women Jammeh has treated and has been under the Gambian leader’s care for nearly a month.

“My appetite has come back and I have gained weight,” said Lamin Ceesay, thin from a nine-year battle with HIV.

Jammeh has refused to disclose details of his herbal concoction, saying only that it uses seven plants, “three of which are not from Gambia.”

‘You will all be cured’

Treatment begins with the president applying the green paste, stored inside a deli-style plastic container. Next comes a gray-colored solution contained in an old Evian bottle and splashed on the patient’s skin. This is followed by a yellowish, tealike brew which patients are asked to drink. The therapy is administered many times over several weeks.

After the treatment session last week, Jammeh emerged carrying a tall wooden staff, a string of Islamic prayer beads and a leather-bound Quran. In front of him, 30 new patients waited on lawn chairs, drawn from the roughly 20,000 people currently living with HIV in Gambia.

He told them that during treatment, they must cease drinking alcohol, tea and coffee. They also cannot eat kola nuts or have sex.

Jammeh then held up the Quran, pointing it at each of the patients: “In the name of Allah, in three to 30 days you will all be cured,” he said.

The patients were then herded into a minibus and driven to an empty hospital ward on the outskirts of the capital, where they will stay in dormitory-style rooms with sheets covering the windows.

Lying on a mat on the tiled floor in the hospital ward, a 19-year-old girl struggled to say her name, spitting gray-colored phlegm into her scarf. Like everyone else in the concrete ward, she is banned from taking anti-retroviral drugs.

Nearby was 25-year-old Amadou Jallow, who recently quit his job at a tourist hotel after his mother was diagnosed with AIDS. In his savings account is $296 — enough, he said, to last him the 30 days Jammeh promises it will take to heal his mother.

“I’m just afraid that, what if my account runs low?” he said. “But by then, I think she will be cured.”


Smoking changes brain the same way as drugs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Smoking causes long-lasting changes in the brain similar to changes seen in animals when they are given cocaine, heroin and other addictive drugs, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

A study of the brain tissue of smokers and nonsmokers who had died showed that smokers had the changes, even if they had quit years before, the team at the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported.

"The data show that there are long-lasting chemical changes in the brains of humans," said Michael Kuhar of Emory University in Atlanta, who was not involved in the study.

"The chemical changes alone suggest a physiological basis for nicotine addiction."

A team led by Bruce Hope of NIDA, one of the National Institutes of Health, analyzed levels of two enzymes found inside brain cells known as neurons.

These enzymes help the neurons use chemical signals such as those made by the message-carrying compound dopamine.

Smokers and former smokers had high levels of these enzymes, the researchers reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Hope said other studies had seen the same thing in animals given cocaine and heroin -- and it was clear that the drugs were causing the effects.

"This strongly suggests that the similar changes observed in smokers and former smokers contributed to their addiction," he added in a statement.

Experts on smoking have long said that nicotine is at least as addictive as heroin.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20.9 percent of all adults smoke in the United States, which adds up to 45 million people. And 23 percent of high school students smoke.


Mentally ill more likely to die from heart disease, not cancer: study

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The severely mentally ill are more likely to die from heart and circulatory problems than is the general population, said a British study.

However, chances of developing cancer are not higher for the severely mentally ill than in the population at large, according to the study, conducted in Britain and published in the February issue of the US publication Archives of General Psychiatry.

The side effects of anti-psychotic drugs, smoking, lifestyles and poverty all take their tolls on the health of the mentally ill.

The study shows that the severely mentally ill age 18-49 are 3.22 as likely to die from heart problems and 2.53 times as likely to die from a stroke than those enjoying mental heath.

The study followed 46,136 persons suffering from mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bi-polar and delusional disorders, as well as 300,426 mentally healthy persons.

The research compared the death rates of the two groups from circulatory illnesses and from the seven most frequent cancers in Britain: respiratory, colorectal, breast, prostate, stomach, esophageal and pancreatic.

"We chose to study death rates rather than incidence rates, because mortality is the most robust outcome since it includes diagnoses made postmortem," wrote the study's lead author David Osborn of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London.

For the 50-75 age group, the chance for the severely mentally ill of dying from circulatory problems is 1.86 times greater for heart problems and 1.89 times greater for stroke.

Even when researchers adjusted for the effects of smoking and poverty, increased cardiovascular threat remained.

Researchers found that use of anti-psychotic medicines was a notable factor, and risk rose with the dosages prescribed.

"People with severe mental illness who were not prescribed any anti-psychotics were at increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke than controls, whereas those prescribed such agents were at even greater risk," the authors write.

"Those receiving the higher doses were at greatest risk for death from both coronary heart disease and stroke," the study said.

Researchers said caring for the mentally ill frequently overlooks other, non-mental illnesses.

"Clinically, a holistic approach to the care of people with severe mental illness is still frequently overlooked," they wrote.

Labels: ,

Genital Skin Cancer More Deadly for Women

(HealthDay News) -- Women are three times more likely than men to die of genital nonmelanoma skin cancer, new U.S. research shows. Genital nonmelanoma skin cancer can be caused by sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), which is also associated with cervical cancer.

In this study, researchers found that almost 30,000 people -- 22,000 women and 8,000 men -- died of genital nonmelanoma skin cancers in the United States from 1969 to 2000.

The older a person is, the greater their risk of genital nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC). The findings were scheduled for presentation Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, in Washington, D.C.

"As dermatologists, we expect to see skin cancers induced by ultraviolet light, because sunlight is one of the primary risk factors for the disease," researcher Dr. Martin A. Weinstock, professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University in Providence, R.I., said in a prepared statement.

"But some of the most dangerous types of skin cancers are those that are not sun-induced, such as skin cancers that occur on genital skin -- a place that is not exposed to intense sun and is not routinely examined by dermatologists. That's why there needs to be an increased awareness of this issue, so patients and physicians can be better prepared to detect these cancers early before they become fatal," said Weinstock, who is also chief dermatologist at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence.

Because they're not always readily visible and may not cause any noticeable symptoms, genital skin cancers can be difficult to diagnose.

"The number of deaths attributed to genital NMSCs was higher than expected, and we believe HPV was a major cause of these cancers," Weinstock said.

"The availability of the new HPV vaccine offers the potential for a substantial reduction in the development of these skin cancers for future generations," he noted.

In addition, since "HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, both men and women can practice preventive measures that could lead to a decline in mortality rates from genital NMSCs and heed the warning signs of the disease, including new growths or sores that don't heal, to detect it early."


Depression, loneliness tied to physical ills

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Depression, severe mental illness and loneliness are linked to illnesses such as heart disease and dementia, according to several studies published on Monday.

The exact connections between a dysfunctional mind and a malfunctioning body remains an ongoing question, but at least one of three sets of researchers writing in the Archives of General Psychiatry said several factors may be at work.

Dr. Jesse Stewart, formerly of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, found a correlation between depression and hardening of the arteries in his three-year study of 324 men and women who averaged 60 years old.

The arteries of those who were most depressed had narrowed twice as much as those who were least depressed, the study found.

Hardening of the arteries can be a precursor to a heart attack or stroke and may occur because of a malfunctioning nervous system in depressed people, Stewart wrote.

Depression may also upset the body's regulation of glands that release chemicals governing energy level and growth, and alter the functioning of cells responsible for blood clotting.

Hardening of the arteries leads to an overreaction of the immune system and the resulting inflammation is known to release chemicals that can have effects on behavior, he added. The brain, too, can suffer from the reduced blood flow, reinforcing the depression and the resulting ailments, he wrote.

In the same journal, a British study of 46,136 severely mentally ill people found those who were younger than 50 were more than three times as likely to die from coronary heart disease and stroke than people not suffering from mental illness. Mental illness more than doubled the risk of dying from heart disease for people up to age 75.

The risk of dying from heart disease was even higher among those taking antipsychotic medication, and study author David P.J. Osborn at the Royal Free and University College Medical School, London.

Osborn urged a more "holistic" approach to caring for the mentally ill, with more frequent monitoring of such vital signs as blood pressure and cholesterol and more attention to diet and exercise that often go neglected.

A third study found that a persistent feeling of loneliness among the elderly doubled their risk of developing Alzheimer's-like symptoms compared to those who felt connected to others.

Autopsies on 90 of the study participants who died -- the only sure diagnosis -- did not turn up the tell-tale plaques, tangles and brain tissue damage of Alzheimer's, however.

That finding suggested something else to study author Robert Wilson of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. He wrote that depression from loneliness somehow damaged the brain's ability to compensate for the age-related deterioration of the pathways that underlie social behavior and induced dementia.


Britain facing poultry bans as turkey cull completed

HOLTON, England (AFP) - Britain is facing poultry bans from Japan to Jersey after it finished slaughtering about 160,000 turkeys in the hope of containing its worst bird flu outbreak.

An agriculture ministry spokeswoman told AFP that Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, South Africa and Jersey have all imposed bans on the import of British poultry, while the Ukrainian agriculture ministry has also reportedly instituted a temporary ban.

The bans came as Britain completed the mass slaughter late Monday evening, and the government continued its investigation into how the virus was transferred to domestic turkeys.

Bernard Matthews, Europe's biggest turkey producer and the firm running the farm, is now set to clean and disinfect its farm at its own cost, the agriculture ministry said.

The cull had begun on Saturday after the H5N1 strain of bird flu that has killed at least 160 people -- most of them in southeast Asia -- since late 2003, was confirmed at the farm in Holton, eastern England.

The British outbreak has prompted several European countries, including France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, to take precautionary methods to prevent the spread of the virus.

Japan, which has suffered from its own bird flu outbreaks, said it has suspended imports of British poultry in the wake of the outbreak.

Russia said from Tuesday it would suspend imports of poultry feed and raw poultry but continue to import products that have been fried, roasted or heated in any way that kills off the virus.

Ukraine on Monday also suspended all British poultry imports, the Ukrainian agriculture ministry's veterinarian services said as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

A British agriculture ministry spokeswoman said, however, that Ukraine had not informed Britain that it was banning the import of British poultry. She added that Hong Kong, South Korea, South Africa and Jersey had banned the import of British poultry.

France also said it was stepping up checks and safety measures, with government ministers set to meet on Tuesday to put together a plan of action.

Meanwhile in Britain, ministers were playing down the risk of the outbreak to humans.

"The risk to the public is judged by health experts to be negligible," David Miliband, the environment secretary, told the House of Commons, while Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said authorities were preparing "very, very seriously" for the "remote" possibility of a pandemic.

Scientists say that H5N1 could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, sparking a pandemic which could kill millions.

World Health Organisation spokesman Gregory Hartl has stressed that a European country such as Britain could just as easily be the source of a mutation triggering a human pandemic as Asia or Africa.

Questions have also been raised about whether the farm took swift enough action after the first deaths of birds.

The first deaths were reported on the farm in unexplained circumstances last Tuesday, but the matter was not reported to veterinarians until Thursday, when more than 1,000 other turkeys had perished.
But the European Commission, which monitors animal hygiene measures throughout the 27-nation European Union, voiced confidence in Britain's handling of the latest outbreak.

"We think the measures are in place and are working well," commission spokesman Michael Mann told journalists in Brussels.

Workers at the farm, many of whom are migrants from Portugal, and those involved in the slaughter have been given anti-viral drugs as a precaution.

A three-kilometre (1.8-mile) protection zone and 10-kilometre surveillance zone have been put in place, along with a 2,090 square kilometre restriction zone, while bird shows and pigeon racing have been banned.

The gassed poultry carcasses were being taken in sealed lorries to a plant around 200 miles (320 kilometres) away in Staffordshire, northwest England, which incinerates them after removing micro-organisms from them.


Hypertension in pregnancy linked to heart disease

DALLAS (Reuters) - Women who experience high blood pressure while pregnant are more likely to develop a coronary-related heart problem later in life than other women, researchers said on Monday.

"Usually it is assumed that development of high blood pressure during pregnancy has no long-term consequences since it subsides after pregnancy," said Dr. Michiel L. Bots, the senior author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

The study found that women who had high blood pressure while they were pregnant had a 57 percent greater risk of developing coronary calcification later in life than women who had normal blood pressure levels during pregnancy.

Coronary calcification is a calcium buildup in the vessels of the heart, according to the
American Heart Association.

It is associated with atherosclerosis, the process by which fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery.

Researchers looked at 491 healthy post-menopausal women who were selected from among participants enrolled from 1993-1997 in a study called PROSPECT, one of two Dutch groups involved in a wider European health survey.

The researchers measured coronary artery calcium in the women in 2004 and 2005 and asked them about their blood pressure during pregnancy. Almost 31 percent of the women surveyed said they had had high blood pressure while pregnant.

Researchers cautioned that further work needs to be done to more firmly establish this link and the reasons behind it.

The sample size for the study was small and the participants were asked to recall blood pressure changes during pregnancy many years after the fact, so the data may not have been completely accurate.

Bots said in a statement that women who "develop high blood pressure during pregnancy may need to be referred to a program that includes cardiovascular risk factor management and be closely monitored for increases in blood pressure, cholesterol and weight."

A return of high blood pressure and the development of diabetes were seen as other possible risks for women who had elevated blood pressure levels while pregnant.

The study is published this week in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.


Drink's calorie-burning claims probed

HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Monday announced an investigation into claims by Coca-Cola and Nestle that their new drink can burn calories and not "voodoo nutrition."

Blumenthal's investigation focuses on Enviga, a green-tea drink that contains caffeine, calcium and a green tea extract known as epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. Coke says EGCG speeds up metabolism and increases energy use, especially when combined with caffeine.

An Enviga Web site claims that the drink's blend of green tea and caffeine burns more calories than it contains and can help drinkers maintain an ideal weight. According to a Nestle study, young people who drank three of the 12-ounce drinks a day burned an average of 106 calories.

Blumenthal demanded copies of all scientific studies, clinical trials, tests and papers that prove the calorie-burning claim by next week.

Unless there are credible scientific studies, claims "may be nothing more than voodoo nutrition," Blumenthal said. "Promise of wondrous weight loss must be supported by science, not magic."

Calls were placed to Coke and Nestle seeking comment.

Enviga's Web site says the drink is available in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with a national release scheduled this year.

A nonprofit watchdog group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, have threatened to sue Coke and Nestle over their Enviga claims. Coke officials called the lawsuit threat a "meritless publicity stunt."

SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press Writer


Sex issues may signal other health risks

LONDON - Doctors shouldn't shy away from asking patients about their sex lives, a new research paper advises. Researchers say problems in the bedroom can translate into serious medical conditions, and ignoring sexual dysfunction may mean missing early indicators for heart failure, depression or other ailments, according to a paper published in Friday's issue of The Lancet.

"Sex is a legitimate part of medicine, but it has largely been kept separate from the rest of medicine," said Dr. Rosemary Basson, the paper's lead author. Basson is based at the British Columbia Centre for Sexual Medicine in Vancouver.

Basson and her co-author, Dr. Willibrord Weijmar Schultz of the University Medical Centre in Groningen, the Netherlands, examined numerous medical databases looking for sexual dysfunctions in combination with diseases such as heart failure, diabetes, depression, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's. Many sexual problems were identified as possible red flags of underlying or imminent medical conditions.

"If a man comes in with erectile dysfunction, it can be the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. Andrew McCullough, a sexual health expert at New York University Medical Center who was not connected to the paper.

Doctors are being increasingly advised to take the initiative to ask patients about their sex lives, including basic questions about who they have sex with, how frequently and if they engage in potentially risky behavior.

"People aren't going to volunteer that kind of information unless they're specifically asked," said Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, chief of the infectious diseases division at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, who was not involved with the research.

What patients often fail to realize, physicians say, is that sexual dysfunctions are often a symptom of something more serious.

For instance, men with erectile dysfunction, the most common sexual disorder in older men, are often at increased risk of heart disease. In one study of 132 men who had heart surgery, nearly half had a history of erectile dysfunction. That diagnosis preceded the heart surgery in nearly 60 percent of the men.

In women, picking up on sex clues is more difficult. "Women don't have as obvious a physical signal for sexual problems as men," said Basson. But a woman's lack of sexual desire reveals an underlying depression in up to 26 percent of cases. Taken together with other symptoms, sexual abnormalities in women could point to hormone conditions, kidney failure, diabetes, or other chronic diseases.

By using sexual problems as early indicators of medical complications, doctors can capitalize on valuable lead time to treat their patients. "The first manifestation of early diabetes could be erectile dysfunction," said Zenilman. "It may not be what men want to hear, but if it's caught early enough, you can still do something about it."

In the case of depression, patients often go for years without being treated. If astute clinicians were able to make the connection between lack of sexual desire with psychiatric conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome, patients could be offered treatment earlier, according to Zenilman.

Yet while sexual problems can be an indicator of poor health, the prospect of better sex may persuade people to lead healthier lives.

"Sex can be used as a great carrot for people," said McCullough. "People will be more willing to make lifestyle modifications to improve their health if they think they'll also get improved sex."