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Health Highlights: April 2, 2008

British Scientists Create Embryos Combining Human Cells and Cow Eggs Drug Ads Should Tell Where to Report Side Effects: Petition Midwest States Receive Fewest Public Health Dollars From CDC Untreated Cavities More Common Among Low-Income Children Repealing Motorcycle Helmet Laws Leads to More Deaths Young Men More Likely to Misinterpret Friendly Behavior New Strain of Deadly Water-Borne Disease Discovered in Peru

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

British Scientists Create Embryos Combining Human Cells and Cow Eggs

A British scientist has created the world's first hybrid embryos, using human cells and a cow egg, according to Bloomberg News.

The procedure, which has been hotly debated in the UK Parliament during the past few months, was announced Tuesday by Newcastle University, where the lead scientist, Lyle Armstrong, and his research team said they had developed the eggs, which are designed to be the first step in creating embryonic human stem cells to fight disease.

These eggs are not to be used for anything other than the development of human stem cells, according to Bloomberg News. But the idea that embryos could be developed from the cells of a human and a cow has ignited a political and ethical debate in the United Kingdom.

Edinburgh's Cardinal Keith O'Brien called the embryo creation "experiments of Frankenstein proportions,'' the news service said. But Newcastle University's head of the Institute of Human Genetics, John Burn, is quoted as saying that the embryo creation was just a first step to finding a way to create the best stem cells for human medical research.

"Cells grown using animal eggs cannot be used to treat patients on safety grounds, but they will help bring nearer the day when new stem cell therapies are available,'' he told Bloomberg News.


Drug Ads Should Tell Where to Report Side Effects: Petition

Nearly 12 percent of Americans who've ever taken a prescription drug have suffered a side effect serious enough to send them to a doctor or hospital. But only 35 percent of consumers know they can report serious side effects to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says a new Consumer Reports poll.

To help improve awareness, Consumers Union on Wednesday presented the FDA with a petition that has signatures from nearly 56,000 people who want an FDA toll-free number and Web site included in all TV drug ads. Consumers Union is the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

Last year, Congress said all print drug ads must carry FDA MedWatch reporting information, and told the FDA to conduct a study to determine if it was appropriate to include reporting information in TV drug ads. The report was due by the end of March but has not been completed.

"You can't turn on a TV today without seeing a drug ad, but those ads never mention that consumers should be reporting serious drug side effects to the FDA," Liz Foley, campaign coordinator with Consumers Union, said in a prepared statement. "What better way for the FDA to let consumers know how to report serious problems with their medications than putting a toll-free number and Web site in all those drug ads we're bombarded by each day?"

The Consumer Reports poll found that 87 percent of respondents said TV ads should contain reporting information.


Midwest States Receive Fewest Public Health Dollars From CDC

Midwestern states receive less public health funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention than other states, according to a Trust for America's Health (TFAH) study released Wednesday.

The study found that Midwestern states received an average of $16.24 per person in 2007, compared to $19.74 per person for Western states, $23.37 per person for Northeastern states, and $29.40 per person for Southern states.

On a state-by-state basis, Alaska received the most ($69.76 per person) while Kansas received the least ($13.61 per person), according to the study.

The CDC funds are used by state and local communities for a variety of public health programs, including cancer prevention; chronic disease prevention; health promotion; diabetes control; environmental health; HIV prevention; immunization; infectious disease prevention; and bioterrorism preparedness.

"Every American should have the opportunity to be as healthy as he or she can be. Every community should be safe from threats to health. If we're serious about improving the health of Americans, we need to make a much bigger investment in disease prevention efforts in every state and every region," Jeff Levi, executive director of TFAH, said in a prepared statement.


Untreated Cavities More Common Among Low-Income Children

Children in low-income families are much more likely to have untreated dental cavities than children from high-income families, says the latest News and Numbers from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The analysis of data from surveys conducted between 1999 and 2004 found that 31 percent of low-income children had untreated cavities, compared to about six percent of high-income children. If untreated, the infection that causes tooth decay and cavities can lead to pain, tooth loss and more serious infections.

Among the other findings:

  • Only 36 percent of low-income children visited a dentist in the past year, compared to 70 percent of high-income children.
  • Among low-income children, untreated cavities were more common in those ages 6 to 11 (37 percent) than those ages 12 to 17 (27 percent).
  • In high-income families, untreated cavities were also more common among children ages 6 to 11 (12 percent) than among those ages 12 to 17 (7 percent).

Most children should have a dental check-up at least twice a year, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Some children need more frequent visits due to increased risk of tooth decay, unusual growth patterns, or poor oral hygiene.


Repealing Motorcycle Helmet Laws Leads to More Deaths

Motorcyclist death rates increased an average of 12.2 percent in U.S. states that repealed universal helmet laws in the past decade, while the death rate in states with universal helmet laws was 11.1 percent lower than in states with no helmet laws, according to a national study.

Death rates in states with partial helmet laws weren't statistically different from rates in states with no helmet laws, said researchers from the University of Missouri Truman School of Public Affairs and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, United Press International reported.

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Since 1975, when most states mandated the use of motorcycle helmets, more than 100,000 motorcycle riders have died in the United States. Currently, about 20 states have universal laws that require all riders to wear helmets, while 26 states have partial helmet laws, usually only for young riders, UPI reported.


Young Men More Likely to Misinterpret Friendly Behavior

Young men are more likely than women to interpret friendly facial expressions and body gestures as signs of sexual interest, says a study by Indiana University and Yale researchers.

They showed images of friendly people to 280 college-age men and women and found that 12 percent of the males and 8.7 percent of the females incorrectly believed the people in the images were "sexually interested," CBC News reported.

There was even more confusion when the volunteers were shown images of sexually interested people -- 37.8 of the men and 31.9 percent of the women said the images represented friendly members of the opposite sex.

The researchers said they don't believe the differences noted in the study are due to men oversexualizing situations. They suggested that women's greater emotional range may make them more adept at interpreting non-verbal cues, CBC News reported.

The study was published in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science.


New Strain of Deadly Water-Borne Disease Discovered in Peru

Scientists have identified a new strain of deadly water-borne disease in the Peruvian Amazon and say it may be responsible for up to 40 percent of the region's cases of a disease called leptospirosis, which can have a fatality rate as high as 20 percent to 25 percent.

Leptospirosis, which can cause jaundice, kidney failure, lung hemorrhage and other problems, affects tens of millions of people a year and is most common in tropical regions.

Joseph Vinetz, of the University of California, San Diego's Division of Infectious Diseases, and colleagues discovered the new strain while examining patients in the Iquitos region of Peru, Agence France-Presse reported.

Of 881 patients, 41 percent had antibodies that reacted only to this new strain of bacteria. The findings were published in the Public Library of Science journal Neglected Tropical Diseases.

"This observation is relevant to other regions of the world where leptospirosis is likely to be common, because it's necessary to identify the right strain of leptospirosis in order to make the correct diagnosis," Vinetz said, AFP reported.

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