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Health Highlights: April 6, 2008

Norovirus Strikes 65 Attendees at Medical Meeting1-in-4 Repeat Iraq Combat Vets Suffering Mental Stress, Army Report SaysOlympics President: Beijing Smog May Affect Athletes' Performances Medical Archive Web Site Restores 'Abortion' as a Search Word Sedentary Children Face Increased Risk of Heart Trouble in Adulthood Human-to-Human Transmission of Bird Flu Confirmed in Pakistan

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

Norovirus Strikes 65 Attendees at Medical Meeting

A common gastrointestinal virus associated with facilities where many people congregate to eat and drink was in the news with an ironic twist over the weekend.

About 65 people attending a medical convention became ill late Thursday and Friday after leaving the meeting at the newly-opened Gaylord resort in Oxon Hill, Md., outside Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reported.

The first reports of illness -- primarily nausea -- came as a medical alert from Reagan International Airport late Thursday from conventioneers who were waiting for flights home, the Post said. According to local health officials, 14 people who had attended the medical meeting became ill at the airport, and the remainder later reported the same symptoms after arriving home.

Those 14 were taken to local hospitals and treated, the newspaper said, while another seven were given assistance at the airport but not hospitalized. A cause of the illness, known as norovirus, had not been determined, the Post reported, but the Gaylord had begun an extensive cleaning of its guests room and public gathering areas. More than 350 people attended the medical meeting, the Post reported.

Norovirus causes the stomach and intestines to become inflamed, according to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control, and Prevention. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The virus is not usually life-threatening, the CDC says, and is caused by coming in contact -- usually by touching -- with contaminated food or liquids, tainted objects or being in contact with an infected person.


1-in-4 Repeat Iraq Combat Vets Suffering Mental Stress, Army Report Says

More than 25 percent of U.S. Army combat troops who have been deployed to Iraq more than once are suffering from anxiety, depression, or acute stress, the New York Times reports.

Citing an official Army survey of 2,295 anonymous Iraq veterans and additional interviews with soldiers who served in combat brigades, the newspaper cites Army commanders as being concerned about the morale and mental well-being in two particular categories: sergeants who often have frontline responsibility and captains, who comprise the future of the Army's command staff.

Since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, about 513,000 active-duty soldiers have served in Iraq, and more than 197,000 have deployed two or more times, the newspaper reports. For soldiers who have gone to Iraq more than twice, the study showed that 27 percent of noncommissioned officers exhibited post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, which can cause disorientation and an inability to function properly during the stress of combat, the Times reports.

And because any significant troop withdrawals from Iraq seem unlikely during the remainder of the Bush administration, Army top brass are struggling as to how to handle the situation.

"Lengthy and repeated deployments with insufficient recovery time have placed incredible stress on our soldiers and our families, testing the resolve of our all-volunteer force like never before," Army vice chief of staff Gen. Richard A. Cody, told a Congressional committee last week, the Times reported.


Olympics President: Beijing Smog May Affect Athletes' Performances

Talk about your good news-bad news scenario:

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press over the weekend that the bad air pollution in Beijing should not endanger the health of the athletes who compete in China this summer. But, he added, the smog may adversely affect their performances.

Chinese authorities have promised to solve the smog problem before the Olympic Games begin in August, the A.P. reported, but Rogge wasn't so certain. "It might be that some [competitors] will have to have a slightly reduced performance, but nothing will harm the health of the athletes. The IOC will take care of that," he is quoted as saying.

The world's most-acclaimed marathon runner, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, has said he won't compete in that event in the 2008 Olympics because of the smog, the wire service reported. Roggee told the A.P. that Gebrselassie is "slightly asthmatic," but that he might change his mind.

"I would say, wait and see ... when he sees the data that we are providing for them," the wire service quotes Rogge as saying. The Olympics Committee president has earlier said that there might be dealys in outdoor events if the smog gets too bad, the A.P. reported.


Medical Archive Web Site Restores 'Abortion' as a Search Word

An alert California research librarian prompted Johns Hopkins officials to change a Web site dealing with population issues and funded by the U.S. government, so that the word "abortion" was restored as an option in the site's search engine.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Dr. Michael J. Klag, Dean of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Friday told POPLINE administrators to restore "abortion" as a search term "immediately." He also said he would launch an inquiry into why the decision was made to limit searches.

The Web site POPLINE (POPulation information onLINE), which is funded by the United States Agency on International Development (USAID), contains more than 360,000 items concerning health and population control worldwide, the Sun reports. The U.S. government denies funding for any program that promotes abortion as a method for population control internationally, the newspaper said, and this may be what promoted the decision to remove the word from the Web site.

Gloria Won, a librarian at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, sent an e-mail inquiry to POPLINE administrator Debra L. Dickson, asking why fewer responses were coming from the search engine when she entered the word "abortion," the Sun reports. Dickson responded that limiting the search was intentional.

"Yes, we did make a change to POPLINE," the newspaper quotes Dickson as answering the librarian. "We recently made all abortion words stop words. As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now." A stop word is one that a search engine ignores.

The reason, the Sun says is because USAID officials found two items in the POPLINE database concerning abortion advocacy. After that, someone made the decision to restrict the word "abortion" as a search option, the Sun reports.


Sedentary Children Face Increased Risk of Heart Trouble in Adulthood

Sedentary children are up to six times more likely than active ones to be at serious risk for heart disease when they're older, according to a University of North Carolina study that included hundreds of children.

At ages 7 through 10, the children were checked for a number of key health indicators, such as height, body mass and fat, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, along with physical activity levels, Agence France-Presse reported.

The children were checked again seven years later to see if they'd developed any signs of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that point to increased risk of heart trouble.

Almost 5 percent of them had at least three core symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Those with these core symptoms were six times likelier to have had low aerobic fitness as children, and five times likelier to have had low levels of physical activity at the start of the study, AFP reported.

The study appears in the journal Dynamic Medicine.


Human-to-Human Transmission of Bird Flu Confirmed in Pakistan

The first human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 bird flu virus in Pakistan has been confirmed by the World Health Organization.

The case late last year involved members of a family in northwest Pakistan. A poultry worker became infected and survived, but three of his brothers were infected and two died, BBC News reported.

Genetic-sequencing tests on bird flu virus samples collected from three of the four brothers confirmed human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus.

While there was human-to-human transmission between the brothers, the "outbreak did not extend into the community, and appropriate steps were taken to reduce future risks of human infections," the WHO said.

The northwestern region of Pakistan has 85 percent of the country's poultry farms, BBC News reported. It was one of the regions hit by bird flu last year, and thousands of birds were killed to prevent the spread of the disease.


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