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Health Highlights: Aug. 12, 2007

'Brain-Drain' of Dangerous Protein May Offer Help for Alzheimer'sU.S. Ranks 42nd in Life Expectancy, Statistics Show Obesity Cited as Elementary School Absenteeism Predictor Don't Eat Certain Raw Oysters From Washington State, FDA SaysL.A. Hospital Loses Federal Funding, Closes Emergency Room and Inpatient Care More American Seniors Have Drug Coverage

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

'Brain-Drain' of Dangerous Protein May Offer Help for Alzheimer's

Is it possible to "flush" away the buildup of dangerous substances in the brain that cause Alzheimer's disease?

That's what researchers from the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center have tried on laboratory mice, and the results have indicated that the amyloid protein linked to causing Alzheimer's can be drained away.

According to a university news release, the "brain-drain" method doesn't address the cause of Alzheimer's, which most medical researchers believe is the buildup of a protein in the brain called amyloid-beta. This substance creates the lesions that interrupt a person's memory signals and eventually leads to irreversible dementia.

So, rather than attack the cause of the protein, the researchers found a way to increase the body's ability to absorb amyloid-beta. This causes the brain to "order" levels of the substance in the brain to decline. This was done by using a modified form of soluble low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein, which helps control the amount of amyloid-beta in the brain.

The result: The levels of amyloid-beta in the brains of the laboratory mice was reduced by 85 to 90 percent. The researchers are now working on adapting their procedure for clinical trial on humans.

The research paper was published online Sunday by the journal Nature Medicine.


U.S. Ranks 42nd in Life Expectancy, Statistics Show

While Americans' life span continues to grow, people in the United States might be surprised to learn their longevity rate doesn't even come close to cracking the top 25.

According to a survey done by the Associated Press, the United States ranks behind most of Europe, Japan and even Jordan and Singapore.

Not only that, the AP reports, but also the United States' ranking at 42nd in life expectancy (average age of 77.9 years) is much lower than 20 years ago, when it ranked 11th.

Some of the reasons for the decline in ranking were the United States having the world's highest obesity rates and a five-year disparity in lifespan between white and black Americans (black Americans' average longevity is 73.5 years), according to research proved by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.

"The U.S. has the resources that allow people to get fat and lazy," Paul Terry, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, told the AP. "We have the luxury of choosing a bad lifestyle as opposed to having one imposed on us by hard times."

And where do people live the longest? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the country with that distinction is Andorra, a tiny country in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, with an average life expectancy of 83.5 years.


Obesity Cited as Elementary School Absenteeism Predictor

It's not illness that keeps elementary school children away from the classroom most often.

It's obesity, say University of Pennsylvania and Temple University researchers in a study released Aug. 10, the Associated Press reports. In fact, obesity is the best predictor of school absenteeism, the scientists say.

According to Andrew B. Geier, the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, obese elementary school children, on average, miss a couple more school days each year, and that's a prediction for possible major problems down the road. "It's clear in all the literature that the more days of school you miss, it really sets you up for such negative outcomes: drugs and AIDS and (teen) pregnancy," Geier told the wire service.

"At this early age to show that already they're missing school, and missing school is such a major setup for big-time problems, that's something school policy people have to know," Geier said. The study was confined to the schools in the poorest areas of Philadelphia in order to keep the test group as homogeneous as possible, the A.P. reports.

The study didn't examine physical health issues associated with being overweight, the wire service reports. Rather, it dealt with emotional or psychological reasons behind the absenteeism. "They're missing school because they don't want to be bullied and called names," the A.P. quotes Geier as saying.

The study can be found in the latest issue of the journal Obesity.


Don't Eat Certain Raw Oysters From Washington State, FDA Says

Consumers should not eat raw oysters harvested from the southern tip of Hood Canal in Washington state, because they may be contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Friday.

Raw oysters harvested from "growing area 6" in Hood Canal since July 3 have caused at least six people to become sick in California and in Washington state, the agency said. Records indicate the oysters were shipped to California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, New York, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria can cause an illness called vibriosis, with symptoms including watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. Symptoms usually begin within 24 hours of eating the tainted food and normally last no more than three days.

The most severe symptoms are rare and most frequently affect people with weakened immune systems, including young children, the elderly, and people with AIDS or other conditions that compromise the immune system, the FDA said.

Washington state has closed the area associated with the contaminated oysters and has asked harvesters and distributors to recall any raw oysters obtained from the area.


L.A. Hospital Loses Federal Funding, Closes Emergency Room and Inpatient Care

A Los Angeles hospital built after the 1965 Watts riots to bring better health care to the poor has lost its federal funding and has already eliminated some of its most essential services.

Regulators who oversee Medicare payments announced at a news conference Friday that L.A. county-run Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital failed two federal inspections and would no longer be eligible for $200 million in federal funding, according to the Associated Press.

In effect, the loss of the money will cause the hospital to close, local health officials told the wire service. The hospital's emergency room, which is often the first place sick or injured people from the neighborhood go, shut down Friday night.

"We brought every resource to bear, but in the end it just wasn't enough, fast enough," Dr. Bruce Chernof told the A.P. King-Harbor will remain open as an outpatient clinic to treat people with routine illness or injury, he added.

The problem with the hospital has festered for years. Herb Kuhn, acting deputy administrator for the U.S. Centers of Medicare and Medical Services, told the A.P. that an inspection last month found "conditions at the facility have placed the health and safety of patients at great risk."


More American Seniors Have Drug Coverage

Many more American seniors now have prescription drug coverage, according to a University of Michigan (U-M) study that also found that poor seniors are as likely to have coverage as rich seniors.

The study found that more than 90 percent of people age 65 and older had drug prescription coverage in 2006, compared with 75 percent in 2004, The Ann Arbor News reported.

The findings are based on data from interviews with a nationally representative sample of 10,175 older adults.

Some critics have said the U.S. Medicare Part D prescription drug plan is confusing. But the authors of this study said the plan, introduced in 2006, has increased drug coverage for seniors, especially for those who most needed help, The Ann Arbor News reported.

The study was presented Thursday in Washington, D.C. at a conference sponsored by the Social Security Administration and the Retirement Research Consortium.


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