Health Highlights: Aug. 2, 2006

Processed Meats Linked to Increased Stomach Cancer Risk Romanian Children with HIV Face Discrimination: Report Castro Reportedly Stable After Surgery Obese Americans Claim They Eat Well and Exercise, Survey Says New Bird Flu Outbreak Suspected in Indonesia Fires Killed About 3,600 People in the U.S. in 2005

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

Processed Meats Linked to Increased Stomach Cancer Risk

The more processed meat you eat, the greater your risk of stomach cancer, according to a Swedish research review published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Processed meats include bacon, salami, sausage, hot dogs, ham, and smoked or cured meat.

The authors analyzed data collected from more than 4,700 people in 15 studies from 1996 to 2006 and concluded that a 30-gram-per-day increase in consumption of processed meat boosted the risk of developing stomach cancer by between 15 percent and 38 percent, CBC News reported.

The researchers said the findings were most consistent for bacon consumption.

"Our results . . . show very clearly that there is an association between increased consumption of processed meat products and stomach cancer," researcher Susanna Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said in a prepared statement.

Processed meats are often smoked or salted, or have nitrates added in order to extend their shelf lives. These additives may increase the risk of stomach cancer, but previous research has produced conflicting findings, CBC News reported.

"We hope that further studies will clarify the interaction between the consumption of processed meats and other factors, such as dietary factors and the effects of different bacteria on the incidence of stomach cancer," Larsson said.


Romanian Children with HIV Face Discrimination: Report

Widespread discrimination is a fact of life for many of the more than 7,000 Romanian youngsters infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, says a report released Wednesday by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

It said many of the youngsters don't attend school and don't have access to proper medicines or dental care, the Associated Press reported.

Under Romanian law, children are required to attend school until they are 16 years old. But that law is not enforced for children with HIV.

"Forty percent of the HIV youngsters are not in school. The discrimination against those whose status is known is so great that many face daily harassment by teachers and fellow students. In some cases, they have been expelled from school," said Clarissa Bemondo, a Human Rights Watch researcher for children's rights.

In some cases, dentists refuse to treat children with HIV, the report said. Some HIV-positive kids can't get free medicine because pharmacies won't stock the drug, the AP reported.

While HIV-positive patients in Romania are eligible for a disability allowance, only about 3,000 of the HIV-positive children in the country claim it. Others don't want to because they fear they'll be ostracized if people in their community learn they have HIV, the report said.


Castro Reportedly Stable After Surgery

Cuban President Fidel Castro is in stable condition and recovering from surgery to stop intestinal bleeding, according to Cuban officials who provided little information about his illness.

The Miami Herald reported that a statement attributed to Castro and read on a Tuesday evening news program in Havana suggested that physicians were uncertain about his prognosis.

"I cannot invent good news, because that wouldn't be ethical," the statement said, according to the Herald report. "I wish to say that the situation is stable, but a real evolution of the state of one's health requires the passing of time. The most I could say is that the situation will remain stable for many days before a verdict can be delivered."

The 79-year-old Cuban leader, who temporarily turned the reins of the country over to his brother Raul, underwent surgery to repair what a statement has called a "sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding." The location of the surgery and the reason for it have not been disclosed.

In the statement, Castro apologized to Cubans for not providing more details, saying his health must be treated as "a state secret" because of the threat posed to his government by the United States, the Associated Press reported.

Cuban parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon dismissed speculation among Cuban exiles in Miami that Castro was dead. The Cuban leader's "final moment is still very far away," Alarcon told the state news service Prensa Latina.


Obese Americans Claim They Eat Well and Exercise, Survey Says

A huge serving of denial may explain why a survey found that more than three-quarters of obese Americans say they have healthy eating habits and about 40 percent say they get vigorous exercise at least three times a week.

The telephone survey of more than 11,000 people was conducted by Thomson Medstat, a Michigan-based health-care research firm.

"There is, perhaps, some denial going on. Or there is a lack of understanding of what does it mean to be eating healthy, and what is vigorous exercise," Dr. David Schutt, the associate medical director at Thomson Medstat, told the Associated Press.

About 3,100 of the survey respondents were obese or morbidly obese, while about 4,200 were overweight. There were about 3,800 normal-weight people and about 200 underweight people.


New Bird Flu Outbreak Suspected in Indonesia

Health experts and Indonesian officials are concerned about a suspected new bird flu outbreak in a village where seven members of one family died of the H5N1 virus in May.

That cluster of deaths caused fears that the virus was mutating into a form that could be easily transmitted from human to human. However, experts later concluded that was not the case.

In this latest outbreak, seven people from the village in the Karo district in Northern Sumatra province have been hospitalized with suspected bird flu, BBC News reported. Officials are waiting for test results to confirm that it is bird flu.

An health ministry official said this outbreak involves two clusters -- one with two sisters and another with three family members and two of the family's neighbors, BBC News reported.

Indonesia has recorded more bird flu deaths so far this year than any other country. Health experts have criticized the Indonesian government for not doing enough to control the spread of the disease among domestic birds.


Fires Killed About 3,600 People in the U.S. in 2005

Fires killed an estimated 3,675 people in the United States in 2005, which translates to one person every 143 minutes, according to National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) statistics released Tuesday.

While the number of fires increased 3.3 percent from 2004 to 2005, the number of fire deaths decreased by 5.8 percent. The 2005 fire death toll was the third lowest since the NFPA began conducting its annual study in 1977.

In 2005, 82 percent of fire deaths occurred in home fires, while highway vehicle fires caused 14 percent (500) of fire fatalities. All other buildings, vehicles, and locations accounted for the remaining 4 percent (145) deaths.

About 17,925 people, excluding firefighters, were injured in fires in 2005. That's the second lowest total recorded by the NFPA, just slightly higher than the 17,785 injuries reported in 2004.

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