Health Highlights: Dec. 11, 2008

Obama Announces Daschle Is HHS Secretary Nominee Hong Kong Reports First Farm Outbreak of Bird Flu in 6 Years Men's Genes Influence Offsprings' Gender Doctors Call for Human Studies of New Defibrillators

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

Obama Announces Daschle Is HHS Secretary Nominee

President-elect Barack Obama formally introduced former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle Thursday as his nominee for U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, according to published reports.

Calling America's health care system the nation's "largest domestic policy challenge," Obama also said Daschle would oversee a new White House Office of Health Reform.

Obama's choice of Daschle to head HHS has been known for several weeks.

Daschle, a Democrat who was part of the health care advisory group of Obama's transition team, has said he was excited about the possibility of leading the new president's efforts to change the nation's health care system.

He believes reforming health care is a priority in the current economic downturn.

"We can't afford not to do it. If we do nothing, we'll be paying twice as much on health care in 10 years as we do today," he said last month, CNN reported.

In a recent book titled Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis, Daschle advocated universal health coverage to reach 46 million uninsured people. He said this could be done by expanding the federal employee health benefits program to include private employer plans together with Medicare and Medicaid.

Jeanne Lambrew, who helped Daschle write the book about health care reform, will serve as deputy director of the new White House health policy office. Heads of health advocacy groups have described Lambrew as one of Daschle's most trusted advisers on health issues. She will oversee planning efforts, the AP reported.


Hong Kong Reports First Farm Outbreak of Bird Flu in 6 Years

The first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu on a Hong Kong poultry farm in nearly six years was confirmed by government officials Thursday.

It was announced Tuesday that bird flu was found on a farm near the Chinese border and 90,000 chickens were scheduled for slaughter by the end of the week. Initial tests identified an H5 virus and the new test results confirmed that it's the deadly H5N1 virus, Agence France Presse reported.

The virus has not been found on any other farms in the area.

The World Health Organization is monitoring the situation, said Peter Cordingley, a spokesman for the WHO's Western Pacific regional office. He told AFP the outbreak isn't a surprise because the virus is versatile and tends to be more active in winter.

Hong Kong officials said the H5N1 virus has "changed slightly" and have told scientists to investigate whether the vaccine used since 2003 to protect chickens against bird flu is still effective.


Men's Genes Influence Offsprings' Gender

A man's genes may play a major role in whether he has sons or daughters, according to U.K. researchers who examined 927 family trees that included information on 556,387 people from Europe and North America.

The study found that men were more likely to have sons if they had more brothers and more likely to have daughters if they had more sisters, BBC News reported. The same link between sibling gender and offspring gender wasn't seen in women.

The results provide strong evidence of a genetic component affecting the relative numbers of "X" and "Y" sperm produced by men, said study author Dr. Corry Gellatly, who added that this type of male-directed gender selection balances out the proportion of men and women in the population.

"If there are too many males in the population, for example, females will more easily find a mate, so men who have more daughters will pass on more of their genes, causing more females to be born in later generations," Gellatly said, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Evolutionary Biology.


Doctors Call for Human Studies of New Defibrillators

Human studies must be conducted before important new technology is used in heart defibrillators, say two prominent heart doctors who helped shed light on previous medical device defects.

The new "four-pole connector" technology is a more compact way of connecting heart defibrillators to wires -- called leads -- that conduct electricity to the heart. It would allow defibrillators to be smaller and leads thinner, which would make the implant procedure easier, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to allow defibrillator makers to sell the new implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) without conducting human studies, something that "is not in the best interest of patients," cardiologists Dr. Robert G. Hauser and Dr. Adrian K. Almquist wrote in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

The Minneapolis Heart Institute doctors said they're concerned the new technology could be prone to potentially deadly short-circuiting, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The FDA disputed the cardiologists' claim that the agency has decided to allow the new devices to be sold without human testing, the newspaper said.

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