Health Highlights: Dec. 17 2009

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

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

Personality Affects Med Students' Success: Study

Personality tests that measure five major traits can predict the success of medical school students, according to a new study.

It included 600 Belgian first-year medical students who completed a personality test that measured conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, openness and emotional stability. Their progress was monitored for the next six years of medical school, United Press International reported.

"Our findings show that personality factors do have a predictive value as to the success rate of admitted medical students," Deniz Ones, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said in a news release. "Considering personality of applicants can be quite helpful to medical school admission programs."

The study appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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Scientists Identify Flu-Fighting Proteins

Researchers have identified a family of flu-fighting proteins that boost the body's natural resistance to viral infection, a finding they said could lead to better treatment and prevention of flu and other viral infections.

The scientists found that these proteins prevent most virus particles from infecting a cell at the earliest stage in the virus life cycle, United Press International reported.

"We've uncovered the first-line defense in how our bodies fight the flu virus," said Harvard Medical School Professor Stephen Elledge. "The protein is there to stop the flu. Every cell has a constitutive immune response that is ready for the virus."

"When we knocked the proteins out, we had more virus infection. When we increased the proteins, we had more protection," said study leader Dr. Abraham Brass, a geneticist and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, UPI reported.

The study appears online in the journal Cell.

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U.S. Tap Water Regulations Need Updating

Tap water in the United States may meet the legal definition of safe but still poses a serious health threat, according to The New York Times.

The 35-year-old federal Safe Drinking Water Act regulates only 91 contaminants, but more than 60,000 chemicals are used in the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency figures.

Government records show that scientists have concluded that hundreds of those chemicals are associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases when present in small concentrations in drinking water. However, no new chemicals have been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000, The Times reported.

The newspaper's analysis of more than 19 million drinking water test results from 45 states and the District of Columbia suggests that, since 2004, more than 62 million Americans have been exposed to drinking water that didn't meet at least one commonly used government health guideline meant to protect people from cancer or serious disease.

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Cleviprex Recalled Due To Particulate Contamination

Eleven lots of the blood pressure drug Cleviprex (clevidipine) have been recalled because of possible contamination with stainless steel particles, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The injectable emulsion drug is used to rapidly reduce blood pressure and maintain blood pressure control, United Press International reported.

"The affected Cleviprex lots are 61-978-DW, 61-979-DW and 61-980-DW, Exp. 01/2010; 68-404-DJ, 68-405-DJ and 68-406-DJ, Exp. 08/2010; 69-830-DJ, 63-385-DJ, 63-386-DJ, and 63-266-DJ, Exp 03/2011; and 64-453-DJ, Exp. 04/2011," The Medicines Company of Parsippany, N.J., said in a news release.

The FDA stainless said the steel particles are about 2.5 microns in length, which aren't considered a health hazard when present in low numbers, UPI reported. However, if the particles aggregate, or if large particles are present, they could reduce blood flow in capillaries and cause tissue or organ damage.

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Survey Reveals Prescription Drug Abuse in U.S. Military

Prescription drug abuse is a major problem in the U.S. military, suggests a Pentagon health study that surveyed more than 28,500 troops in 2008.

It found that about one in four soldiers and about 20 percent of Marines admitted abusing prescription drugs, mainly pain killers, USA Today reported. Illicit use of pain killers was triple that of marijuana or amphetamines, the next most widely abused drugs.

About 15 percent of soldiers and about 10 percent of Marines said they'd abused prescription drugs in the 30 days before they were interviewed for the survey, which was released Wednesday.

"We are aware that more prescription drugs are being used today for pain management and behavioral health issues," said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, USA Today reported. "These areas of substance abuse along with increased use of alcohol concern us."

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State's Smoking Cessation Program for Poor Highly Effective

A Massachusetts program that offers free treatment to help poor people stop smoking has yielded quick and impressive results.

When the program was launched in 2006, about 38 percent of the state's poor residents smoked. By 2008, that rate was 28 percent, a decrease of about 30,000 people, according to new data, The New York Times reported.

There are indications that this steep reduction has led to lower rates of hospitalization for heart attacks and emergency room visits for asthma attacks, said Lois Keithly, director of the state's Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program.

The striking results have attracted national attention and are being used by antismoking advocates and some U.S. senators to push for similar Medicaid coverage for tobacco addiction in new national health care legislation, The Times reported.

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City Women's Happiness Linked to Appearance: Study

Physical appearance is an important part of happiness for city women, but not for country girls, suggests a new study that included 257 urban dwellers and 330 rural residents.

The women were interviewed about their satisfaction with life, general level of happiness and sense of connection with friends and community, msnbc.com reported.

The researchers found no connection between physical appearance and happiness among women who live in the country. In fact, rural women who were slightly chubbier appeared to be somewhat happier.

"City women who were the most attractive got a lot of bang for their appearance buck," said study lead author Victoria Plaut, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, msnbc.com reported. "And if you were even slightly below average, you were very clearly worse off."

The study appears in the journal Personal Relationships.

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