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Health Highlights: Dec. 2, 2007

Adult Breathing Problems Linked to Childhood ObesityNew Method Found to Measure if a Person is 'Paying Attention' U.S. Rate of New HIV Infections May Be Much Higher Contaminated Food Killed More Than 300 Pets Pilots Taking Antidepressants as Capable as Other Pilots: Study WHO Concerned About New Ebola Strain

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

Adult Breathing Problems Linked to Childhood Obesity

A particularly negative effect in obese children is sleep disorder breathing (SDB), which can lead to a variety of serious conditions in adulthood, a new study has found.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center also found that SDB appears to be particularly dangerous when found in black children, according to a news release from the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. The new study is published in the December edition of the journal Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.

Among adult conditions with adverse health consequences are snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, which if left untreated, can lead to hypertension and cardiac problems, the scientists say.

The study included 299 children between 2 and 18-years-old. The core group in the study had was scheduled to have an adenotonsillectomy for treatment of SDB. Results showed that 46 percent of children scheduled for surgery were overweight, compared with 33 percent in the control group.

And, the researchers added, African-American children with SDB were more likely to be obese. Not only do parents and caregivers need to be aware of the link between childhood obesity and adult breathing problems, said lead author Dr. Emily F. Rudnick, but also the medical community needs to be in the forefront of alerting families to the problem.


New Method Found to Measure if a Person is 'Paying Attention'

It wasn't necessarily designed to tell whether a person looking at you while you talked was actually paying attention, but a test devised by Canadian scientists to measure activity in a person's neck muscles does just that.

Researchers from the Centre for Brain and Mind at The University of Western Ontario in London, Canada were looking for ways to measure communication skills for people who have suffered a stroke or have Parkinson's disease. One goal was to determine how closely they followed conversation.

According to a Centre news release, the research team found a way to measure what they call "covert attention."

Study author Dr. Brian Corneil posed this question: "The person you're speaking with may be looking at you, but are they really paying attention... or has the person covertly shifted their attention, without moving their eyes?

"Our results demonstrate for the first time that covert attention can be measured in real-time via recordings of muscle activity in the neck," said Corneil, an assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology and psychology.

The research report is on the advance online publication of Nature Neuroscience.


U.S. Rate of New HIV Infections May Be Much Higher

Federal estimates of the number of Americans newly infected with HIV may be 50 percent higher than previously assumed, the Washington Post reported on Saturday, which is World AIDS Day.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has for the past decade estimated the number of new HIV infections nationwide at about 40,000 cases annually. But sources close to scientists who are finalizing the new numbers say the number is closer to 50,000 or 60,000, the Post said.

While not giving new statistics, the CDC acknowledged Sunday that a new method for computing HIV is infections is being used.

"The estimates have been submitted for further analysis and rigorous scientific review to ensure the accuracy of the complex new methods and of the estimates themselves," Dr. Kevin Fenton, CDC Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention said in a statement.

The rise in estimated infections is due to a change in blood sampling, which can now identify people who were infected within the past five months. This allows scientists to better differentiate new infections from longstanding ones. The new data comes from large cities and 19 states, the Post reported.

The new numbers -- as yet unannounced by the CDC -- may not mean that the HIV epidemic is growing in the US, merely that it is larger than experts had previously assumed. At least two years of follow-up are needed to confirm if there is any trend toward increasing cases, the Post said.

In related news, President Bush on Friday urged Congress to approve another $30 billion over the next five years for the global fight against AIDS, the Associated Press reported. He said he plans a visit to Africa early in 2008 to help focus on the epidemic there and to rally support for the administration's efforts.


Contaminated Food Killed More Than 300 Pets

Contaminated pet food may have killed about 225 cats and 112 dogs earlier this year, according to a new Michigan State University study. The researchers said the pets' deaths may have been due to a deadly combination of melamine and cyanuric acid contaminants, the Associated Press reported.

"When combined, they form crystals which can block the kidneys. Unfortunately, these crystals don't dissolve easily. They go away slowly, if at all, so there is the potential for chronic toxicity," said Wilson Rumbeiha, an associate professor at MSU's Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.

The findings of the study, commissioned by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, were based on data gathered from veterinarians and other animal health workers from April 5 through June 6, the AP reported.

More cats and smaller dogs got sick than larger dogs after eating the contaminated food. Most of the sick pets were in Texas, Illinois and Michigan.

About one-quarter of pets that became sick after eating the contaminated food already had health problems such as kidney or cardiovascular disease, the study found.


Pilots Taking Antidepressants as Capable as Other Pilots: Study

Pilots taking antidepressants aren't any more likely to commit errors than other pilots, according to an Australian study that compared 481 pilots on antidepressants and the same number of pilots who weren't taking the medications.

Unlike some other nations, Australia allows pilots to fly while taking an antidepressant drug.

Between 1993 and 2004, each group of pilots had a total of five accidents involving serious injury, death or major aircraft damage. There were 18 incidents of pilot error among the medicated pilots, compared with 15 among non-medicated pilots, which the study authors said was not a statistically significant difference, Agence France-Presse reported.

"There was virtually no difference in the number of incidents or accidents. But importantly, there was a tendency for more accidents in the period prior to pilots going on to antidepressants, but not once they were on them," said Australian National University mental health researcher Kathy Griffiths.

The findings were presented Friday at a World Psychiatric Association meeting in Melbourne.


WHO Concerned About New Ebola Strain

World Health Organization officials are concerned about a new form of the deadly Ebola virus that's killed 16 people in an outbreak in western Uganda, the Associated Press reported.

Tests indicate the virus belongs to a different subtype than the four already known.

"We are very concerned about this because it does not present (symptoms) in exactly the same way as other Ebola strains," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said. He noted the new subtype appears to be associated with vomiting, something that normally doesn't occur in Ebola patients, the AP reported.

So far, there have been 51 confirmed Ebola cases (including the 16 patients who died) in the outbreak in western Uganda. The first case was reported on Nov. 10.

Improved disease surveillance was bound to uncover new forms of Ebola, Pierre Formenty, a WHO expert on hemorrhagic fevers, told the AP.


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