Health Highlights: Dec. 22, 2005

21 Million Enrolled in New Medicare Drug Plan Good Dancers' Symmetry is Sexy Parole Board Votes Against Ailing Kevorkian Pardon Blood Clot Risk Increases Even on Short Trips Generic HIV/AIDS Drug Wins Approval Transit Strike Depletes NYC Blood Supplies

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

21 Million Enrolled in New Medicare Drug Plan

About 21 million people will begin receiving benefits through Medicare's new prescription drug program in January, a figure that exceeded expectations but only includes 1 million who enrolled voluntarily, a new government report finds.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told reporters Thursday that the government expects to sign up between 28 and 30 million people for the benefit during its first year. Medicare provides health care to 42 million older and disabled Americans.

"We're encouraged by the early results," Leavitt said. "You'll find you'll save money and you'll never have to worry about high drug costs in the future."

The vast majority of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the program were either automatically signed up by the federal government or they'll receive the benefits through private health plans, according to an Associated Press report.

The government's figures are as of Dec. 13. Another 500,000 people are expected to enroll in January, officials said.

It's estimated the federal government will spend about $724 billion over 10 years to provide the Medicare drug benefit.


Good Dancers' Symmetry is Sexy

Superior symmetrical movement is what makes good dancers attractive to other people, probably because symmetry is something that humans look for in a mate, according to a Rutgers University study.

Researchers made videos of 183 dancers -- who all danced to the same song in the same spot in front of the camera -- and selected the 20 best and 20 worst dancers. This selection was based on the dancers' body symmetry, which was measured by comparing specific points on the body, such as elbows, fingers and ears, BBC News reported.

The 40 videos, which didn't include the dancers' faces, were then shown to 155 people. The viewers, especially women, gave higher marks to symmetrical dancers than non-symmetrical dancers.

The study appears in the journal Nature.

The researchers said they couldn't determine whether it was a dancer's degree of symmetry itself, or associated factors such as co-ordination or rhythm, that influenced the viewers when they rated the dancers.


Parole Board Votes Against Ailing Kevorkian Pardon

The Michigan Parole Board has voted to recommend denying an application to pardon or commute the prison sentence of 77-year-old assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian.

Kervorkian is serving a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder after being convicted of giving a fatal injection of drugs to a man with Lou Gehrig's disease in 1998.

His lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, maintained that Kervorkian is in "dire shape" with high blood pressure, arthritis, cataracts, osteoporosis and Hepatitis C. He filed the application for a pardon or commuted sentence because he was concerned that Kevorkian may not live until he becomes eligible for parole in 2007, the Associated Press reported.

"I think the parole board is acting irresponsibly and outrageously. The doctor in the prison keeps telling us 'What can I do to get him out? He shouldn't be in here,' " Morganroth told the AP.

The parole board recommendation now goes to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who followed similar recommendations in 2003 and 2004.


Blood Clot Risk Increases Even on Short Trips

Just four hours of travel in a plane, train or car can triple your risk of potentially deadly blood clots in the legs, says a new U.K. government report.

The Transport Department study of working-age airline passengers found one case of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) for every 6,000 journeys of four hours or more, the Telegraph reported.

The risk of DVT increased along with journey length, the study found. Those at greatest risk were people who traveled for more than 12 hours, people with certain kinds of inherited blood conditions, women taking oral contraceptives, and people taller than 6 foot, 2 inches, who are most affected by lack of leg room, the study said.

"This important research has shown that DVT can occur in any form of travel where people remain seated for a long time," said Transport Minister Karen Buck.

However, the study noted that the overall DVT risk among travelers is small and equivalent to the risk among pregnant women, the Telegraph reported.

A traveler's risk of DVT can be reduced by moving the feet, walking around if possible, and drinking water or non-alcoholic beverages in order to prevent dehydration, says the U.K. Department of Health.


Generic HIV/AIDS Drug Wins Approval

The generic HIV/AIDS drug Stavudine for oral solution has received tentative approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The drug, made by Aurobino Pharma Ltd. of India, is a generic version of the Bristol-Myers Squibb drug Zerit. The tentative FDA approval means that Stavudine will be available for consideration for purchase under the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, but it cannot be sold in the United States because of existing patents.

Stavudine is indicated for use in children with HIV, from birth through adolescence. The drug is active against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Stavudine belongs to a class of drugs called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), which help stop HIV from reproducing in the body.

The drug is used in combination with other antiretroviral drugs used to treat people infected with HIV-1.

The Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is spending $15 billion over five years to help fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic in 15 of the hardest hit countries.


Transit Strike Depletes NYC Blood Supplies

New York City's transit strike has reduced blood supplies at area hospitals to critical levels and forced rationing, Agence France Presse reported.

The New York Blood Center (NYBC) has issued a public appeal for donors of blood and platelets to try to keep their donation appointments in spit of the travel chaos caused by the transit strike.

The NYBC said its "inventory of blood for area hospitals is at great risk and a state of emergency has been declared."

In order to guarantee blood supplies to 200 hospitals in New York and New Jersey, the NYBC says it needs about 2,000 donations a day.

"Year-end blood inventories are always precarious. But with some blood drives now being cancelled as a result of the strike, the shortage of blood, and platelets in particular, will grow far worse, threatening health care delivery in New York and New Jersey patients," NYBC President Robert Jones told AFP.

"A strike of even a few days will severely curtail our ability to collect an adequate blood supply for our community," Jones said.

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