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Health Highlights: Feb. 10, 2007

Drug Overdose Deaths Doubled in the Past Five YearsFunding for Pneumonia Vaccine in Poor Countries Pledged Philadelphia Moves to Ban Trans Fats Brain Tumor Removal Through the Nose Safe for Children Nearly Half of Children in India Underweight: Survey Albuquerque Fittest City in U.S.: Magazine

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

Drug Overdose Deaths Doubled in the Past Five Years

In only five years, the number of deaths from unintentional drug overdoses doubled in the United States, according to U.S. government statistics. They rose from 11,155 in 1999 to 19,838 in 2004, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Associated Press reports that the CDC, using death certificates, found that drug overdoses replaced falls as the second most common cause of unintentional death between 1999 and 2004. Motor vehicle accidents remained far ahead insofar as actual numbers were concerned, from 40,965 fatalities in 1999 to 43,432 in 2004.

While not yet being able to prove that prescription drugs may have been the reason for the increase, the researchers told the wire service they believed that the improper use of drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin may have been a major contributor.

The availability of prescription drugs illegally also continues to be a problem. In a study released last week by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, almost 82 percent of the participants said they illegally obtained their prescription medications from a drug dealer. Just over 50 percent said friends or relatives were also a source, although no information was gathered regarding where those contacts originally got the drugs.

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Funding for Pneumonia Vaccine in Poor Countries Pledged

Led by Italy, a small group of nations has pledged financial support to provide vaccinations against pneumonia for children in poor countries.

According to the New York Times, representatives from Italy, Canada, Norway, Britain and Russia announced their financial support after a meeting in Rome. The first phase is called the Advance Market Commitment, and will promote production and distribution of the pneumococcal vaccine, which will prevent children from contracting a a deadly form of pneumonia, the Times reports.

The program, for which $1.5 billion has been pledged, will support the creation more of the vaccine and could prevent 5.4 billion deaths by the year 2030, the newspaper cites the World Bank as estimating.

"This day is a great one for the poor women and children of the world," the Times quotes Heatherwick Ntaba, a former health minister of Malawi, as saying.

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Philadelphia Moves to Ban Trans Fats

It appears likely that Philadelphia will become the second major U.S. city to outlaw artery-clogging trans fats from restaurant food.

On Thursday, city council voted unanimously in favor of the measure and Mayor John F. Street is expected to sign it, the Associated Press reported.

Under the first phase, to take effect Sept. 1, 2007, restaurants would be prohibited from frying foods in trans fats or serving trans fat-based spreads. As of Sept. 1, 2008, trans fats would be banned from all other types of foods served in restaurants.

Prepackaged foods sold in stores and eateries are not covered by the ban.

The ban, which would be enforced by the city's Health Department, does not include penalties for restaurants that break the rules, the AP reported.

New York recently passed a similar ban on trans fats in restaurant food. It will begin to be phased in starting July 1.

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Brain Tumor Removal Through the Nose Safe for Children

A type of surgery in which a brain tumor is removed through the nose can be as safe and effective in children as it is in adults, say U.S. researchers who reviewed the results of the first 25 children to have the procedure.

The researchers noted that the procedure, called the "expanded endonasal approach," is often the only medical option available to these children, the Associated Press reported.

The surgery was successful in the all the children, who ranged in age from 3 to 18. There were no cases of vascular injury, central nervous system infection or neurological damage.

The review of the surgeries, which were done from 1999 to 2005, was conducted by doctors at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the AP reported.

The findings were published in the February issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery.

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Nearly Half of Children in India Underweight: Survey

Nearly half (46 percent) of children in India are underweight, but the infant death rate is declining, according to National Family Health Survey data released Friday.

Even though India has made significant economic progress in recent years, its rate of childhood malnourishment puts it in the same league as poorer nations like Cambodia and Burkina Faso, the Associated Press reported.

In neighboring China, which has also experienced rapid economic growth, only 8 percent of children are underweight.

The new survey also found that India's infant death rate has decreased from 68 per 100,000 births in 1998-99 to 57 per 100,000 births. However, that's still much higher than the infant mortality rate in Western nations. For example, the rate in the Netherlands is 4 per 100,000, the AP reported.

The data also reveal that the health of people who live in rural India is far worse than that of city residents. Only certain figures from the survey were released Friday. It's expected that the full report will be released soon.

The findings suggest that leaders in India "should be worried," Werner Schultink of UNICEF, told the AP. "It's going to be difficult for India if it wants to use its human resources to develop the nation but does not make improvements."

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Albuquerque Fittest City in U.S.: Magazine

Albuquerque, N.M. moved from 13th place last year to be named American's fittest city this year in the March issue of Men's Fitness magazine.

The other top 10 in the nonscientific survey of 50 cities are: Seattle; Colorado Springs; Minneapolis; Tucson, Ariz.; Denver; San Francisco; Baltimore; Portland, Ore.; and Honolulu, the Associated Press reported.

The magazine said this year's top 10 fattest cities are: Las Vegas, Nev.; San Antonio, Texas; Miami; Mesa. Ariz.; Los Angeles; Houston; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; Detroit; and San Jose, Calif.

The survey results are based on various lifestyle factors in each city, including the availability of bikes paths or gyms, commute times, fast food restaurants per capita, amount of television watching, along with federal statistics on obesity-related illnesses and injuries.

Magazine editor Neal Boulton told the AP that the list is published each year "to motivate folks to look at the simple things in their lives they can do to be healthy."

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