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Health Highlights: Feb. 11, 2007

Genetic Risk for Type 2 Diabetes Mapped OutStillbirth Risk Increases for Women Older Than Age 40Drug 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

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

Genetic Risk for Type 2 Diabetes Mapped Out

British and Canadian researchers say they've mapped out a genetic mutation that may indicate whether a person will develop type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease.

In the United States, more than 17 million people are estimated to have type 2 diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes. In the United Kingdom, where the research was conducted, almost 2 million people have type 2 diabetes, according to BBC News.

The gene mapping will be able to identify about 70 percent of the genetic makeup of type 2 diabetes, the news agency quotes the scientists as saying. The gene mutation is a zinc transporter involved in regulating insulin secretion, according to BBC News. The research is published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

"If we can tell someone that their genetics mean they are predisposed towards type 2 diabetes, they will be much more motivated to change things such as their diet to reduce their chances of developing the disorder," the news agency quotes researcher Philippe Froguel as saying. "We can also use what we know about the specific genetic mutations associated with type 2 diabetes to develop better treatments," he added.


Stillbirth Risk Increases for Women Older Than Age 40

It may be a finding that many will find disappointing, but pregnancy after age 40 is an independent risk factor for stillbirth, according to researchers from Yale Medical School.

And that's why it's important for older pregnant women to get antenatal testing on a regular basis after 38 weeks into their pregnancy, the researchers told those attending the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine Conference in San Francisco over the weekend.

According to a news release from the society, Yale scientists conducted a cross-sectional study of more than 11 million deliveries between 1995 and 1997 in a database provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The results confirmed increase risks for older pregnant women, including gestational diabetes mellitus, preeclampsia, placenta previa and intrauterine growth restriction.

All of these conditions can contribute to a higher incidence of stillborn deliveries, the researchers said.


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.


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.


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.


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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