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Health Highlights: Feb. 26, 2007

Bird Flu Vaccine Effective in 45 Percent of Adults South Pacific Is World's Most Overweight Region: WHO Growth Hormone Linked to Diabetes Hormone Patches, Gels May be Safer than Pills: Study Anxiety May Boost IBS Risk After Gut Infection

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

Bird Flu Vaccine Effective in 45 Percent of Adults

A vaccine to protect people against the H5N1 bird flu virus is even less effective than previously believed -- protecting just 45 percent of adults who received the highest dose, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration and drug company documents released Monday.

An earlier interim analysis of data from the same 452-person study suggested the Sanofi Aventis vaccine triggered a protective immune response in 54 percent of users, the Associated Press reported.

The final findings were made public just before Tuesday's meeting of a panel of FDA experts who will review the vaccine, the first H5N1 vaccine to be submitted for FDA approval.

While the study shows that the vaccine is safe in people, the findings raise doubts about its effectiveness against the H5N1 virus. For example, seasonal flu vaccines protect 75 percent to 90 percent of vaccinated adults younger than age 65, the AP reported.

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South Pacific Is World's Most Overweight Region: WHO

The South Pacific is the world's most overweight region and the tiny republic of Nauru, where 94 percent of adults are overweight, is the fattest nation on Earth, says a World Health Organization list of the 10 most overweight countries.

Of those nations, eight are in the South Pacific. The two other countries on the list are the United States and Kuwait.

While Nauru is the worst, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, and the Cook Islands (all in the Pacific) fared only slightly better. In those states, about 90 percent of adults are overweight or obese, BBC News reported.

In the South Pacific, a lack of exercise and increased consumption of Western junk food and processed meals are key factors in the high obesity rates, the WHO said. Poverty is another factor in obesity. Cheaper food often is high in calories but low in nutrition.

There are about 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world and the WHO expects the amount to rise by 40 percent over the next decade, BBC News reported.

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Growth Hormone Linked to Diabetes

Taking growth hormone to improve athletic performance may increase a person's risk of developing diabetes, says a case study published online Monday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

In addition to helping stimulate muscle growth and reducing body fat, growth hormone also allows athletes to recover more quickly after strenuous training, CBC News reported.

The case study involved a 36-year-old professional bodybuilder who used anabolic steroids for 15 years and artificial growth hormone for three years.

About a year after he starting taking growth hormone, the bodybuilder started to take insulin because his blood sugar had risen too high. But he stopped taking insulin after he suffered acute low blood sugar during a few workouts at the gym, CBC News reported.

He lost 40 kilograms (88 pounds) in 12 months and had symptoms of excessive thirst, urination, and appetite.

After being diagnosed with diabetes, the man was given intravenous fluids and gradually increasing amounts of insulin over five days. Eventually, he was no longer diabetic, the report said.

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Hormone Patches, Gels May be Safer than Pills: Study

Hormone gels and skin patches to control menopause symptoms may be less likely than pills to cause dangerous blood clots, according to a French study in the journal Circulation.

The study of nearly 900 women, ages 45 to 70, found that those who took hormone pills were more than four times as likely to develop blood clots than those who used hormone gels, patches or creams or those who did not take any hormones, the Associated Press reported.

The study received funding from hormone drug and patch makers, as well as the French government.

Many women stopped using hormone replacement pills after the release of a 2002 study that found that the use of estrogen increased women's risk of stroke and the use of estrogen-progestin increased the risk of stroke and breast cancer, the AP reported.

This new study adds to growing evidence that the method of taking hormones, and possibly the dose, may be important factors that influence those risks, Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, wrote in an accompanying editorial in the journal.

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Anxiety May Boost IBS Risk After Gut Infection

People who try to ignore or are particularly anxious about symptoms caused by bacterial gut infections are more likely than others to later develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), concludes a study by researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K.

Up to 10 percent of people develop IBS (which includes symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating) after they suffer a gastrointestinal infection, BBC News reported.

The study included 620 people who were checked three and six months after they had a gut infection. Researchers found that 49 people had IBS at both three and six months. IBS was more likely to occur in people who reported high levels of anxiety and stress and psychosomatic symptoms related to their infection.

People were also more likely to develop IBS if they tried to carry on and ignore the symptoms of bacterial gastroenteritis, BBC News reported.

The study also found that women were more than twice as likely as men to have IBS. The findings were published in the journal Gut.

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