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Health Highlights: Feb. 6, 2007

Scientists Identify Hundreds of Bacteria Species on Human Skin Easy-Bake Ovens Recalled Due to Entrapment and Burn Hazards Altering Nerve Activity Halts Diabetes, Hypertension in Mice: Study Spring Pregnancies Carry Highest Risk of Preterm Delivery Egypt Reports 12th Bird Flu Death

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

Scientists Identify Hundreds of Bacteria Species on Human Skin

Human skin is crawling with bacteria, say U.S. researchers who identified more than 200 species -- 8 percent of which were previously unknown -- on samples collected from the forearms of six people.

The New York Medical School team used genetic analysis to detect the types of bacteria present on the volunteers' skin, BBC News reported.

An initial analysis detected 182 species of bacteria. Another test was conducted eight to 10 months later to see if there had been any changes. That second analysis revealed 65 more kinds of bacteria.

About half the species were already known to be common skin dwellers, but 8 percent had not been previously described in scientific literature. The researchers also found that about 75 percent of the bacteria species were unique to individuals, which suggests the skin is "highly diversified," BBC News reported.

The findings were published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Over the years maybe about 50 different organisms have been found in human skin but we knew there were more organisms present" that couldn't be detected, study leader Martin Blaser, professor of microbiology, said in a prepared statement.

"We have now gone up five-fold from what's been known before," he said.

Experts say that bacteria plays an important role in keeping skin healthy, BBC News reported.


Easy-Bake Ovens Recalled Due to Entrapment and Burn Hazards

About 985,000 Easy-Bake Ovens are being recalled because children can get their hands or fingers stuck in the oven and suffer burns, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Tuesday.

So far, there have been 29 reports of children getting their hands or fingers caught in the oven's opening, including five reports of burns, said manufacturer Easy-Bake, a division of Hasbro Inc., of Pawtucket, R.I.

The recalled ovens, model number 65805, sold for about $25 at retailers across the United States from May 2006 through February 2007. Easy-Bake ovens sold before May 2006 are not included in the recall.

Parents should immediately take the recalled oven away from children and contact Easy-Bake for a retrofit kit with a consumer warning. Phone Easy-Bake at 1-800-601-8418 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET seven days a week.


Altering Nerve Activity Halts Diabetes, Hypertension in Mice: Study

By interrupting nerve signals to the liver, U.S. scientists were able to prevent hypertension and diabetes in mice, says a study in the February issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.

The scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis surgically removed the vagus nerve, which prevented or reversed hypertension and insulin resistance in mice that were treated with steroids to develop the disorders.

"So at least in mice, we've shown we can prevent the development of diabetes and hypertension by interrupting vagal nerve signaling," senior investigator Dr. Clay F. Semenkovich, a professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology, said in a prepared statement.

"We don't know whether the same will hold true for humans, but we think somehow altering vagal nerve activity could provide a novel approach for treating these common metabolic disorders," Semenkovich said.


Spring Pregnancies Carry Highest Risk of Preterm Delivery

Women who conceive in the spring are more likely to have premature infants than women who get pregnant in other seasons, according to a University of Pittsburgh study presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine in San Francisco.

The researchers analyzed data from 75,399 deliveries and found that the rate of preterm birth (prior to 37 weeks gestation) among women who conceived in the spring was 9.2 percent, compared to 9.1 percent for winter conception, 8.8 percent for fall, and 8.4 percent for summer, CBC News reported.

The study also found women who got pregnant in the summer or fall were 25 percent less likely than women who conceived in winter or spring to deliver their newborns prior to 32 weeks gestation, when complications can be more severe for both the baby and mother.

These seasonal variations may be linked to the immune system, the researchers suggested.

"It could be that becoming pregnant when the immune system is primed by viral and bacterial exposures may be a factor weeks down the road," Dr. Hyagriv Simhan, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a prepared statement.


Egypt Reports 12th Bird Flu Death

Egypt has reported its 12th confirmed human death caused by the H5N1 bird flu virus. The case brings to 20 the number of known human infections in Egypt, the largest number outside of Asia.

Officials said that 17-year-old Nouri Nadi from Fayyoum was admitted to hospital last week with what was believed to be a case of human flu, BBC News reported. It's believed the girl acquired bird flu through contact with sick and infected birds.

Females account for 11 of the 12 people who've been killed by bird flu in Egypt, where women and girls are often the ones who look after poultry. The bird flu virus has been detected in 19 of Egypt's 26 provinces.

A few weeks ago, the World Health Organization revealed that two of the Egyptian victims were infected by a strain of bird flu virus that was moderately resistant to the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Officials said they haven't yet determined if this latest death involved a mutated form of H5N1, BBC News reported.

Since 2003, the virus has killed more than 80 people worldwide. Most human infections have resulted from close contact with infected birds. But experts fear that if the H5N1 mutates into a form that's easily transmitted between humans, it could cause a global pandemic.

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