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Health Highlights: Jan. 19, 2007

Global Fund Would Subsidize Malaria Drugs for Africans Chlorinated Water Increases Bladder Cancer Risk: Study World's Oldest Woman Dies at 115 Global Measles Death Toll Cut by 60 Percent Hospital Treatment of Birth Defects Costs Billions a Year Stress Management Sessions Effective: Study

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

Global Fund Would Subsidize Malaria Drugs for Africans

Delegates to an international forum sponsored by the World Bank have proposed a global fund to subsidize the purchase of a new generation of anti-malaria drugs for people in Africa, where malaria kills about 1 million people a year.

The new drugs -- artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) -- are needed to replace chloroquine and other older drugs that have become ineffective. Currently, ACTs are too expensive for most Africans.

The proposed fund would require about $80 million to $100 million from donor countries in the first year, increasing to about $250 million per year after that, the Associated Press reported.

The malaria drugs would be distributed by government health officials and by local stores.

ACTs are based on Chinese herbal medicine for malaria, but contain a combination of ingredients meant to make it difficult for the malaria parasite to develop resistance to the new drugs, as happened with the older generation drugs, the AP reported.

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Chlorinated Water Increases Bladder Cancer Risk: Study

People who drink or bathe, shower and swim in chlorinated water may be at increased risk for bladder cancer, says a Spanish study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers compared 1,200 people who were exposed to chlorination byproducts known as trihalomethanes (THM) to a similar number of people who weren't exposed, The Australian reported.

People who lived in areas where THM concentrations in the water were more than 49 micrograms per liter were twice as likely to develop bladder cancer than people who lived in areas where concentrations were less than 8 mcg per liter.

The study also found that people who were exposed to more than 35 mcg of THM a day through drinking water had a 35 percent increased risk of bladder cancer, The Australian reported.

People who showered or bathed in chlorinated water were 83 percent more likely to develop bladder cancer, and people who swam in chlorinated pools were 57 percent more likely to develop the disease.

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World's Oldest Woman Dies at 115

A Canadian citizen believed to be the world's oldest woman died Thursday at the age 115, CBC News reported.

Julie Winnefred Bertrand, who was born Sept. 16, 1891, died in her sleep at a Montreal nursing home where she'd lived for the past 35 years. Bertrand, the eldest of six children, never married.

In the past two years, she had never left the sixth floor of the nursing home. On Wednesday, she asked to be pushed in her wheelchair to visit the front lobby, dining room and chapel, CBC News reported.

Bertrand became the world's oldest woman when 116-year-old Elizabeth Bolden of Tennessee died on Dec. 11, 2006. The world's oldest living person is Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, who was born 26 days before Bertrand.

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Global Measles Death Toll Cut by 60 Percent

The number of children killed by measles around the world decreased by 60 percent from 1999 to 2005, thanks to a massive global vaccination campaign, according to a report in The Lancet journal.

In 1999, there were 875,000 deaths (the majority in Africa) and in 2005 there were 345,000 deaths caused by measles, BBC News reported.

In Africa, the death toll was reduced by about 75 percent through the efforts of national governments and health agencies, the study found.

In 2001, a joint campaign to fight measles was launched by a number of organizations, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the American Red Cross, BBC News reported.

"Immunizing children is clearly saving lives. Reducing measles deaths by 60 percent in just six years is an incredible achievement," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.

The study authors said the results of the vaccination program suggest that it may be possible to eradicate measles around the world.

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Hospital Treatment of Birth Defects Costs Billions a Year

Each year in the United States, hospitals spend more than $2.5 billion to treat people with birth defects, according to a U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality study released this week.

The study, which included 2004 data from 37 states, looked at people of all ages who had hospital stays primarily for the treatment of birth defects, the Associated Press reported.

The average age of the patients in the study was 17.5 years. Their average hospital stay was about six days and the average cost of each hospital stay was $18,600.

Another study released this week looked at what hospitals charge for taking care of patients with birth defects. This study, by researchers at the University of Arkansas and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at 2003 data on babies who were less than 10 days old when they were admitted to hospital for care of a birth defect.

Depending on the type of birth defect, the average hospital bills for these children ranged from $3,800 to $200,000, the AP reported.

"It (the bill) is almost always a function of how long they were in the hospital because of the surgeries that were done," said study leader James Robbins of the University of Arkansas.

March of Dimes officials estimate about 3 to 4 out of every 100 babies born in the U.S. are at risk of having a birth defect, the AP reported.

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Stress Management Sessions Effective: Study

Weekly, one-hour stress-management sessions can reduce worker stress, improve heart health and lower blood pressure, an Italian study finds.

University of Milan researchers studied 91 office workers who faced layoffs. The workers were divided into two groups.

Those in the treatment group took part in a year-long program of muscle relaxation, simple respiration, guided imagery, and cognitive exercises. They showed a small but significant improvement in heart rate variability and blood pressure, along with a reduction in their levels of perceived stress, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Workers in the control group received only occasional articles and monthly emails with information about stress management. This group did not show a reduction in stress levels, the study found.

The study is currently available online in the journal Hypertension and will appear in the February print issue.

"This type of training could easily be incorporated into regular outplacement services for displaced workers," American Heart Association spokesman Dr. Richard Stein, director of preventive cardiology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, told the Times.

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