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Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2007

Most Diabetics Don't Exercise: Study U.S. Donates Protective Gear to Help Indonesia Fight Bird Flu Connecticut Woman World's Oldest Person Anemia Drug Boosts Cancer Patient Death Risk FDA Panel Approves Combination Vaccine for Children Extreme Stress During Pregnancy May Harm Fetal Brain

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

Most Diabetics Don't Exercise: Study

Even though physical activity plays an important role in controlling the disease, fewer than 40 percent of people with type 2 diabetes exercise, says a U.S. study that surveyed more than 22,000 diabetes patients.

The study also found that the diabetes patients most in need of exercise are the least likely to be active, the Associated Press reported.

The findings appear in the February issue of the journal Diabetes Care. The study results are disappointing, said lead researcher Dr. Elaine Morrato, an expert in public health and epidemiology and assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Denver.

"It is difficult to be optimistic about addressing the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes without success in increasing physical activity in the population," she and her colleagues concluded. "The results of this study provide very pessimistic data."

People with type 2 diabetes who don't exercise face complications such as high blood pressure and nerve damage, the AP reported. The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five times a week.

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U.S. Donates Protective Gear to Help Indonesia Fight Bird Flu

The U.S. government this week delivered more than 100,000 sets of protective equipment to Indonesia as part of a $24 million program to help that country fight the deadly H5N1 bird-flu virus.

The gear, which includes protective suits, goggles and gloves, will be given to people who come into direct contact with poultry or with people infected by the H5N1 virus, Agence France Presse reported.

In total, the United States will donate 200,000 sets of protective equipment and 2,000 decontamination kits to be used at infected farms, homes, hospitals, and clinics.

After a period of inactivity, Indonesia has experienced a recent resurgence of bird flu. So far this year, six people have been killed by the virus. Since 2005, 63 people in Indonesia have died of bird flu, the highest death toll of any country, AFP reported.

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Connecticut Woman World's Oldest Person

A 114-year-old woman in East Hartford, Conn., is now the world's oldest person.

Emma Faust Tillman, who was born in 1892, claimed the honor after 115-year-old Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico died Wednesday, the Connecticut Post reported.

Tillman, who lives at Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center, never smoked, never drank, and never needed glasses. She was one of 23 children born to former slaves in North Carolina. The family moved to Glastonbury, Conn., in 1900.

In 1909, Tillman graduated as the only black student in her high school. She had a number of jobs through her life, including cook, maid, party caterer and caretaker for the children of several wealthy families, the Post reported.

She lived alone in a Hartford apartment for years before she moved to Riverside when she was 110 years old. Longevity runs in her family. She had siblings who lived to 108, 105, and 102.

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Anemia Drug Boosts Cancer Patient Death Risk

A study concludes that the anemia drug Aransep increased the risk of death in patients with active cancer (not in remission), the drug's maker, Amgen, said Thursday.

Aransep is currently approved in the United States to treat cancer patients with anemia caused by chemotherapy or radiation treatment, but not anemia caused by cancer itself. Even so, doctors do use it off-label for that purpose, The New York Times reported.

This study, which included 1,000 patients with active cancer who were not receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment, was designed to determine if Aransep could reduce the need for blood transfusions, which are frequently required by people with anemia.

The drug did not reduce the need for transfusions and, by the end of 16 weeks, there was a statistically significant increase in the number of deaths among patients taking the drug, The Times reported.

In this group of patients the "risk/benefit ratio for Aransep use is at best neutral and perhaps negative," said a news release issued by Amgen. The company did not provide any numerical results from the study.

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FDA Panel Approves Combination Vaccine for Children

Pentacel, a combination vaccine for five childhood diseases that would reduce the number of shots given to infants, received the approval of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Thursday.

The vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough and invasive Hib disease, is made by Sanofi-Aventis SA.

The 13 to 2 vote in favor of the vaccine was based on studies that showed that four doses of Pentacel protected children from these diseases. Currently, U.S. health officials recommend 23 separate shots for infants. Pentacel would reduce that to 16 shots -- about two fewer at every checkup, Bloomberg News reported.

The advisory committee said that Pentacel appeared to work at least as well as individual vaccines designed to protect against the five diseases. They also said that reducing the number of shots may help improve immunization rates.

It's expected that the FDA will decide by March 9 whether to act on the advisory committees' recommendation and approve Pentacel, Bloomberg reported. While the FDA isn't required to follow its committees' advice, it usually does so.

Currently, the only five-component childhood vaccine available in the U.S. is Pediarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline. It's similar to Pentacel, but protects against hepatitis B instead Hib.

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Extreme Stress During Pregnancy May Harm Fetal Brain

Extreme stress during pregnancy -- such as serious arguments or domestic abuse -- may cause harm to the fetal brain and put babies at increased risk for mental and behavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), say U.K. researchers.

This damage is likely caused by high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus in the womb, said Professor Vivette Glover of Imperial College London.

She found that 18-month-old infants who were exposed to the highest levels of cortisol during development had lower IQs and were more likely to be anxious and fearful than other infants, BBC News reported.

The research was presented at a conference of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Pregnant women should not be "unduly concerned," by the findings, Dr. David Coghill, senior lecturer and honorary consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Dundee, told BBC News.

He said the harmful effects noted in the study are caused by "extremely high levels of stress and distress."

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