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Health Highlights: July 20, 2006

U.S. Women Pump Iron More: Report U.S. to Reduce Mad Cow Testing Indonesia Confirms 42nd Bird Flu Death Gene Mutations Cause 'Broken Hearts' Antidepressants and Migraine Drugs Don't Mix: FDA European Nations Ban Hair Dye Chemicals

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

U.S. Women Pump Iron More: Report

In what it called a first look at Americans' prevalence for weightlifting and general strength-training, a new U.S. government report Thursday found almost one in 5 women do twice-weekly workouts pumping iron.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's report, published in its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found an overall increase in weightlifting and other forms of strength-training. In 2004, about 20 percent of U.S. adults were doing strength-training at least twice a week, up slightly from the late 1990s, when about 18 percent of adults were, the Associated Press reported.

Women improved the most: About 17.5 percent did twice-a-week workouts in 2004, up from about 14.5 percent in 1998. Men, in contrast, held steady at around 21.5 percent.

Long-term concerns about bone loss, and a recognition that strength-training can help, may also be factors fueling women's interest, according to Judy Kruger, a CDC epidemiologist who was the study's lead author.

The data, from an annual national survey of thousands of U.S. adults, also showed a marked increase in the percentage of people 65 and older who did at least two workouts each week.


U.S. to Cut Back on Mad Cow Testing

The U.S. government plans to reduce its mad cow testing program to about 10 percent of the level it has operated at over the past 2 1/2 years.

Beginning late August, testing will be cut to about 110 tests per day from the current level of about 1,000 tests per day, the Associated Press reported.

There is little justification for the current level of mad cow testing, according to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. He noted that the reduced testing is still much higher than what is called for by the World Organization for Animal Health.

"It's time that our surveillance efforts reflect what we know is a very, very low level of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the United States," Johanns said.

The proposed move was attacked by critics, who say now is not the time to scale back on the testing, which has cost the government an estimated $1 million per week.

"It surely will not encourage consumers in the U.S. or Japan to rush to the store to buy more beef," said Carol Tucker-Foreman, food policy director for Consumer Federation.

The United States has had three confirmed cases of mad cow disease since December 2003, the AP reported.


Indonesia Confirms 42nd Bird Flu Death

Indonesia on Thursday confirmed its 42nd human death from the H5N1 bird flu virus. The disease has killed the same number of people in Vietnam. The two countries have the highest bird flu death tolls in the world.

The latest victim was a 44-year-old man who died in an East Jakarta hospital earlier this month. Officials said the man was a fried chicken seller, Agence France Presse reported.

While Indonesia and Vietnam have each had 42 bird flu fatalities, there have been no deaths reported in Vietnam so far this year.

The growing death toll in Indonesia concerns experts, who have accused Indonesian officials of acting too slowly to halt the spread of H5N1, AFP reported.

The Indonesian government has focused on vaccinating poultry, rather than conducting mass poultry slaughters, as recommended by the United Nations. Other countries in the region have carried out slaughter programs to control the spread of the H5N1 virus.


Gene Mutations Cause 'Broken Hearts'

Gene mutations that lead to "broken hearts" in fruit flies may offer clues about the causes of human heart defects, say researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

The mutations were found in genes that encode enzymes required to produce a small lipid that modifies a signaling protein required for heart formation. This process occurs during the fruit flies' embryonic stages of development.

The same biochemical pathway may be involved in human heart formation and congenital heart disease, the researchers said.

"We engineered a fruit fly so that the heart would glow in the dark and found a new type of malformation, completely unexpectedly," study senior author Dr. Eric Olson, chairman of molecular biology, said in a prepared statement.

"We coined the term 'brokenhearted' for this defect because two kinds of cardiac cells separated, thus causing the heart to fall apart, with a loss of heart function and embryonic death," Olson said.

The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.


Antidepressants and Migraine Drugs Don't Mix: FDA

People who combine Prozac and similar antidepressants with migraine drugs called triptans run the risk of a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

The antidepressants, which also include Zoloft, Paxil and Lexapro, are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The FDA said on Wednesday that it probably would recommend changes to the drugs' labels as more information became available, the Associated Press reported.

In a second warning, the FDA said babies born to mothers who take SSRIs are at significantly greater risk of a dangerous lung problem called persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN). The condition causes high blood pressure in the lungs' blood vessels, restricting oxygen intake into the bloodstream, the AP reported. The condition affects one or two babies per 1,000 born.

The FDA urged makers of the antidepressants to change their labels to include information about PPHN. At the same time, the agency warned that expectant mothers taking antidepressants should not discontinue the drugs without first talking with a doctor, the AP reported.


European Nations Ban Hair Dye Chemicals

The European Union has banned 22 chemicals used in permanent hair dyes because the substances may increase users' risk of bladder cancer, Britain's Independent newspaper reported.

The ban takes effect December 1.

The European Commission had asked the hair dye industry to submit a list of all chemicals used in the products, along with proof that the substances didn't pose a health risk, the newspaper said. The complete list of 115 chemicals is still being evaluated by health experts, who are due to release a report in October, the newspaper said.

No safety information was submitted on the 22 chemicals just banned, the Independent said.

More than 60 percent of European women and up to 10 percent of men color their hair, the newspaper said.

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