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Health Highlights: June 23, 2007

Blood Sugar Levels in Pregnant Women Affect Baby's Health Risk, Study FindsProtein Predicts Pancreatic cancer Patients' Treatment Outcome Many U.S. Men Have Had 15 or More Sex Partners Mexicans in U.S. Rural Areas Lack Good Medical Care WHO Wants $2 Billion to Fight Drug-Resistant TB Many Parents Can't Leave Work to Care for Sick Child

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

Blood Sugar Levels in Pregnant Women Affect Baby's Health Risk, Study Finds

New research has established a strong link between a pregnant woman's blood sugar level and health risks to her newborn.

This risk is evident whether or not the woman has gestational diabetes, the Associated Press reports. The risks to the baby include the possibility of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity as the child grows.

The study, described by Northwestern university scientists as the largest ever done on the subject, was presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association's scientific session in Chicago. The conclusion was a confirmation of earlier research: the higher the level of blood sugar a pregnant woman has, the greater the health risk to her baby.

The study was conducted in nine counties and involved more than 23,000 pregnant women, A.P. reports. Another finding indicated an association between Caesarian sections, big babies and high blood sugar levels in their mothers, the wire service says.

The study indicated that pregnant women should maintain strictly controlled diets and/or medication to reduce their blood sugar.


Protein Predicts Pancreatic cancer Patients' Treatment Outcome

The blood protein known as CA 19-9 has long been used as an indicator of how far pancreatic cancer has progressed in a patient.

Now, researchers from Jefferson University Hospital's Kimmel Cancer Center have found that CA 19-9 also can be used to predict how well a pancreatic cancer patient will do after a variety of treatments, from surgery to radiation to chemotherapy.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most virulent of malignancies. The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be about 37,000 cases of cancer of the pancreas in 2007 and slightly more than 33,000 deaths. One of the difficulties in fighting pancreatic cancer, experts say, is how far it advances before any symptoms appear.

Based on research by a team led Dr. Adam Berger, M.D., an assistant professor of surgery at Jefferson Medical College, the lower the level of CA 19-9 in the blood of a pancreatic cancer patient, the longer the survival. Half of the 385 patients in the study with CA 19-9 levels higher than 180 U/ml lived for approximately nine months, while half of those whose levels were 180 or below lived more than twice as long, about 21 months, according to a university press release.

After following the patients for three years, the researchers found that about 30 percent of those with levels 180 or under were still alive, while virtually none of the patients with levels above 180 were. "We think that it is a very sensitive predictor of response to chemotherapy and radiation after surgery," Berger is quoted as saying in the news release.

The study's findings will be reported June 23 at the semi-annual meeting of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) in Philadelphia.


Many U.S. Men Have Had 15 or More Sex Partners

A new U.S. government survey found that 29 percent of American men and nine percent of women reported they've had sex with at least 15 partners in their lifetime.

The average number of sexual partners was 6.8 for men and 3.7 for women, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Friday. It included 6,237 people, ages 20 to 59, who were asked about their sexual habits and drug use. The data was collected from 1999 to 2002, Bloomberg news reported.

Among the other survey findings:

  • Only four percent of adults ages 20 and older have never had sex.
  • About one in seven respondents (16 percent) said they first had sex before age 15.
  • More than one in five adults ages 20 to 49 have tried cocaine or other street drugs at some point in their life, and five percent said they had used such drugs within the previous year.

The findings about Americans' sexual habits suggest that the Bush administration's emphasis on promoting abstinence among unmarried people as a way of preventing sexually transmitted diseases is inadequate, said one expert.

"To rely on just one strategy for something is just bad; the more options you have, the more likely people are to use one of them," Bean Robinson, a psychologist and sexual behavior researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, told Bloomberg.


Mexicans in U.S. Rural Areas Lack Good Medical Care

Working-age Mexicans in rural areas of the United States are about one-third less likely than rural whites to have a usual source of medical care, while Mexicans in urban areas are one-quarter less likely than whites to have a usual source of medical care, according to a study led by researchers from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The study authors noted that not having a usual source of medical care -- such as a regular doctor or community health clinics -- limits a person's access to primary care, which is the front line for preventing and managing health problems.

The analysis of 2002-2003 data also found that Mexicans living in U.S. cities were no more likely than those in rural areas to have visited a doctor at least once within the previous year -- even though medical care is more readily available in cities.

Urban-dwelling Mexicans were 21 percent less likely than rural whites and 26 percent less likely than urban whites to have seen a doctor within the previous year.

Few studies have examined whether living in rural areas worsens the health care access disparity between Hispanics and whites, even though U.S. census data shows that the Hispanic population in small towns and rural areas has more than doubled in recent decades, the study authors said.


WHO Wants $2 Billion to Fight Drug-Resistant TB

The World Health Organization (WHO) is asking for $2.15 billion to battle drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis in order to prevent a possible future epidemic.

At a meeting in Geneva with journalists, WHO tuberculosis expert Paul Nunn said that between 400,000 and 450,000 people worldwide have multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and 25,000 to 30,000 have the more severe extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), Agence France-Presse reported.

The WHO wants the funding for a program that seeks to improve diagnosis and treatment of "basic" TB before drug resistance occurs and to develop treatments for drug-resistant TB strains. This approach could prevent 134,000 MDR-TB- and XDR-TB-related deaths over the next two years.

If action isn't taken, Nunn warned that there could eventually be millions of drug-resistant TB cases worldwide each year, which would represent a "return to the pre-antibiotic era," AFP reported.


Many Parents Can't Leave Work to Care for Sick Child

Greater access to federal and employer-provided job leave can help working American parents better care for chronically ill children, says a RAND Corporation study in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers surveyed 574 full-time parents of chronically ill children in order to examine the availability of paid and unpaid work leaves, how often parents missed work to care for ill children, and the length of time the parents were away from work. The survey was conducted between November 2003 and January 2004.

Less than half the parents qualified for benefits under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for ill family members without the risk of being fired.

The study also found:

  • Only 30 percent of parents reported having employer-provided leave that could be used to care for ill family members, and only 15 percent said they had access to paid leave.
  • Most of the parents reported missing some work in the past year to care for their ill children. Of those, 40 percent said they returned to work before their child's health improved. Of that group, 60 percent said they returned to work because they needed the pay.
  • Nearly half the parents said that at least once in the previous year they could not take time off work even though their children needed them. Of those, 70 percent said they would have taken time off work if they would have received at least some pay during the time off.
  • Parents were more likely to miss work to care for their children if they were aware of their eligibility for Family and Medical Leave benefits; had access to employer-provided leave; or had access to paid leave.

Among the study authors' recommendations:

  • Evaluate the potential impact of expanding eligibility for the Family and Medical Leave Act and educate more employees about these benefits.
  • Examine the likely effects on families and businesses when access to employer-provided or government-provided leave benefits is increased.

RAND is a nonprofit research organization.


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