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Health Highlights: June 21, 2002

Polio Eradicated in Major 'European Zone': WHO Ultrasounds Contributing to China's Gender Imbalance Book Ties Chronic Fatigue to Mild Polio Grounds for Improving Public Playgrounds Young Children Unhappy With Their Bodies Glaxo Freezes AIDS Drug Prices in U.S.

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

Polio Eradicated in Major 'European Zone': WHO

The World Health Organization announced today that a third major "zone" of the world -- its European zone -- has been officially declared free of the polio virus.

The European zone includes 51 countries, including former Soviet republics, and 873 million inhabitants. The last region to have reported cases of polio in the zone was southeast Turkey near the border with Iran, where the final case was reported in November 1998.

Polio was certified as eradicated in the Americas in 1994 and in the Western Pacific three years ago, reports the Associated Press.

UNICEF has reportedly provided regions in the European zone with 177 million doses of the oral polio vaccine in the past three years.

The disease, which can cause paralysis and even death, still exists in Afghanistan, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, the AP reports.

Global health organizations, including the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are part of an initiative to eradicate polio worldwide by 2005.


Ultrasounds Contributing to China's Gender Imbalance

High technology is making its way into Chinese villages as the latest tool in a cultural bias for sons over daughters.

According to an article today in The New York Times, ultrasound scanners have become widely available to allow people to find out the gender of their child so they can have an abortion if the fetus is female.

Because the technology is inexpensive -- sometimes as low as $4 for a scan -- it's becoming increasingly popular, even though it is discouraged by the Chinese government for use in gender bias.

Nevertheless, many couples opt for abortion if the gender is found to be female.

One reason for the bias is the tradition in rural parts of China that daughters move in with their husband's families at marriage, often leaving parents with no children to offer assistance as the parents age.

China has the largest gender disparity for newborns of any nation in the world; in some parts of the country there are 144 boys born for every 100 girls.


Book Ties Chronic Fatigue to Mild Polio

Could the roots of chronic fatigue syndrome be found in the polio epidemic of a half-century ago?

An expert in the treatment of polio survivors says a new survey shows it does, reports HealthDay.

Richard L. Bruno, director of New Jersey's Post-Polio Institute, claims in a new book that 20 percent of older people who suffer from chronic fatigue may have been infected with a mild form of the polio virus.

According to Bruno, the findings could hold new hope for chronic fatigue syndrome patients, who could learn from the techniques used to help polio survivors deal with the aftereffects of their infections. "The symptoms can be managed, and further damage may even be prevented," he says.


Grounds for Improving Public Playgrounds

Three of four public playgrounds have surfaces that don't adequately protect children from dangerous falls, two public interest groups say in a new report.

The government recommends a surface of at least 9 inches of soft fill like wood chips or sand. But at most of the facilities with unsafe surfaces, the fill isn't deep enough, the report says.

The Consumer Federation of America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group combined to survey 1,037 school, municipal and federal park playgrounds in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Other problems they found include equipment that is too high, openings that can entrap children, and swings that are too close together, reports the Associated Press.

Some 187,000 children were treated in emergency rooms last year due to injuries suffered at public playgrounds. Each year, about 15 children die from playground-related injuries.


Young Children Unhappy With Their Bodies

Almost half of girls and a third of boys ages 7-12 believe they are too fat, according to an Australian survey reported in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Researchers from Surrey University and Melbourne University say results from the 312 children studied indicate that many of these children may be at risk of developing eating disorders, reports BBC News Online.

The children were photographed, then the researchers altered the photos to create a set of seven body images of varying shapes and sizes. The children were then asked to pick which one they thought was ideal. Among girls, 48 percent preferred an ideal image that was thinner than their own; among boys, 36 percent preferred a thinner image.

The researchers say the results showed children are aware of their body image at a much younger age than previously thought.


Glaxo Freezes U.S. AIDS Drug Prices

GlaxoSmithKline says it will freeze American prices of its six AIDS medications through January 2004 -- including its best-seller, Combivir. The company cited lack of funding among state assistance programs that are designed to help people without health insurance obtain the drugs.

The typical cost per day for Combivir is about $18, or $6,600 annually, reports The New York Times. Companies typically raise the prices of these drugs about 5 percent a year.

Glaxo's move follows similar action by a competitor, Pfizer, to freeze the prices of its two AIDS drugs for two years.

Last year, drug assistance programs provided medications, some of which can cost $12,000 a year, to some 140,000 people, the Times reports.

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