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Health Highlights: March 17 2008

Children With Allergies Less Active Than Peers: Survey Symptoms of Severe West Nile Can Last Years Genomics and Health Disparities Are Focus of New NIH Center EPA Introduces Video on Poison Prevention Exercise Doesn't Help Fight Depression: Study Male Reproductive Health Set in Early Stages of Pregnancy China Reports New H5N1 Outbreak

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

Children With Allergies Less Active Than Peers: Survey

Many American children with allergies aren't getting the treatment they need, and children with allergies are less active and productive than their peers, according to survey presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The survey included more than 500 parents of children with allergic rhinitis and a similar number of parents of children without allergies. Among the findings:

  • About 76 percent of parents said spring was the worst time of year for their children's nasal allergies.
  • Forty percent of parents said their children's allergies interfered with sleep, compared to eight percent of parents of children without allergies.
  • Twenty-one percent of parents said allergies limited their children's activities, compared with 11 percent of parents of children without allergies.
  • Forty percent of parents of children with allergies said the condition interfered with school performance. Only 10 percent of parents of children without allergies said health issues caused poorer school performance.
  • The most bothersome symptom for children with allergic rhinitis is a stuffed up nose (27 percent), but about 46 percent of parents said their children also suffered more serious symptoms, such as headache and ear and facial pain.
  • About 48 percent of allergic children in the survey are currently taking prescription drugs to treat symptoms. Of those, 57 percent have had their medication switched. Ineffective allergy control was the leading reason for changing medications.
  • Bothersome side effects -- such as products dripping down the throat, bad taste, burning, and headache -- were among the reasons for dissatisfaction with allergy medications.

The Pediatric Allergies in America survey was released by Sepracor Inc, a manufacturer and distributor of respiratory pharmaceutical products.

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Symptoms of Severe West Nile Can Last for Years

Most people who suffer a severe West Nile virus infection continue to have symptoms for years and may have symptoms for the rest of their lives, according to a U.S. study that followed 108 patients in Texas for five years.

"What we are finding is that about 60 percent of people, one year after severe infection with West Nile, still report symptoms," researcher Kristy Murray, of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said in a prepared statement.

She and her colleagues also found that most, if not all, recoveries from West Nile infection appeared to occur within two years.

"Once they hit two years it completely plateaus. If a patient has not recovered by that time, it is very likely they will never recover," Murray said.

About 40 percent of patients in the study continued to have symptoms five years after infection. Memory loss, tremors and loss of balance were among the long-term symptoms.

The findings were presented Monday in Atlanta at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

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Genomics and Health Disparities Are Focus of New NIH Center

A new center to study how genetic, clinical, lifestyle and socio-economic factors affect the health of minority groups in the United States has been created by the National Institutes of Health.

The Intramural Center for Genomics and Health Disparities will be a resource "to help move research related to the complex factors underlying health disparities into the 21st century," NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni said in a prepared statement.

The new center will be directed by genetic epidemiologist Charles N. Rotimi, former director of the National Human Genome Center at Howard University.

"The priority of our center will be to understand how we can use the tools of genomics to address some of the issues we see with health disparities," Rotimi said in a prepared statement. "The availability of tremendous expertise and the remarkable research infrastructure at NIH will make our research activities more robust and will allow us to tackle questions in ways that were not feasible in the past."

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EPA Introduces Poison-Prevention Video

As part of National Poison Prevention Week (March 16-22), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a poison-prevention segment on Green Scene, the agency's new series of environmental videos.

The segment includes information about how to protect children from toxic substances around the home and what to do in case of an accidental poisoning.

Every 13 seconds, a U.S. poison control center receives a call about an unintentional poisoning. In 2006, poison centers reported more than 77,000 calls prompted by concerns about potential exposure to common household pesticides (potential exposures do not necessarily represent a poisoning). More than 50 percent of the 2 million poisoning incidents each year involve children younger than six years old, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

As part of this year's National Poison Prevention Week, the EPA is conducting extensive outreach targeting Hispanic people, including television interviews to be aired on "Cada Dia," Telemundo's national morning program and the Telemundo Washington affiliate in the District of Columbia. Other interviews include Univision TV and Radio, and CNN Radio en Espanol.

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Exercise Doesn't Help Fight Depression: Study

A new study challenges previous research suggesting that exercise helps fight depression and anxiety. Dutch researchers followed 7,200 twins and 1,200 of their siblings for up to 11 years and found that a common set of genes influences both mental health and exercise behavior, USA Today reported.

The researchers concluded that people who are most mentally healthy also tend to be active and that genes, not environment, are the most significant factor.

"I'm not saying exercise might not help someone's mood. But it also may not work at all," said Eco DeGeus, a psychologist who specializes in exercise at Vrije University in Amsterdam, USA Today reported.

The findings were presented at a meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.

Duke University Medical Center psychologist Dr. James Blumenthal said there's strong evidence that exercise can help ease depression symptoms.

"I doubt that there's no link between exercise and mood because again and again we've seen that when they become sedentary, people are more likely to get depressed, and becoming active improves mood," Blumenthal told USA Today.

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Male Reproductive Health Set in Early Stages of Pregnancy

Men's fertility problems are determined while they're developing in the womb, say University of Edinburgh researchers whose studies in rats showed that common male genital disorders, low sperm count and testicular cancer may all be connected to hormone levels during the early stages of pregnancy.

Based on their findings in rats, the researchers concluded that a human male's future reproductive health is determined by levels of male hormones (androgens) in a critical "window" at 8-12 weeks of pregnancy, BBC News reported.

In addition, the researchers said there's a link between levels of male hormones at this stage of pregnancy and the distance between the base of the penis and the anus. They suggested checking this measurement in baby boys could help predict future reproductive problems.

"We know from other studies that androgens work during fetal development to program the reproductive tract. But our assumption was that it would be much later in pregnancy," said study leader Dr. Michelle Welsh, BBC News reported.

The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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China Reports New H5N1 Outbreak

H5N1 bird flu was responsible for the deaths of chickens in poultry markets in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, but the outbreak has been contained, according to the country's Ministry of Agriculture.

On it's Web site last week, the ministry said bird flu killed 114 chickens and prompted the slaughter of 518 others, Agence France-Presse reported. This is the fifth H5N1 bird flu outbreak in China this year.

So far this year, the H5N1 virus has killed three people in China. The country, which is the largest poultry-producer in the world, has reported 20 human deaths since the virus first appeared in 2003. Chinese officials have pledged to aggressively combat the virus.

The H5N1 virus has killed 235 people worldwide. Most of the human cases have been linked to close contact with infected birds. Officials fear the virus may mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans, triggering a pandemic that may kill millions of people worldwide.

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