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Health Highlights: March 22 2006

California and New York Have Dirtiest Air: EPA Omega-3 May Control Prostate Cancer Schools, Hospitals Need to Prepare for Potential Pandemic: Experts Poor BiDil Sales Prompt Executives' Resignations Spinal Manipulation Offers No Benefits: Study Experts Studying Human-Pet Resistant Bacteria Connection

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

California and New York Have Dirtiest Air: EPA

California and New York have the dirtiest air in the United States and residents in those states have a higher air pollution-related cancer risk than people in the rest of the nation, says a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report.

The National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment is based on emissions of 177 chemicals in 1999, the most recent year for which data was available, the Associated Press reported.

The report said that New York residents' estimated risk of developing cancer from airborne toxins is 68 residents per million. It's 66 residents per million in California. The U.S. national average is 41.5 per million.

Oregon, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey rounded out the top five in terms of poor air quality. Rural areas of Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana had the cleanest air, the AP reported.


Omega-3 May Control Prostate Cancer

Men with prostate cancer who eat a diet rich in omega-3 fish fats may gain some protection from developing a more aggressive form of the cancer, suggests a U.K. study in the British Journal of Cancer.

The study found that omega-3 fats could prevent prostate tumor cells from migrating and invading other areas of the body, including bone marrow, BBC News reported.

Researchers tested two types of dietary fat -- omega-3 and omega-6 -- on prostate cancer cells in a lab. Omega-6 fats are found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds and are part of a healthy diet.

Omega-6 actually increased the spread of prostate cancer cells into bone marrow, while omega-3 prevented it. The researchers said the cancer cells may use omega-6 as a high energy source for growth and migration while omega-3 appears to interfere with that process, BBC News reported.


Schools, Hospitals Need to Ready for Potential Pandemic: Experts

Hospitals and schools in the United States are being urged to prepare for the possibility of a human bird flu pandemic.

It's not alarmist or premature for school boards and superintendents to make such preparations, say federal health officials, who noted that school officials already do emergency planning for severe weather, terrorism, and student violence, the Associated Press reported.

There are a number of problems that school leaders would have to cope with in the event of a pandemic. These include: Closing schools or quarantining students; making sure children keep learning at home if schools are closed; easing parents' fears; providing food to children who rely on school meals.

"Those are the kinds of issues that I don't think people have spent a lot of time talking about yet," Stephen Bounds, director of legal and policy services for the Maryland Association of School Boards, told the AP.

"But if New Orleans and Katrina taught us nothing else, it taught us you need to be thinking about things ahead of time -- and preparing for the worst," Bounds said.

As for hospitals, many are still in the planning stages for a pandemic. The topic was discussed Tuesday at a meeting of epidemiologists in Chicago.

"Awful" decisions will need to be made by hospitals, noted Dr. Andrew Pavia, an infectious-disease specialist from Salt Lake City. For example, does a hospital deny a 65-year-old patient a ventilator in favor of a 25-year-old patient who has a better chance of survival?

One simple way to lessen the impact of a pandemic would be to increase low flu-vaccination rates among U.S. hospital staff, said Mayo Clinic vaccine specialist Dr. Gregory Poland.


Poor BiDil Sales Prompt Executives' Resignations

Disappointing sales of the drug BiDil, which was promoted as a breakthrough for black heart failure patients when it was introduced last year, have led to the resignation of two top NitroMed executives who brought the drug to market.

The departures of chief executive Michael D. Loberg and chief business officer Lawrence E. Bloch were announced in a statement released by NitroMed, based in Lexington, Mass. The statement gave no reasons for the resignations and neither executive could be reached for comment, The New York Times reported.

Research suggested that BiDil could extend the lives of black heart failure patients by 43 percent over 18 months. When the drug was launched last July, some financial analysts predicted it could achieve $825 million in annual sales. Sales in 2005 were $4.5 million, The Times reported.

BiDil is NitroMed's only product. The company initially hired 195 sales representatives, which was later reduced to 144. Insurance reimbursement problems and the high cost of the drug were also cited as possible reasons for BiDil's poor slow sales.


Spinal Manipulation Offers No Benefits: Study

Spinal manipulation, used by chiropractors and osteopaths to treat neck and back pain and other ailments, offers little benefit to patients, says a study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Researchers at the Peninsula Medical School in Devon, England reviewed 26 studies on spinal manipulation that were done between 2000 and 2005. The studies examined the effects of spinal manipulation on back and neck pain, asthma, allergy, dizziness and colic, BBC News reported.

The review concluded that data from those studies did not show that spinal manipulation was effective for any of the conditions. The only exception was back pain, where spinal manipulation was superior to sham manipulation, but not better than conventional treatment.

The review authors also noted that spinal manipulation had been linked to mild side effects in about half the patients. These side effects included temporary stiffness and -- in rare cases -- strokes caused by damage to the gluteal artery in the back.

The authors said their findings should be regarded as a "wake-up call" to the chiropractic profession, BBC News reported.

The British Chiropractors Association disputed the findings and said the researchers focused on "negative" studies.


Experts Studying Human-Pet Resistant Bacteria Connection

Antibiotic resistance is showing up in a small but growing number of pets in Canada, Europe and the United States, and experts are starting to wonder about a possible human-pet connection in the spread of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

The issue was discussed Tuesday in New York at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, The New York Times reported.

The same genetic strains of Staphylococcus aureus -- the most common cause of staphylococcus infections in humans -- have been found in both animals and people. This suggests there may be a link, according to experts.

The issue is serious enough that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will include questions about exposure to dogs, cats and other pets in large studies looking at human staphylococcal infections, CDC official Dr. Nina Morano said at a news conference.

It's not clear whether antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus infections are being transferred from pets to people or the other way around, the Times reported.

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