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Health Highlights: March 28 2006

Americans Uninformed About Lung Cancer Testing Virtual Reality Games May Help Correct Lazy Eye HIV Treatment Program Misses Goal: WHO Pre-Planned C-Section Topic of Meeting Drug Combo May Prevent HIV Infection Heart Failure Care Research Fails to Benefit Patients: Study

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

Americans Uninformed About Lung Cancer Testing

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but many Americans are uninformed about options for lung cancer testing, according to a national survey released Tuesday by the Lung Cancer Alliance.

The survey found that only 37 percent of Americans have talked to a health professional about getting tested for lung cancer. The survey also revealed a large gender difference: 23 percent of men thought about getting tested for lung cancer, compared to 9 percent of women.

Younger people were more likely than older people to think about getting tested for lung cancer -- 19 percent of those ages 18 to 54 compared to 9 percent of people 55 and older -- even though lung cancer risk increases with age.

The lack of public knowledge was highlighted by the finding that 48 percent of the survey respondents said they'd heard about a blood test for lung cancer -- something that doesn't exist.

Many of the respondents knew about older tests for lung cancer, such as chest x-ray (80 percent), MRI or CT scan (74 percent); only 26 percent knew about a new and effective test called autofluorescence bronchoscopy.

"The survey confirms a desperate need to educate Americans about lung cancer testing and underscores the need for new testing options," Laurie Fenton, president of the Lung Cancer Alliance, said in a prepared statement.

Lung cancer will kill about 163,000 Americans this year.

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Virtual Reality Games May Help Correct Lazy Eye

People with lazy eye (amblyopia) may benefit from playing virtual reality (VR) computer games, say researchers at Nottingham University in the U.K.

They found that it's possible to use this approach in order to encourage the lazy eye to be more active and to get both eyes working together. As a patient plays a game, the computer sends different images to each eye. The eyes have to team up in order for the patient to be successful at the game, BBC News reported.

"Traditionally, VR has been used to present realistic environments in 3D so you imagine you're there because of the depth of the world around you," said researcher Richard Eastgate. "But we're using VR to make something unrealistic. You could call it virtual unreality."

In one experiment, one hour of a virtual reality racing game achieved the same results as 400 hours of the traditional approach that forces the lazy eye to work harder by wearing a patch over the good eye, BBC News reported.

"The technique hasn't been proven with rigorous trials, but the early results show a very rapid effective treatment through this system," Eastgate said.

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HIV Treatment Program Misses Goal: WHO

Each day, about 18,000 babies worldwide are born with HIV because their mothers don't get the antiretroviral drugs they need, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report that said a program to expand access to the drugs had failed to achieve its target.

The report said fewer than 10 percent of pregnant women with HIV in developing countries received antiretroviral drugs between 2003 and 2005.

Currently, about 1.3 million people get the drugs, which is well short of the goal of three million by 2005 set by the WHO and UNAids in 2003, BBC News reported.

The "Three by Five" target was not achieved due to inadequate supplies of drugs, weak health systems in developing countries, and ineffective partnerships among aid providers, the report said.

Even so, expanded access to antiretroviral drugs averted 250,000 to 350,000 premature deaths and 18 countries met the goal of providing antiretroviral treatment for at least half of their people in need, BBC News reported.

The WHO and UNAids have set a new goal of universal access to antiretroviral treatment by 2010.

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Pre-Planned C-Section Topic of Meeting

More American mothers than ever -- nearly 33 percent -- are giving birth by Caesarean section and a growing number are opting for this method of delivery even when it's not medically necessary.

There's no tally of how many elective C-sections are done each year in the United States, but it could be tens of thousands annually, according to some estimates. Critics charge that many women who have elective C-sections are pressured into the surgery or don't fully understand the risks, the Associated Press reported.

These and other issues surrounding pre-planned C-sections are being discussed at a three-day meeting held by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The meeting, which began Monday, will explore what's known about the risks and benefits of pre-planned C-sections and how to make sure women get all the necessary information.

In some cases, C-sections are needed to save the lives of mothers and babies. However, the procedure can cause rare, but serious, side effects and may increase the risk of future pregnancy complications.

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Drug Combo May Prevent HIV Infection

Two drugs currently used to treat HIV infection -- tenofovir and emtricitabine -- may be able to prevent it when used in combination, say scientists.

Recent tests on monkeys found that the drugs protected the monkeys against infection by monkey and human AIDS viruses. The six monkeys were exposed to the viruses once a week for 14 weeks but none of them became infected, the Associated Press reported.

In another group of monkeys that didn't receive the drugs, all but one of the monkeys became infected, typically after two exposures to the viruses.

The fact that the drugs provided complete protection is "very promising" and something that's never been achieved in previous HIV prevention experiments, researcher Walid Heneine, a scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the AP.

The combination of the two drugs is sold as Truvada by Gilead Sciences Inc. of California.

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Heart Failure Care Research Fails to Benefit Patients: Study

Research on how to improve the health of people with chronic heart failure does little to benefit patients because it rarely finds its way into routine clinical care in the United States, says a new RAND Corporation study.

The study identified 16 U.S.-based research projects that demonstrated ways to substantially improve the health of heart failure patients. Despite that, only two of those projects continued to provide those improved methods of care to their own patients.

"Research that shows us how to improve patients' lives, while reducing the cost of treating chronic heart failure, was abandoned without moving these good ideas into clinical practice," study senior author and RAND researcher Dr. Joanne Lynn, said in a prepared statement.

Financial constraints were the main reason that projects were shut down even after they demonstrated successful approaches to improving care of heart failure patients.

The study appears in the March issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

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