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Health Highlights: May 17, 2010

Study Links Air Pollution to Higher Blood Pressure MRSA Infections in Children Up 10-Fold: Study Deaths Prompt Recall of Toy Dart Gun Set International Study on Cell Phones, Cancer Inconclusive

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

Study Links Air Pollution to Higher Blood Pressure

Urban air pollution may increase the risk of high blood pressure, new research suggests.

In a study of 5,000 people, German researchers looked at the effect of air pollution on blood pressure between 2000 and 2003. They found that long-term exposure increased blood pressure, especially for women, BBC News reported.

"This finding points out that air pollution does not only trigger life-threatening events like heart attacks and strokes, but that it may also influence the underlying processes, which lead to chronic cardiovascular diseases," said study leader Dr. Barbara Hoffman, head of the unit of environmental and clinical epidemiology at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The link was evident even when age, gender and other factors were taken into account that influence blood pressure, she said.

The research team planned to present its findings at the American Thoracic Society International Conference, which concludes May 19 in New Orleans. The team said efforts should be made to reduce exposure to pollution, BBC News said.

The authors noted that high blood pressure ups the risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which is associated with cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes.

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MRSA Infections in Children Up 10-Fold: Study

Dangerous drug-resistant staph infections have increased 10-fold in U.S. children in recent years, a study published Monday says.

Methicillin-resistant staph infections, known as MRSA, jumped from two cases to 21 cases per 1,000 hospital admissions between 1999 and 2008, the study found, according to the Associated Press.

Twenty-five children's hospitals were involved in the study, which is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Most of the MRSA infections were acquired in the community, not in the hospital, a finding that seems to bolster recent evidence suggesting that hospital-acquired MRSA cases are declining while community-acquired cases are becoming more common.

Of the 30,000 children hospitalized with MRSA infections at the medical centers studied, most had skin or muscle infections, and 374 died. However, it isn't clear if MRSA caused those deaths, said lead author Dr. Jason Newland, an infectious disease physician at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The researchers also noted an increase in use of the antibiotic clindamycin. In some regions, MRSA is becoming resistant to the drug, and doctors need to use it judiciously, said Newland.

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Deaths Prompt Recall of Toy Dart Gun Set

Two boys' deaths from asphyxiation have led to the recall of 1.8 million toy dart gun sets, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Monday.

A 9-year-old and a 10-year-old died after chewing on the soft plastic darts, which lodged in their throats and cut off their breathing, the Associated Press reported.

"We want parents to know about the risks to children during the preteen years that can come from aspirating these toy darts," warned CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum.

The "Auto Fire" dart gun sets, sold nationwide at Family Dollar stores from September 2005 through January 2009, were imported by New Jersey-based Henry Gordy International.

Family Dollar Stores worked with the agency on the recall after Henry Gordy refused to recall the dart set, the agency said, according to the AP.

Consumers, who can get a refund from Family Dollar, should discard the $1.50 dart gun sets, the agency said.

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International Study on Cell Phones, Cancer Inconclusive

Researchers and manufacturers had hoped a major study into the possible link between cell phone use and two types of brain cancer would resolve the debate, but the results are inconclusive, according to a new report.

The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer conducted the 10-year study involving almost 13,000 participants in 13 countries, the Associated Press reported. It found cell phone use didn't raise the risk of developing meningioma, a common, often benign tumor, or the rarer, deadlier glioma tumor.

The study did find "suggestions" that heavy use -- 30 minutes or more a day -- could increase the risk of glioma, but said "biases and error prevent a causal interpretation" that would directly blame the cancer on cell phone radiation, the AP said.

Use of cell phones has changed dramatically since the start of the study in 2000, and the authors said more research is needed before they can rule out a link between cell phone radiation and brain cancer.

Participants were asked how much they used their cell phone and on which ear. In some groups, cell phone use was associated with reduced risk of cancer, which the scientists said was "implausible."

The report will be published Tuesday in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Of 12,848 participants interviewed, 5,150 had either meningioma or glioma tumors, the news service said.

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