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Health Highlights: May 26, 2008

Warm Weather Workouts Require Common-Sense Precautions Poll: Wounded Iraq Soldiers Get Substandard Care From VA Caressing Preemies May Help With Pain of Medical Procedures New York City Man Dies After Taking Aphrodisiac From Toad Venom Truckers, Bus Drivers Can't Take Anti-Smoking Drug Chantix Everlasting Jelly Candles Pose Fire, Burn Hazards

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

Warm Weather Workouts Require Common-Sense Precautions

Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of summer, and that means more people will be heading outdoors to pursue favorite exercises and physical activities.

With that in mind, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Medical Association and more than 50 supporting organizations, including the National Athletic Trainers' Association, have launched the "Exercise is Medicine" initiative. It includes a list of tips that people of all ages can follow to enjoy physical activity and exercise while reducing the risk of "exertional heat illness."

"Many cases of heat illness are preventable and can be successfully treated if such conditions are properly recognized and appropriate care is provided in a timely manner," said certified athletic trainer Brendon McDermott, of the University of Connecticut. "We're hoping to educate athletes, coaches, parents and health-care providers about what can be done to prevent and treat heat illnesses."

To guard against heat illnesses, the trainers' association recommends the following steps:

  • Gradually increase activity in terms of intensity and duration in the heat. This prepares your body for more intense, longer duration exercise in warm conditions, and helps prevent injury and heat illness.
  • Mix in periods of rest during activity and assure adequate rest between exercise bouts. Rest breaks are an important defense against heat illness, and proper sleeping habits decrease your risk as well.
  • Begin outdoor activities only after you're properly hydrated. Drink water or sports drinks throughout physical activity in the heat.
  • A darker urine color is a quick sign of dehydration. Your urine should look more like lemonade than apple juice.
  • Exercise during cooler portions of the day -- early morning or late evening, if possible.
  • Don't participate in intense exercise if you show signs of an existing illness, such as fever, diarrhea or extreme fatigue. These can decrease your body's tolerance for heat and increase your risk of a heat illness.


Poll: Wounded Iraq Soldiers Get Substandard Care From VA

A considerable majority of Americans believes that Veteran's Administration hospitals and other military health facilities are not giving wounded Iraq war veterans the quality of care they deserve.

The latest poll from the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Harris Interactive® polling organization finds that 62 percent of Americans believe medical care for returning wounded U.S. soldiers from Iraq isn't adequate. In the same poll, 65 percent said that mental health care for returning vets was substandard, according to a HSPH news release.

The poll found that this opinion ran across the spectrum of American society. Those who had a family member serving in Iraq were just as likely as respondents with no family ties to the Iraq war to believe VA hospital care was substandard.

Yet, the poll also found that 60 percent of the respondents believed that medical treatment for wounded Iraq war veterans in military and VA hospitals is better (10 percent) or the same (50 percent) as the type of care they would receive in what the pollsters called "other major U.S. hospitals."

The poll is part of a continuing series by Harris Interactive and the Harvard School of Public Health: Debating Health: Election 2008.


Caressing Preemies May Help With Pain of Medical Procedures

It's never too early for parents to hold, touch and caress their offspring, even if the baby is born very prematurely.

According to BBC News, researchers from McGill University in Montreal found that parents who cuddle with babies born as early as 28 weeks help lessen the stress of painful medical procedures the infants will have to endure. The normal term of pregnancy before delivering a baby is between 37 and 42 weeks, according to the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health.

In fact, reports the BBC, the McGill scientists believe the skin-to-skin contact between parents and baby is so important that it might aid in the recovery process from the medical procedures.

The researchers used a common test for newborns --- the heel pin prick to obtain blood to check blood sugar levels -- as a test for stressful reaction.

This test is almost always painful for newborns, BBC News reported. The result: For premature babies who were cuddled after having a heel pin prick, pain scores after 90 seconds were much lower than for the babies not held and caressed by an adult.

Lead researcher Celeste Johnson said she found that cuddling seemed to assist in the baby's recovery from a painful experience. "The pain response in very preterm neonates appears to be reduced by skin-to-skin maternal contact," she told the BBC.


New York City Man Dies After Taking Aphrodisiac From Toad Venom

An illegal aphrodisiac sold on the street under a variety of names has killed a 35-year-old New York City man, prompting health officials to issue an alert.

According to the Associated Press, the man, who officials did not identify, was admitted to a New York City hospital earlier this month complaining of pain in his chest and abdomen. Health officials were able to determine he had taken a poisonous substance that comes in a hard, brown form, and is known as Love Stone, Jamaican Stone, Black Stone and Chinese Rock.

It is sold in many New York City neighborhoods in neighborhood stores, the AP reported, and the writing on the package is usually in a foreign language.

The warning from New York City's top dangerous substances officer was pointed: "There is no definitely safe way to use it," Dr. Robert Hoffman, director of the city's poison control center, told the wire service. "Don't buy it. Don't sell it. If you have it, don't use it. Throw it out."

Some people eat the substance, the AP reported, instead of applying it to the skin, as it is intended to be used. But even external application can be dangerous. The active ingredient comes from the venom of toads of the Bufo genus, and it can disrupt the heartbeat, the wire service said.


Truckers, Bus Drivers Can't Take Anti-Smoking Drug Chantix

Examiners shouldn't give commercial motor vehicle license clearance to anyone currently using the anti-smoking drug Chantix, says the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees the interstate trucking and bus industries.

The FMCSA announcement Thursday came a day after the Federal Aviation Administration banned the use of the drug by pilots and air traffic controllers.

The agencies took action in response to an Institute for Safe Medication Practices study saying that Chantix may be linked to seizures, dizziness, heart rhythm problems, diabetes and more than 100 accidents, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The non-profit group's study said the drug was linked to 988 serious incidents in the last quarter of 2007 alone. After the study was released Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation alerted its agencies and instructed office directors to read the study's warnings and recommendations.

Last year, warnings on Chantix's label were updated to include depression and suicidal thoughts. The FDA hasn't announced any new action in response to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices study, the Journal reported.


Everlasting Jelly Candles Pose Fire, Burn Hazards

Additional incidents of minor fires and burn injuries have prompted a repeat of an earlier recall of about 1,700 Everlasting Jelly candles sold at Spa at Home stores and online, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Friday.

The candles may be prone to excessive flame. The original recall in February 2007 noted there had been seven reports of flames coming in contact with nearby combustibles, resulting in minor fires, smoke and soot damage, along with four reports of burn injuries to users' hands.

Since that initial recall, there have been four more reports of the candles causing minor fires, smoke and soot damage, and one additional report of burn injuries to a consumer's hand, the CPSC said.

Consumers should stop using the candles and contact manufacturer M & A Global Technologies of Tallahassee, Fla. for instructions on returning the product. The company can be reached at 866-224-8811.

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