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Health Highlights: May 1, 2002

Childhood Obesity Hospitalizations on Rise: CDC HIV Infects Very Cells Designed to Attack Virus: Study Remote-Control Rats May Be Among Disaster Heroes of Future Most People Breathing Unhealthy Air Filtering Makes Kidney Donations Easier: Study Indoor Pools Can Trigger Asthma, UK Docs Say

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

Child Obesity Hospitalizations on Disturbing Rise: CDC

Increasing rates of childhood obesity in the United States have been well documented, but new research shows a disturbing trend in rising hospitalizations among children for obesity-related issues, reports the Associated Press.

The report, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared obesity-related hospitalizations of 6- through 17-year-olds between 1979 and 1981 and between 1997 and 1999.

The researchers found that hospitalizations in those age groups for obesity alone tripled in the later years, to reach 1 percent. Diagnoses for diabetes, an obesity-related condition, made up 2.36 percent of child hospitalizations in the later years, compared to 1.43 percent in the 1970s. And other obesity-related hospitalizations, albeit still uncommon, have been on a steady rise, with sleep apnea increasing five-fold and gall bladder disease tripling.

According to the CDC, the increase has resulted in hospital costs related to childhood obesity more than tripling over the past 20 years, reaching $127 million.

The results are published in today's issue of the journal, Pediatrics.


HIV Infects Very Cells Designed to Attack Virus: Study

New research offers important but troubling findings that HIV selectively targets the specific cells that are the body's best defense against the AIDS-causing virus.

In the findings, published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature, researchers with the National Institutes of Health say they looked at certain immune system cells, called CD4 T cells, in the blood of 12 HIV-positive people.

They found that the cells, which are programmed to specifically fight HIV, actually contained two to five times more HIV than other cells, indicating that those cells had been singled out and infected by HIV, HealthDay reports.

The researchers say the findings should help in coming up with better HIV treatments. But, they add, the findings also serve as a warning against stopping HIV drugs for so-called "drug holidays," in the hopes of allowing the body to naturally boost its immune system.


Remote-Control Rats May Be Among Disaster Heroes of Future

Could live rats carrying tiny video cameras controlled through remote-control someday save the lives of disaster victims? It sounds bizarre, but according to new research it's feasible.

Scientists with the State University of New York say they outfitted rats with electrodes and power-pack backpacks. When they then stimulated the rodents' brains, they were able to cue them to scurry to a specific location and then reward them.

After some training, the rats' movements could be controlled as far as 1,640 feet, and the scientists were able to have them turn left or right, climb trees and ladders, jump from various heights, and navigate piles of rubble.

The findings are published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature.


Most People Breathing Unhealthy Air, Lung Association Says

More than 142 million Americans are breathing unhealthy air laden with ozone, the American Lung Association says in its annual "State of the Air" report released today. The figure represents more than 75 percent of the nation's population living in counties with ozone monitors, the association says.

Of the 678 counties monitored nationwide, almost 400 received an "F" for air quality. The association cites weak enforcement and ongoing legal challenges to federal air quality standards on the books since 1979.

Ozone, commonly called smog, is caused when sunlight interacts with chemicals produced by vehicle and factory emissions. It can cause shortness of breath and chest pain, and lead to chronic lung diseases like asthma.

The association's top 10 ozone-polluted areas, among them six in the state of California, are:

  •  1. Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, Calif.
  •  2. Bakersfield, Calif.
  •  3. Fresno, Calif.
  •  4. Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, Calif.
  •  5. Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, Texas
  •  6. Atlanta, Ga.
  •  7. Merced, Calif.
  •  8. Knoxville, Tenn.
  •  9. Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, N.C.-S.C.
  • 10. Sacramento-Yolo, Calif.


Filtering Makes Kidney Donations Easier: Study

If doctors filter a patient's blood before kidney transplant surgery, the patient can receive a kidney from a donor of any blood type, Johns Hopkins University researchers say.

The filtering removes antibodies that ordinarily would lead to organ rejection, the Baltimore researchers told a meeting this week of the American Transplant Congress. The patients must be given drugs to prevent the antibodies from returning, reports the Associated Press.

The findings could shorten the wait for thousands of people who need kidney transplants, many of whom die before compatible donors can be found. Lead researcher Dr. Robert Montgomery tells the AP that his group's findings could increase the number of living donor transplants by as much as 50 percent.

Nearly 52,000 Americans are now waiting for a kidney transplant, the AP says.


Indoor Pools Can Trigger Asthma, UK Docs Say

People who work at indoor swimming pools or who frequently use them could be at risk of developing asthma, BBC News Online reports.

The apparent culprit are chemicals call chloramines, produced when chlorine reacts with proteins emitted from swimmers' bodies. Chrloramines give indoor pools their characteristic smell.

The amount of chloramines that fill the air depends on swimmers' personal hygiene habits, how often the pool water is changed, and the cleanliness of the indoor air surrounding the pool, the Birmingham researchers report in the European Respiratory Journal.


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