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Health Highlights: Nov. 11, 2006

Lifespan for AIDS Patients After Diagnosis Estimated at 24 YearsSimple Answer to Worldwide Infectious Disease: More Toilets Companies May Face Claims Over PDA-Related Worker Injuries Scientists Create Artificial Stomach Massage Good for Babies Doctors Planning Human Womb Transplant Asian Diabetes Epidemic Could Overwhelm Health Services

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

Lifespan for AIDS Patients After Diagnosis Estimated at 24 Years

Americans diagnosed with the AIDS virus can expect to live almost a quarter century, according to new research, and the healthcare costs are almost $25,000 annually.

The Associated Press reports that the study, appearing in the November issue of the journal Medical Care, indicates that both the survival rate and the health care costs are more than earlier estimates. Bruce Schackman, an assistant professor of public health at New York's Weill Cornell Medical College, said the new information updates a 1993 report that put life expectancy for someone infected with HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- at 10 years.

"They're [government officials] going to have to take into account medical advances that have extended people's lives," the wire service quotes Schackman as saying in reference to the amount of money allocated for caring for someone with AIDS.

The research was based on the medical records of about 7,000 patients being treated in 18 medical practices across the United States, the A.P. reports.


Simple Answer to Worldwide Infectious Disease: More Toilets

One of the simplest methods to fight infectious disease is being greatly underused, a new United Nations report says.

The New York Times reports that the report concludes that if $10 billion were spent to build many more toilets or latrines in all the developing countries, the amount of safe, public drinking water would double and infectious disease risk would be greatly reduced.

Most of these countries pay little or no attention to providing their citizens with toilet facilities, the newspaper cites the report as finding. For example, in a slum of Mumbai, India, there is only one toilet per 1,440 people, the study found.

As a result, 2.6 billion people -- one third of the world's population -- are at high risk for contracting a variety of diseases and infections associated with bad public sanitation: diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, trachoma and parasitic worms, the Times reports.


Companies May Face Claims Over PDA-Related Worker Injuries

U.S. companies could face liability or workers' compensation claims over injuries caused by personal digital assistants (PDAs), and need to develop policies on use of the handheld devices, employment lawyers say.

Lawyer Frank Morris of Washington, D.C., also said employees could argue that they're entitled to overtime if they're expected to use a company-provided PDA outside of normal work hours, USA Today reported.

"If you develop full-blown symptoms, it's pretty severe. Employers can train people how to correctly hold and use the handheld device to write brief e-mails," Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor at Cornell University, told USA Today.

Treatment for PDA-related injuries -- such as hand throbbing, tendonitis and swelling -- can involve surgery, physical therapy, or halting use of the devices, said Stacey Doyon, president-elect of the American Society of Hand Therapists.

"I've seen people use them for hours on end. You're really stressing the fingers. In the workplace, you should dock them into a regular-size keyboard and monitor," Doyon said.

PDAs are also called palmtops, hand-held computers, even pocket computers.


Scientists Create Artificial Stomach

An artificial stomach that can be fed real food and simulates human digestion has been created by a team at the Institute of Food Research in England.

The scientists say the device, made from special plastics and metals, will help them better understand digestion and may prove valuable in the development of healthier foods, BBC News reported.

This model mimics both the physical and chemical reactions that take place during digestion. Previous attempts to create artificial stomachs focused solely on the chemistry of digestion, said chief designer Dr. Martin Wickham.

This new device is even able to imitate the stomach contractions that help break up food and move it along the alimentary canal, BBC News reported.

"Our knowledge of what actually happens in the gut is still very rudimentary, but we hope that this model can help fill in some of the blanks," Wickham said.


Massage Good for Babies

Giving babies massages helps them sleep better, cry less, and lowers their levels of stress hormones, say researchers who reviewed nine studies involving more than 600 infants younger than 6 months of age.

The review authors, from the University of Warwick in England, also found that massages help create a closer bond between babies and their mothers, The Age of Australia reported.

Most of the studies included parents who'd been trained in the correct techniques for massaging their babies. One of the studies found that massage affected the release of melatonin, a hormone known to help sleep patterns. Another study suggested that massage could help form stronger bonds between women with postnatal depression and their infants, The Age reported.

The review appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library.


Doctors Planning Human Womb Transplant

Doctors at Manhattan's New York Downtown Hospital are planning to perform the world's first successful human womb transplant, the New York Post reported.

If this kind of surgery proves successful, it could help thousands of women who are infertile because they were born without a uterus.

The surgery was recently approved by the hospital's ethics board. Potential donors have been identified (a healthy uterus would be removed from a donor after she died) and the surgical team is interviewing women who want a donated uterus, the Post reported.

Recipients would have to take immunosuppressant drugs to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplanted womb.

The surgical team is led by gynecologist Dr. Giuseppe Del Priore, who has conducted a womb transplant on a Rhesus monkey.


Asian Diabetes Epidemic Could Overwhelm Health Services

A worsening diabetes epidemic in Asia could overwhelm health services in the region, says a study published in The Lancet medical journal.

In 2003, 194 million people in Asia had diabetes, but that figure could reach 333 million by 2025, said the study. It was published ahead of World Diabetes Day next Tuesday, Agence France Presse reported.

"Childhood obesity has increased substantially and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has now reached epidemic levels in Asia. The health consequences of this epidemic threaten to overwhelm health-care systems in the region," the study authors wrote.

"Urgent action is needed, and advocacy for lifestyle changes is the first step," they said.

The study said the diabetes epidemic in Asia is the result of increased consumption of energy-dense diets heavy in fat and sugar, along with a sedentary lifestyle, AFP reported.


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