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Health Highlights: Nov. 17, 2008

Burlington, Vt. 'Healthiest' U.S. City Scientists Working on Skin Cancer Vaccine FDA to Open Offices in China Liver Cells Damaged by Drinking Water Levels of Arsenic

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

Burlington, Vt. 'Healthiest' U.S. City

The healthiest city in the United States is Burlington, Vt., while the unhealthiest is Huntington, W. Va., according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The report found that Burlington (population 40,000) had the highest proportion of people (92 percent) who said they're in good or great health. Vermont's largest city is also among the best in exercise and among the lowest in obesity, diabetes and other measures of poor health, the Associated Press reported.

Census Bureau data show that the average age in Burlington is 37, compared to 40 in Huntington. Eight percent of Burlington residents live at the federal poverty level, compared to 19 percent in Huntington. Nearly 40 percent of Burlington area residents have at least a college degree, compared to 15 percent in the Huntington area, the CDC said.

Hiking, cycling, skiing and other types of physical activity are common in Burlington, which also offers a good selection of healthy foods in its restaurants and grocery stores, the AP reported.

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Scientists Working on Skin Cancer Vaccine

Successful tests in animals suggest that a vaccine to protect humans against skin cancer may be available within five to 10 years, says an Australian scientist who helped develop the widely used vaccine for cervical cancer, the Telegraph newspaper in Great Britain reported.

The skin cancer vaccine for children ages 10 to 12 would protect against squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, but would not protect against the more deadly melanoma, said Professor Ian Frazer of the University of Queensland.

Like the cervical cancer vaccine, the skin cancer vaccine targets papillomavirus, which can trigger the development of cancer cells. The common infection is believed to cause at least 5 percent of all cancers, the Telegraph reported.

Frazer presented his findings from the animal tests to the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress.

"We now want to test vaccines based on this knowledge in clinical trials, to find out whether we can develop vaccines that could be used to treat people at risk of skin cancer," Frazer said.

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FDA to Open Offices in China

In an effort to improve the safety of imports destined for the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will open three offices in China this week. They are the first FDA offices outside of the United States, the Associated Press reported.

"Establishing a permanent FDA presence in China will greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness of our regulatory cooperation and our efforts to protect consumers in both countries," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a news release.

Thirteen FDA staffers will be assigned to the offices in China, but Leavitt didn't specify what their duties would be, the AP reported. The offices will be located in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Leavitt added he'll now focus on opening FDA offices in India and Central America.

The FDA had been under increasing pressure to open offices in China because of safety issues involving a wide range of products, including food and the blood thinner heparin.

In related news, the European Union and China agreed Monday to cooperate better on consumer safety, the AP reported.

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Liver Cells Damaged by Drinking Water Levels of Arsenic

After being exposed to levels of arsenic that meet U.S. standards for drinking water, mice developed problems with liver cells that remove waste from the blood and enable nutrients to regulate metabolism.

The mice received 10 to 100 parts per billion of arsenic over a two-week period. This impaired the ability of specialized cells in the liver (sinusoidal endothelial cells) to remove damaged proteins from the blood. The cells also lost their characteristic pores, which severely limited their ability to exchange nutrients and waste, United Press International reported.

The University of Pittsburgh study was published online and in the Dec. 1 print issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The current U.S. arsenic standard for drinking water is 10 parts per billion for sources that serve more than 20 people, UPI reported.

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