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Health Highlights: Nov. 24, 2006

Unsafe Abortions Take Heavy Toll in Developing World Obesity Damages Children's Feet: Studies U.S. EPA to Regulate Germ-Killing Nanotechnology Surgery a Success for Baby with External Heart U.S. Judge Rules Out Class Action for Vioxx Claims New Prostate Cancer Test Available in Europe

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

Unsafe Abortions Take Heavy Toll in Developing World

A team from Guttmacher Institute in New York has found that 68,000 women in developing countries die each year during unsafe abortions, and up to 5 million women wind up in the hospital with infections and other complications from botched procedures.

The study, which was funded by the pro-abortion Hewlett Foundation and published in the Nov. 24 issue of The Lancet, looked at data from 13 countries. The final tally included both "back-street" pregnancy terminations and legal abortions.

"The most effective way of eliminating this highly preventable cause of maternal illness and death would be to make safe and legal abortion services available and accessible," lead researcher Dr. Susheela Singh told the BBC. "A second, more immediately achievable, goal is to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place through improved contraception use."

However, Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the findings were guesses at best.

"The burden of the study is clearly to promote the killing of more unborn babies in poorer countries, regardless of the fact that women do not want abortions,: Tully told the BBC.

In the study, the highest annual rate of hospital admissions was in Uganda, with 16.4 per 1,000 women, while the lowest hospitalization rate was in Bangladesh, with 2.8 per 1,000 women. The study noted that complications from abortion procedures in developed countries was rare, while the average range in developing countries was 5 to 7 per 1,000 women.


Obesity Damages Children's Feet: Studies

Two British studies find that obesity causes children's feet to grow both longer and wider, affecting their walking ability, the BBC reported Thursday.

In one study, podiatrists examined the feet of 200 Scottish children aged 9 to 12. Fifty-four were obese, 15 were severely obese, and another 30 were overweight. The researchers found that severely obese kids had feet that were up to 15 millimeters wider and 18 millimeters longer than normal weight children.

A second study, this time of 44 youngsters aged 9 to 11 -- half of whom were obese -- found that the heavier kids spent more time balancing on two feet when walking and less time on one foot compared to normal-weight kids. They also walked slower than normal-weight children.

"The findings are interesting because previous research suggested that foot problems limit obese children's ability to take part in physical activity -- so encouraging them to carry out exercise might not be the best thing," Dr. Stewart Morrison, a lecturer at the University of East London, told the BBC.

Both studies were presented at a meeting of the Society of Podiatrists and Chiropodists.


U.S. EPA to Regulate Germ-Killing Nanotechnology

Extremely small particles of silver used in certain products to kill germs are pesticides, and as such will be regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agency announced Wednesday.

Environmentalists are concerned that these "nanotechnology" particles -- which measure one-millionth the head of a pin -- might be released into the environment and kill helpful bacteria or aquatic organisms when products are discarded.

According to the Associated Press, germ-killing nanosilver is already an ingredient in over 200 products marketed to consumers, including shoe liners, food-storage containers, air fresheners, washing machines and other products.

The EPA announcement is a reversal of an agency decision last year that washing machines containing nanosilver were not covered by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act because they were devices.

However, the agency reviewed the evidence and has now decided "that the release of silver ions in the washing machines is a pesticide, because it is a substance released into the laundry for the purpose of killing pests," EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood told the AP.


Surgery a Success for Baby with External Heart

A nearly month-old boy born with his heart lying outside his chest underwent successful surgery in Miami on Wednesday, with doctors easing the organ inside his body, the Associated Press reported.

Naseem Hasni was born Oct. 31 with a condition called ectopia cordis, where the heart develops on the outside of the chest. The heart has been beating normally and its aorta grew under the skin to deliver blood to the body.

In the six-hour operation, surgeons at Holtz Children's Hospital wrapped the boy's heart in Gore-Tex fabric, then added layer of his own skin to replicate the missing pericardium, the sac that normally develops around the heart. They then eased the heart within the boy's chest.

Naseem remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday, doctors said. "He's not going to be able to play certain kinds of sports where a blow to the sternum to you and me wouldn't be a problem, but in him it would be. So I think some competitive sports are going to be out," cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Eliot Rosenkranz told the AP. "But he's going to be able to participate in other sorts of activities."

Ectopia cordis occurs in up to 7.9 per 1 million live births and has a post-surgery survival rate of 50 percent, the boy's doctors said.


U.S. Judge Rules Out Class Action for Vioxx Claims

A U.S. judge ruled Wednesday that thousands of federal lawsuits involving Merck and Co.'s painkiller Vioxx cannot be grouped into a single national class action, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon rejected a proposal by plaintiffs' lawyers to try all the cases under the laws in New Jersey, where drug company Merck has its headquarters.

Fallon said that it makes more sense to apply the law of each plaintiff's home state to the claims, the AP reported.

He did not rule on the issue of separate class-action lawsuits for each state and the District of Columbia.

Fallon has been assigned to handle all pretrial matters for all federal lawsuits involving Vioxx, the AP reported.


New Prostate Cancer Test Available in Europe

A new prostate cancer test that looks for high levels of the biomarker PCA3 mRNA in urine has been launched in the European Union. The test has not been approved in the United States.

Research has shown that, in more than 95 percent of prostate cancer cases, PCA3 is 60- to 100-fold over-expressed in prostate cancer cells.

Preliminary data indicate the PCA3 test may be more specific to prostate cancer than the traditional serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, which means the PCA3 test would be less likely to give false positive results.

"Only 25 to 30 percent of men who have a biopsy due to elevated PSA levels actually have prostate cancer; therefore, the majority of elevated PSA tests are the result of noncancerous conditions," Dr. Mark Emberton, senior lecturer in oncological urology at University College Hospital in London, said in a prepared statement.

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