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Health Highlights: Nov. 25, 2009

Many Type 2 Diabetes Patients Morbidly Obese: U.S. Study Injection Drug Users at High Risk for HIV Santa Volunteers Seek Swine Flu Shots Coma Patient Was Lonely and Frustrated U.S. Nursing Homes Face Seasonal Flu Vaccine Shortage

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

Many Type 2 Diabetes Patients Morbidly Obese: U.S. Study

Twenty percent of Americans with type 2 diabetes are more than 100 pounds overweight (morbidly obese), according to a Loyola University Health System study.

"The rate of morbid obesity among people with diabetes is increasing at a very alarming rate, and this has substantial public health implications," lead author Dr. Holly Kramer said in a news release, United Press International reported.

An analysis of national data showed that 62.4 percent of U.S. adults with type 2 diabetes are obese and 20.7 are morbidly obese, or have a body mass index of more than 40.

Kramer and colleagues also found that morbid obesity among type 2 diabetes patients increased 141 percent from 1976 to 1980 and 2005 to 2006, UPI reported.

The study appears online in the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications.

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Injection Drug Users at High Risk for HIV

Injection drug users continue to account for a large proportion of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the United States, says a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Researchers analyzed data collected in 34 states between 2004 and 2007 and found that injection drug users (IDUs) accounted for 13 percent of all new HIV diagnoses.

Among the injection drug users diagnosed with HIV, most were male (62 percent), black (58 percent) and lived in an urban area (75 percent). One-third were people ages 33 to 44.

Black IDUs had a 12-fold higher HIV diagnosis rate than whites (11 per 100,000 population vs. 0.9/100,000), while the rate for Hispanic IDUs was 4.9/100,000.

The CDC researchers called for comprehensive HIV prevention programs for injection drug users, including HIV testing, substance abuse treatment and access to sterile syringes, condoms and other health services.

The study appears in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC.

Another study in the same issue found that the number of acute HIV infection (AHI) cases identified in New York has increased since 2008, when the city started routine RNA screening for AHI among patients with negative rapid HIV test results at four sexually transmitted disease clinics.

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Santa Volunteers Seek Swine Flu Shots

A group of volunteer Santas wants the same swine flu vaccination priority as health care workers and teachers.

The 200 members of "Santa America" visit sick and traumatized children during the holiday season and need to be protected against kids who may be carrying the H1N1 virus, group leader Ernest Berger told National Public Radio, according to Agence France Presse.

The group's Web site lists precautions that the volunteer Santas can take.

"As wonderful as it is, be cautious of children burying their faces in your beard for a hug. If this happens, use sanitizer in your beard," says the Web site, AFP reported.

Among the other instructions:

  • "Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, or mouth. Do not touch children's faces. If you do, immediately sanitize your hands."
  • "Santa should be taking needed vitamins and other doctor approved boosters to keep his immune system at peak performance."

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Coma Patient Was Lonely and Frustrated

A Belgian man who was conscious during the 23 years he appeared to be in a coma says he felt lonely and frustrated during those decades.

Rom Houben typed out the message with the help of a speech therapist who moved his finger letter by letter along a touch-screen keyboard, the Associated Press reported.

Houben was diagnosed as being in a vegetative state after an auto accident in the 1980s. Recently, an expert using a specialized type of brain scan determined that Houben was conscious but paralyzed.

"It was especially frustrating when my family needed me. I could not share in their sorrow. We could not give each other support," Houben wrote during an interview with AP Television News at the 't Weyerke institute in eastern Belgium. "Just imagine. You hear, see, feel and think but no one can see that. You undergo things. You cannot participate in life."

Speech therapist Linda Wouters said Houben uses gentle pressure to guide her hand to place his finger on the correct letters on the keyboard.

But one expert who saw a video of Houben's hand being moved on the keyboard expressed doubts.

"That's called 'facilitated communication,'" Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told the AP. "That is ouija board stuff. It's been discredited time and time again. When people look at it, it's usually the person doing the pointing who's doing the messages, not the person they claim they are helping."

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U.S. Nursing Homes Face Seasonal Flu Vaccine Shortage

In an effort to remedy a shortage of seasonal flu vaccine in nursing homes, U.S. health officials are trying to shift vaccine supplies away from chain pharmacies and supermarkets.

Seniors are highly vulnerable to seasonal flu, and a shortage of flu shots could lead to a wave of deaths in nursing homes this winter, The New York Times reported.

Exact figures aren't available, but the vaccine shortage in nursing homes is "a very big problem," said Janice Zalen, director of special programs for the American Health Care Association, which represents 11,000 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

"It's a problem, and it's all over the country," agreed Dr. Carol Friedman, head of adult immunization at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Times reported.

People 65 and older account for more than 90 percent of the 36,000 Americans who die of seasonal flu in an average year. Flu outbreaks in nursing homes are particularly deadly.

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