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Health Highlights: Nov. 7, 2006

Study Links Brain Chemical Imbalance and Depression Male Circumcision Reduces STD Risk Childhood Ear Infections Caused by Both Bacteria and Viruses Firefighting Foam OK to Kill Chickens in Bird-Flu Outbreak: USDA Duct Tape Not Effective Wart Treatment: Study Australia May Allow Cloning Human Embryos for Stem Cells

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

Study Links Brain Chemical Imbalance and Depression

Canadian researchers say they've discovered important new information about the cause of brain chemical imbalances associated with depression. Their research could lead to new, more effective drugs to treat depression.

The scientists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto found that depressed people had 34 percent higher-than-normal levels of a protein called monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) in the brain, the Toronto Star reported.

MAO-A breaks down neurotransmitters called monoamines (such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine) that play a critical role in governing emotions. It was already known that people with depression have significantly lower monoamine levels than normal. This study points to a likely cause, the Star reported.

"This is a very crisp, clean explanation," said study lead author Dr. Jeffrey Meyer, head of neurochemical imaging at CAMH. "This is an explanation that makes sense and that fits with the literature."

Creating drugs that target MAO-A could improve treatment of depression, he said.

The study was published Tuesday in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.


Male Circumcision Reduces STD Risk

Circumcised males are much less likely to catch or spread sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), New Zealand researchers say.

Their study included 356 uncircumcised males and 154 circumcised males who filled out a questionnaire about the presence of STDs when they were between 18 and 25 years old, reported China's Xinhua news agency.

Compared to the circumcised men, the uncircumcised men had a 2.66-fold increased risk of STD infection, the study found. This elevated risk remained largely unchanged even after the researchers accounted for other risk factors, such as unprotected sex and number of sexual partners.

The study appears in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers said their findings suggest that routine neonatal circumcision offers "substantial benefits," Xinhua reported.

"The public health issues raised by these findings clearly involve weighing the longer-term benefits of routine neonatal circumcision in terms of reducing the risks of infection within the population, against the perceived costs of the procedure," the study authors wrote.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that current evidence is insufficient to support routine neonatal circumcision, Xinhua reported.


Childhood Ear Infections Caused by Both Bacteria and Viruses

While they're generally considered to be caused by bacteria, childhood ear infections are often caused by both viruses and bacteria -- and that can lead to treatment complications, says a Finnish study.

Researchers analyzed samples from 79 children with acute otitis media and found that bacteria was present in 92 percent of the cases, viruses in 70 percent, and both bacteria and viruses in 66 percent, CBC News reported.

The researchers said the results were logical since acute otitis media is almost always associated with viral respiratory infection. The study appears in the Dec. 15 issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Antibiotics are the current standard treatment for ear infections. This finding suggests that antibiotics are at best only partially effective in most cases, CBC News reported.

The researchers said the good news is that their findings suggest that many children will recover from ear infections on their own without antibiotic treatment.


Firefighting Foam OK to Kill Chickens in Bird-Flu Outbreak: USDA

The U.S. government will allow the use of water-based firefighting foam to kill chickens if there's a bird flu outbreak in commercial poultry, but animal rights advocates oppose the use of the foam because it suffocates the chickens.

Traditionally, carbon dioxide has been used to quickly kill large numbers of poultry. However, this method has drawbacks, the Associated Press reported.

Gassing requires more workers, who are exposed to potentially infected birds. It can also be difficult to maintain a high enough concentration of carbon dioxide to kill the birds, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The USDA decided that foam can be used to suffocate floor-reared flocks as an alternative to killing them with carbon dioxide.

The use of foam to kill chickens quickly was tested by animal health officials in North Carolina and Delaware, the AP reported.


Duct Tape Not Effective Wart Treatment: Study

If you have warts, don't bother reaching for the duct tape.

A new Dutch study discounts the popular notion that duct tape is a quick and easy way to remove warts. Researchers at Maastricht University found that duct tape does not work any better than doing nothing to treat warts in schoolchildren, reported China's Xinhua news agency.

The findings appear in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Warts can be frozen off (cryotherapy) or burned off using a special formulation of salicylic acid. In 2002, U.S. researchers published a study that said duct tape worked better than cryotherapy in removing warts. This new study disputes that finding.

The Dutch researchers studied 103 children, ages 4 to 12, and found that duct tape worked only slightly better than a corn pad, which was used as a placebo in the study, Xinhua reported.

"After 6 weeks, the warts of eight children (16 percent) in the duct tape group and the warts of three children (6 percent) in the placebo group had disappeared," the study authors wrote.

They said they were disappointed by their findings.

"Considering the serious discomfort of cryotherapy and the awkwardness of applying salicylic acid for a long time, simply applying tape would be a cheap and helpful alternative, especially in children," the researchers noted.


Australia May Allow Cloning Human Embryos for Stem Cells

The Australian Senate voted Tuesday in favor of a bill to abolish the country's ban on cloning human embryos for stem cell research. The bill still has to be passed by the House of Representatives before it becomes law.

The Senate voted 34-32 in favor of the bill, which would ease restrictions on stem cell research and permit therapeutic cloning of embryos for medical research, the Associated Press reported.

Under the bill, all cloned embryos would have to be destroyed within 14 days and no cloned embryos could be implanted in women.

The bill also includes a 15-year prison sentence for people who disregard measures designed to prevent abuse of embryonic cloning, and prohibits human-animal hybrid embryos, the AP reported.

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