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Health Highlights: Oct. 14, 2008

Economic Turmoil May Affect HIV Vaccine Research Gas Stove Emissions Aggravate Children's Asthma China Recalls All Milk Made Before Sept. 14 States Ask Baby Bottle Makers to Halt Use of Bisphenol A WHO Identifies Serious Global Healthcare Inequities Personal Music Players Pose Hearing Threat

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

Economic Turmoil May Affect HIV Vaccine Research

Worldwide economic problems could lead to reduced AIDS research funding and add to the many difficulties hampering efforts to develop an HIV vaccine, according to leading scientists attending the international AIDS vaccine conference in Cape Town, South Africa. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

The U.S. government has cut its spending on AIDS research, and "the increases in the budget that we hoped for will not be forthcoming," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Associated Press.

He and others also said the global financial turmoil may cause cutbacks in AIDS research funding from philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The new money worries heighten the sense of gloom caused by recent HIV vaccine research failures. For example, a recent study showed that a potential vaccine doesn't prevent infection and may actually increase the risk of contracting HIV, the AP reported.

It's impossible to predict whether an effective HIV vaccine will ever be developed, Fauci said.

"Will there be a guarantee that we will get a vaccine in the classical sense? Realistically, you can't say that. But that doesn't mean we are going to give up trying," Fauci told the AP.

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Gas Stove Emissions Aggravate Children's Asthma

High indoor levels of emissions from unvented gas stoves can aggravate asthma among inner-city children, says a Johns Hopkins University study that included 150 Baltimore children, ages 2 to 6 years.

The researchers measured nitrogen dioxide levels in the children's homes and compared the intensity of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath among the youngsters, United Press International reported.

Asthma flare-ups were directly associated with high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the homes. Each 20-point increase in nitrogen dioxide levels led to 10 percent more days of cough and 15 percent more days with limited speech due to wheezing, the researchers found.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

"Because using stoves as heat sources is a hallmark of urban poverty, our study tellingly points to how profound and direct the effects of purely social and environmental factors can be on a child's health," lead researcher Dr. Nadia Hansel said in a news release, UPI reported.

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China Recalls All Milk Made Before Sept. 14

All liquid and powdered milk made in China before Sept. 14 has been ordered removed from shelves and tested for the chemical melamine. It's the first time since the tainted dairy scandal erupted last month that the government has ordered a blanket recall of products.

"Regardless of the brand or the batch, they must be taken off shelves, their sale must be stopped," the official news agency Xinhua said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

The diary products will only be allowed back on store shelves after they pass quality tests and are labeled as safe, said Xihhua, which did not provide any more details or explain why the recall was taking place now.

Until this week, only some types of milk powder and milk had been recalled in mainland China, the AP reported. A Sept. 16 recall was issued for 69 batches of milk powder made by 22 companies and a Sept. 19 recall was issued for liquid milk.

The reason Sept. 14 was chosen as the cut-off date for the new blanket recall isn't clear, but a nationwide inspection of dairy-producing facilities that focused on milk-collecting centers was launched Sept. 15 by Chinese officials, the AP reported.

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States Ask Baby Bottle Makers to Halt Use of Bisphenol A

Three states have asked 11 companies that make baby bottles and baby formula containers to stop using the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in their products because the chemical is potentially harmful to infants.

In letters sent Friday to the companies, the attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey cited studies that indicate BPA can attach to food in heated containers, the Associated Press reported.

"The preventable release of a toxic chemical directly into the food we eat is unconscionable and intolerable," wrote Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

The letters were sent to baby bottle makers Avent America Inc., Disney First Years, Gerber, Handicraft Co., Playtex Products Inc. and Evenflo Co., and formula makers Abbott, Mead Johnson, PBM Products, Nature's One and Wyeth, the AP reported. Some companies have already said they'd make BPA-free baby bottles.

A preliminary study last month said there may be a link between BPA and risks of heart disease and diabetes. Blumenthal criticized the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for not taking action on BPA.

"Unfortunately, (the FDA) has been asleep at the switch, in fact resistant to respecting the scientific evidence that grave harm can result in the use of this product," said Blumenthal, the AP reported.

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WHO Identifies Serious Global Healthcare Inequities

There can be as much as a 40-year difference in life expectancy between people in the poorest and richest countries, says a World Health Organization report that examined primary health-care systems worldwide.

The report identified major inequalities in health outcomes, access to care and what people have to pay for care, and noted these differences are greater than they were 30 years ago, said BBC News.

Among the findings:

  • Of the estimated 136 million women who will give birth this year, about 58 million will receive no medical assistance during and after childbirth -- potentially putting their lives in danger.
  • Average annual government spending on health varies from as little as $20 per person to well over $6,000 per person.
  • For 5.6 billion people in low and middle-income countries, out-of-pocket payments account for more than half of all health care spending, a situation that pushes many people below the poverty line.

The report said action must be taken to improve primary health care and address inequities, BBC News said. Doing nothing isn't an option, warned WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

"A world that is greatly out of balance in matters of health is neither stable nor secure," Chan said.

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Personal Music Players Pose Hearing Threat

Personal music players could cause permanent hearing loss for as many as 10 million of the estimated 50 million to 100 million Europeans who use them, according to experts who conducted a study for the European Union.

The specialists on the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks concluded that people who listen to personal music players at high volume for five hours a week are exposed to more noise than employees in the noisiest factories or workplaces. Maximum volume on some personal music players can be as loud as an airplane taking off nearby, The New York Times reported.

People who listen at high volumes for more than an hour a day each week risk permanent hearing loss after five years, the study said.

"Regularly listening to personal music players at high-volume settings when young often has no immediate effect on hearing, but is likely to result in hearing loss later in life," wrote the authors of the study, which was published Monday, the Times reported.

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