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Health Highlights: Oct. 16, 2007

Drug Treatment for HIV a Challenge in Africa Acupuncture May Reduce Chances of IVF Obesity Strongest Risk Factor for Colorectal Cancer in Women: Study U.S. Bill Urges Research Into Postpartum Depression Daily Ejaculation May Boost Fertility of Men With Damaged Sperm CDC to Recommend Shingles Vaccine for Older Adults

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

Drug Treatment for HIV a Challenge in Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, more than one-third of HIV patients taking antiretroviral drugs die or discontinue treatment within two years of starting it, says a Boston University School of Public Health study published online in the journal Public Library of Science. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

The researchers examined antiretroviral treatment programs in 13 sub-Saharan countries and found that two years after the start of treatment, only 61.6 percent of patients were still taking the drugs, BBC News reported.

There were a number factors for this low rate of adherence. Some patients started taking the drugs too late and died within a few months of starting treatment. Others stopped because it was too difficult to obtain the drugs (for example, they lived too far away from the clinic that dispensed the medication). Also cost appeared to be a factor for some patients.

The study also found that retention rates varied widely across Africa. In Uganda, one program had a patient retention rate of 46 percent over two years, while another program in South Africa had an 85 percent retention rate, BBC News reported.


Acupuncture May Reduce Chances of IVF

Having acupuncture while undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) may lessen a woman's chances of getting pregnant, says a University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center study.

One group of 46 women had acupuncture for 25 minutes before and after embryo transfer, while the 43 women in the control group had no acupuncture. The study found that 43.8 percent of the women in the acupuncture group became pregnant, compared with 69.6 percent of those in the control group, the Daily Mail in the U.K. reported.

"The results of our study suggest that women having fertility treatment should not be advised to have acupuncture," said study author Dr. LaTasha Craig, a fertility expert at the University of Oklahoma.

These findings contradict previous studies that found acupuncture improved a woman's chances of getting pregnant while undergoing IVF, the Daily Mail reported.


Obesity Strongest Risk Factor for Colorectal Cancer in Women: Study

In women, obesity is the strongest risk factor for developing colorectal cancer, say researchers who examined data from 1,252 women who had colonoscopies. The research was led by scientists at Stony Brook University in New York.

The women were classified according to age, smoking history, family history of colorectal cancer, and body mass index (BMI). Obesity was defined as having a BMI of at least 30, CBC News reported.

Among women in the study who had colorectal cancer, 20 percent were obese and 14 percent were smokers. The findings were presented Monday at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.

"Given the increasing number of obese patients in the U.S., identifying them as high risk may have important screening implications," said Dr. Joseph Anderson, one of the study authors. "While obesity is positively associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, patients who lower their BMI could potentially reduce their risk of developing this disease in the future," CBC News quoted him as saying.


U.S. Bill Urges Research Into Postpartum Depression

A bill promoting more research into postpartum depression was passed Monday by the U.S. House and now goes to the Senate. The bill encourages federal health agencies to aggressively pursue ongoing studies into postpartum depression and to launch a national campaign to increase awareness of the condition, the Associated Press reported. The bill allocates $3 million to fund those objectives.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bobby Rush (D.-Ill.) said increased attention on postpartum depression would mean it would no longer "be dismissed as mere 'baby blues.'"

Postpartum depression affects up to one-fifth of new mothers and can lead to more serious mental health problems if left untreated, the AP reported. Rush said that 90 percent of postpartum cases are treatable, but only 15 percent of women with the condition receive treatment.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 382-3, also included a Republican-backed provision that approves a National Institutes of Mental Health study into the psychological effects experienced by women who have an abortion.


Daily Ejaculation May Boost Fertility of Men With Damaged Sperm

Men with damaged sperm should ejaculate every day in order to boost the likelihood of becoming fathers, according to a study by researchers at Sydney University in Australia.

It's common for men with fertility problems to abstain from sex for several days in order to increase sperm numbers. But the Sydney University team said this could result in poorer quality sperm in some men, BBC News reported.

The study included 42 men with abnormally-shaped sperm. The researchers compared samples of the men's sperm after three days' abstinence and samples collected when the men ejaculated daily for seven days. All but five of the men showed less sperm damage in the samples collected during daily ejaculation than in samples collected after abstinence.

The findings were presented at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

"This research shows that when you put people on a daily ejaculation regime, it reduces the figure for DNA damage," Dr. Allan Pacey, the secretary of the British Fertility Society, told BBC News.


CDC to Recommend Shingles Vaccine for Older Adults

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is expected to recommend that people 60 and older receive a vaccine that prevents shingles, according to CBC News. The vaccine, called Zostavax, is made by Merck and Co.

"The vaccine is safe and effective and anybody 60 and above should seek out the vaccine," CDC spokesman Curtis Allen told CBC News. He said CDC has been unofficially recommending the vaccine for people 60 and older since October 2006, when a panel of experts made the recommendation.

A formal CDC announcement will likely be made in about a month and will be published in the agency's journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC believes the vaccine is a safe and effective way of reducing the risk of shingles in older adults. "It can happen a number of times and it can be debilitating, particularly for older people," Allen told CBC News.

A shingles rash is painful and can be accompanied by headache, chills, fever and upset stomach. In rare cases, shingles can lead to hearing problems, blindness, pneumonia, brain inflammation or death.

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