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Health Highlights: Oct. 6, 2008

One-Quarter of Mammals Face Extinction: Report Physical Activity Improves Obese People's Quality of Life Chemotherapy Best Option for Testicular Cancer: Study Nobel Prize for AIDS, Cervical Cancer Virus Discoveries Law Means Equal Insurance Coverage of Mental, Physical Ills Scientists ID Genetic Variations Linked With Ulcerative Colitis

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

One-Quarter of Mammals Face Extinction: Report

About 25 percent of the Earth's mammal species are at risk of extinction, says a report compiled over five years by 1,700 experts in 130 countries. That figure could be as high as 36 percent because data on some species is so scarce, the Washington Post reported.

"Mammals are definitely declining, and the driving factors are habitat destruction and over-harvesting," said lead author Jan Schipper, the global mammals assessment coordinator for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The report covers all 5,487 wild mammal species identified since 1500 and is the most thorough tally of land and marine mammals since 1996. It found that land and marine mammals face different threats and that large mammals are more vulnerable than smaller ones, the Post reported.

Habitat loss and hunting are the major threats facing land mammals, while marine mammals are most threatened by accidental killing through fishing bycatch, ship strikes and pollution.

The study was published in the journal Science.


Physical Activity Improves Obese People's Quality of Life

Boosting physical activity by just one hour a week can help severely obese people improve their quality of life, according to a U.S. study that included more than 1,200 participants who were, on average, 100 pounds overweight.

"Things that many people take for granted like tying one's shoes, getting dressed, or simply moving around were easier for those who reported routine exercise," Martin Binks, research director at the Diet and Fitness Center at Duke University Medical Center, said in a prepared statement, United Press International reported.

"These folks weren't reporting high levels of activity yet they still felt better. This supports what we've been teaching for years -- no amount of exercise is too little to have an impact and it's beneficial no matter what you weigh," Binks noted.

The ability to complete basic daily tasks -- such as using the stairs, getting up from chairs, dressing and undressing -- and improvement of physical symptoms such as shortness of breath were among the quality of life benefits associated with being more active, UPI reported.

Binks said many obese people think "why bother," but these findings show the value of physical activity no matter how overweight. The study was presented at the Obesity Society's annual scientific meeting in Phoenix.


Chemotherapy Best Option for Testicular Cancer: Study

A single dose of chemotherapy is the best way to cure testicular cancer in many patients, according to a long-term British study that included 573 men who received one dose of carboplatin chemotherapy and 904 who received radiotherapy.

The Southampton University-led study found that both groups had similar rates of relapse. Lead researcher Dr. Ben Mead said the results were "reassuring" and that carboplatin chemotherapy is the better option, BBC News reported.

"Giving patients a carboplatin injection rather than radiotherapy is less unpleasant with fewer long-term risks," Mead said.

The study, presented Monday at a cancer conference in the United Kingdom, also found that just two of the 573 patients who received chemotherapy had cancer develop in the other testicle, compared with 15 of the 904 patients who received radiotherapy.

Currently, radiotherapy remains the standard of treatment in the United States and many other parts of the world. Mead said he hoped the study findings would change this, BBC News reported.


Nobel Prize for AIDS, Cervical Cancer Virus Discoveries

The 2008 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded Monday to three European researchers for their separate discoveries of the viruses that cause AIDS and cervical cancer.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier of France were honored for their discovery of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), while Harald zur Hausen of Germany was cited for identifying human papilloma viruses that cause cervical cancer, the Associated Press reported.

The two French scientists shared half of the $1.4 million prize while zur Hausen received the other half.

Identification of the viruses that cause AIDS and cervical cancer -- the second most common cancer in women -- have helped fight the deadly diseases, the AP reported.


Law Means Equal Insurance Coverage of Mental, Physical Ills

A new law that requires equal coverage of mental and physical illnesses means that more than one-third of Americans will soon receive improved insurance coverage for treatment of mental health and addiction problems such as depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders and drug and alcohol abuse.

The new regulation, included in the economic bailout bill signed Friday by President Bush, means that employers and group health plans will no longer be allowed to provide less coverage for mental health care than for physical ailments, The New York Times reported.

"A large majority of health plans currently have limits on hospital inpatient days and outpatient visits for mental health treatments, but not for other treatments. They will have to change their plan design," said Frank B. McArdle, a health policy expert at the benefits consulting firm Hewitt Associates.

The new law will improve coverage for 133 million people, including 82 million in employer-sponsored plans that aren't subject to state regulation, federal officials said. Businesses with 50 or fewer workers are exempt. For most plans, the effective date for the new law will be Jan. 1, 2010, the Times reported.

The Congressional Budget Office said the new law will boost premiums by an average of about two-tenths of 1 percent.


Scientists ID Genetic Variations Linked With Ulcerative Colitis

Genetic variations associated with ulcerative colitis have been identified by a team of German and British researchers, who said their findings may lead to improved treatments for the common inflammatory bowel condition, BBC News reported.

The scientists scanned the genomes of 1,000 people with ulcerative colitis and 800 healthy people and found that those with the condition had key variations in genetic regions directly alongside the gene that produces interleukin 10, a compound that regulates inflammation.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Genetics.

It was already known that people with first-degree relatives with ulcerative colitis have a higher risk of the condition, but the individual genes involved hadn't been identified, BBC News reported.

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