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Health Highlights: Oct. 7, 2009

Web Site Evaluates Swine Flu Severity Convertibles Pose Serious Hearing Threat Exercise Helps RA Patients Less Opposition to U.S. Health Care Reform Plans: Poll

Web Site Evaluates Swine Flu Severity

An interactive Web site designed to help people decide if their case of swine flu is serious enough to require a visit to the doctor was unveiled Wednesday.

The site uses a self-assessment tool from Emory University in Atlanta. That tool is based on key risk factors for bad flu outcome determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Associated Press reported.

The tool "reflects the best available science," Emory emergency specialist Dr. Arthur Kellerman told the AP.

Users of the online assessment type in their age (it's only for those over 12) and answer questions about their underlying health and symptoms, such as fever. The program may advise rest and fluids, a non-emergency call to your doctor, or immediate medical attention.

The site was created by Microsoft Corp. The CDC (www.flu.gov) also offers a list of flu signs that indicate a person should seek emergency care.

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Convertibles Pose Serious Hearing Threat

Riding in a convertible can seriously damage your hearing, researchers warn.

A study found that noise levels with the top down reach 88 to 90 decibels when the car is traveling at 50, 60 and 70 miles an hour, BBC News reported. Noise louder than 85 decibels poses a risk of permanent hearing damage.

The findings were published in the journal Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery and discussed at a U.S. meeting of ear, nose and throat experts.

Wind, road, engine and traffic noise levels in a convertible can be nearly as loud as the sound of a pneumatic drill, researchers say. They recommend that drivers and passengers wear some form of hearing protection, as motorcyclists do.

"Regular exposure to noise levels of 88-90 decibels when driving a convertible for several hours a day can lead to permanent hearing loss over time," Dr Mark Downs, of England's Royal National Institute for Deaf People, told BBC News. "By winding up the windows or wearing basic ear protection, such as earplugs, drivers of convertibles can still enjoy driving whilst protecting their hearing."

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Exercise Helps RA Patients

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can benefit from exercise programs meant to improve strength and stamina, say Dutch researchers who reviewed eight previous studies involving 575 RA patients.

Based on their findings, "we would recommend aerobic capacity training combined with muscle strength training as routine practice for RA patients," lead researcher Emalie Hurkmans, of the Leiden University Medical Center, said in a news release, United Press International reported.

"But we need more research to establish the recommended length and type of exercise programs, whether patients need to be supervised and if these programs are cost effective," Hurkmans added.

The review appears in the Cochrane Library.

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Less Opposition to U.S. Health Care Reform Plans: Poll

Opposition to President Barack Obama's health care reforms has decreased significantly in the past few weeks, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The poll found a 40-40 split in opposition or support for the health care overhaul, compared with 49 percent opposition and 34 percent support in early September. Opposition among older Americans dropped 16 percentage points, from 59 percent to 43 percent.

The poll also found that support among Democrats increased from 57 percent to 68 percent, while opposition from independents decreased from 51 percent to 36 percent. Four out of five Republicans oppose the health care reform plans.

"It's very significant that there's an upturn in support for the plans because after August there was a sense that the whole effort was beginning to decline and would not come back in terms of public support," Robert Blendon, a Harvard professor who tracks public opinion on health care, told the AP.

"Even with this, the country is still divided over whether or not moving ahead is the right thing to do," he added.

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