Health Highlights: Sept. 10, 2007

A Suicide Occurs Every 30 Seconds: WHO Asymptomatic Patients Can Spread C. difficile 3D Face Scan Helps Detect Genetic Disorders FDA Reviews Nutritional Symbols on Food Packaging Brain-Injured Soldiers Challenge U.S. Medical System Brains of Liberals and Conservative Differ: Study

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

A Suicide Occurs Every 30 Seconds: WHO

Each day around the world, almost 3,000 people commit suicide, which works out to about one suicide every 30 seconds, says a World Health Organization report released Monday to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day.

The report also said that for every person who commits suicide, there are at least 20 more people who try to kill themselves, Agence France-Presse reported.

The global suicide rate has risen 60 percent over the last 50 years. Suicide is now among the top three causes of death among people ages 15 to 34. However, most suicide victims are 60 and older, the WHO said.

The agency said it's striving "to ensure that suicide is no longer seen as a taboo or an acceptable result of personal or social crises, but as a health condition influenced by psycho-social, cultural and environmental risk factors," AFP reported.


Asymptomatic Patients Can Spread C. difficile

People who have Clostridium difficile spores in the gastrointestinal tract but don't show any signs of illness -- such as diarrhea -- may help spread the common infection in hospitals and long-term care facilities, a U.S. study finds.

Researchers evaluated 73 patients at the Louis Stokes Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. They discovered that the bacteria was nearly as likely to be found on the skin or around the bedside of asymptomatic patients with C. difficile as on patients sick with C. difficile diarrhea, the Canadian Press reported.

The findings contradict previous studies that concluded that asymptomatic C. difficile carriers don't contribute to the spread of the bacteria in health care settings. The new study will be published in the Oct. 15 issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

"The patients we should worry the most about are the patients who are having diarrhea," said senior author Dr. Curtis Donskey, director of infection control at Louis Stokes, and a researcher at Case Western Reserve University. "But there are a lot of patients in hospitals and nursing homes who are carrying the organism. And even though they're not having diarrhea, they're often incontinent or very sick and often have kind of reduced standards of hygiene."


3D Face Scan Helps Detect Genetic Disorders

3D face scans can help identify children with rare genetic disorders, according to British researchers who developed software that compares a person's face with a catalogue of images of people with known genetic conditions, BBC News reported.

There are more than 700 genetic conditions that can affect facial traits. However, some of these conditions are rare, and because facial differences can be extremely subtle, initial diagnosis are sometimes difficult.

Professor Peter Hammond, of the University College London Institute for Child Health, collected 3D images of children with known genetic disorders. The software uses these images to produce the "average face" of a child with a genetic disorder, BBC News reported

"When we have a child with an unknown condition, we take a 3D picture of their face and we have developed techniques that allow us to compare their face with these averages," Hammond said.

Details about the technique, which has a 90 percent success rate, were presented at the BA Festival in York, BBC News reported.


FDA Reviews Nutritional Symbols on Food Packaging

The usefulness of easy-to-understand symbols on the front of food packaging to quickly convey nutritional information is being assessed at a two-day U.S. Food and Drug Administration hearing that began Monday.

The agency will gather opinions from medical experts, watchdog organizations, food companies and trade groups, the Associated Press reported. The FDA is trying to determine whether this approach can provide consumers with clear, concise nutritional information instead of having to scan small print information usually located on the back of food boxes, cans or bags.

The agency wants to collect information on how consumers respond to such symbols and whether the symbols promote healthier eating habits. Any FDA action on the matter is likely years away, however.

Some U.S. food companies already use symbols to indicate the nutritional value of their products. One New England supermarket chain uses a zero to three-star system to rate more than 25,000 food items on its shelves, the AP reported. In England, some food companies use a "traffic light" symbol to rank foods based on levels of fat, salt and sugar.


Brain-Injured Soldiers Challenge U.S. Medical System

The thousands of American troops with blast-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) are proving a challenge for the U.S. medical system, according to the Associated Press.

Blast-related brain injuries are markedly different from brain injuries caused by falls and car crashes.

"I've been in the field for 20-plus years dealing with TBI. I have a very experienced staff. And they're saying to me, 'We're seeing things we've never seen before,'" Sandy Schneider, director of Vanderbilt University's brain injury rehabilitation program, told the AP.

Doctors are learning that symptoms of blast-related TBI often overlap with post-traumatic stress disorder and both conditions must be treated.

The exact number of U.S. troops with blast-related TBI isn't known, but the numbers are straining the resources of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the AP reported.

About one-fifth of troops with mild TBI, and nearly all of those with moderate or severe TBI, will have prolonged or lifelong symptoms requiring continuing care, according to the U.S. military.


Brains of Liberals and Conservative Differ: Study

When confronted with difficult choices, the brains of liberals and conservatives respond differently, says a New York University study in the current issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The study included 43 people who did a series of computer tests designed to evaluate their responses to cues to deviate from a well-established routine, Agence France-Presse reported.

While the participants did the computer tests, the researchers scanned activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is strongly linked with the self-regulatory process of conflict monitoring.

The study found that the brains of participants who described themselves as liberals showed "significantly greater conflict-related neural activity" when they were prompted to deviate from normal routine. Conservatives showed less flexibility and refused to break from normal routine "despite signals that this ... should be changed," the researchers said.

The findings suggest that some people's political preferences may be hard-wired, AFP reported.

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