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Health Highlights: April 26, 2004

Diabetes Will Become a Global Health Crisis: Report Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea on the Rise China IDs 3rd Generation of Victims in New SARS Outbreak Study: Cold Virus Appears to Survive for Months National Zoo Closes Gorilla Exhibit After TB Scare

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

Diabetes Will Become a Global Health Crisis: Report

Diabetes, already rising at epidemic-like rates in the United States, is projected to become a global health threat in the coming decades. An estimated 366 million people -- 4.4 percent of the world's population -- will have the blood sugar disease by 2030. That compares to 171 million people -- or 2.8 percent of the global population -- in 2000.

The increase will be due primarily to demographic changes, including a rise in the number of people over age 65, according to USA Today.

India, China and the United States will have the greatest number of diabetics, said the newspaper, citing a study in the May issue of Diabetes Care.

In the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had predicted 29 million diagnosed cases of diabetes by 2050. But the new study calls for a faster rise -- to 30.3 million -- by 2030, the newspaper reported.

"The human and economic costs of this epidemic are enormous," the researchers said, noting that diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and other health problems. "A concerted, global initiative is required to address the diabetes epidemic."

Maintaining a healthy weight, eating properly, and getting plenty of exercise are proven ways to help prevent diabetes in many people.

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Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea on the Rise

U.S. health officials will announce this week that common antibiotics used to treat gonorrhea are no longer effective and other drugs should be used, according to the Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will announce the new treatment guidelines on Thursday, but spokeswoman Jessica Frickey declined to provide additional details, the news service said.

The class of antibiotics commonly used to treat gonorrhea, including ciprofloxacin ("Cipro"), is no longer effective, said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, deputy health officer and director of STD Prevention and Control Services for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

In its place, the CDC will recommend use of the antibiotic ceftriaxone, which is less convenient because it is administered through shots rather than pills, the APsaid.

Cipro-resistant cases of gonorrhea have been growing in Hawaii and California in recent years. But the resistant gonorrhea has apparently moved eastward, with cases identified among men in Seattle, Chicago, New York City and other areas in recent months. The finding is prompting the CDC to review its national recommendations for gonorrhea treatment, said Dr. H. Hunter Handsfield, director of the STD Control Program for Public Health-Seattle and King County.

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China IDs 3rd Generation of Victims in New SARS Outbreak

China has identified a new wave of cases in its current SARS outbreak that represent the third generation of incidents since a lab worker became infected last month, The New York Times reported Monday.

The latest outbreak is thought to have begun when a 26-year-old medical student, identified only by the last name Song, became infected while working in the country's main SARS lab in Beijing. She has recovered, but her mother -- representing part of the 2nd generation of infections -- has since died.

A third generation had occurred before the outbreak was even identified, the newspaper reported. Two confirmed cases of SARS and six more suspected ones announced by the Beijing government over the past week are all apparently linked to the lab worker's original infection. Nearly 500 people who may have come in contact with the latest victims are being quarantined in Beijing and in the province of Anhui, the Associated Press reported.

Despite the speed at which the contagious virus appeared to be spreading, a spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized the threat to public health as "small and limited," the Times reported. The spokesman said the WHO is investigating how the original lab worker became infected, noting that clearly there were "some sort of errors" in laboratory security, the AP reported.

China's leaders are said to be worried over the outbreak widening during the upcoming May Day vacation weekend, when huge amounts of urban travelers typically take a holiday in the suburbs, the wire service said. The virus forced officials to cancel many May Day activities in 2003.

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Study: Cold Virus Appears to Survive for Months

A type of cold virus typically harbored by very young children may survive in the body for months, according to European scientists cited by BBC News Online.

Until now, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) -- which affects most children during the first year of life -- was thought to survive only for a few days. But researchers at Imperial College London and the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum in Germany said their findings could explain why some children experience relapses that occur months apart. It could also explain why this form of cold virus is so common among the very young.

For some children, RSV infection can mean inflammation of the bronchial tract, wheezing, and a higher risk of developing asthma, the BBC reported. To see how long the virus could survive, the scientists infected mice with a human strain of RSV. Long after symptoms had cleared, sophisticated testing revealed that some of the virus's genetic material was still present in lung tissue more than 100 days later.

The scientists, reporting their findings in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, say it appears that RSV is a "hit and hide" virus that appears to wait for the chance to re-emerge and begin infecting other people, according to the BBC report.

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National Zoo Closes Gorilla Exhibit After TB Scare

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., closed its Great Ape house to the public temporarily after tests on one of the gorillas indicated a possible tuberculosis infection, the Washington Post reported.

While the animal in question showed no signs of illness or infection, material taken from its lungs during a routine exam revealed "a few bacteria suggestive of TB," according to a zoo spokeswoman. She went on to characterize the test as "inconclusive."

The animal, identified as a 4-year-old gorilla named Kwame, is part of a colony of four western lowland apes that is popular with visitors, the newspaper reported. The ape was being given antibiotics as a precaution, and the gorilla facilities might be closed for several weeks, until more definitive test results become available, the Post added.

So far, other gorillas and animals have tested negative, according to the report. TB is highly contagious, and is spread through tiny droplets when a person or animal coughs.

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