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Health Highlights: May 3, 2004

China Releases 132 From SARS Quarantine Breast-Fed Babies Have Lower Risk of Early Death Waiting Suggested for 'Silent' Ear Infections Obese Children More Likely to be Bullied U.S. Braces for Another Summer of West Nile Virus

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

China Releases 132 From SARS Quarantine

Chinese health officials have released 132 people from SARS-related quarantine, because no new cases of the potentially deadly respiratory disease have been reported for the last 24 hours, The Times of India reported Monday.

Forty-four of the people were in Anhui province, while the rest were in Beijing; they had been quarantined for medical observation, Health Ministry officials said. However, the total number of people still under quarantine was not revealed. Earlier news reports said the total number of quarantined people in Beijing and Anhui province -- the only two areas where SARS cases were reported recently -- could be as high as 1,000.

The quarantines came after health officials confirmed last week a total of six recent SARS cases, including one death. The announcement of the 53-year-old woman's death in Anhui province marked the world's first known death from SARS in nine months.

So far, China's new cases of the highly contagious virus have been limited to people who worked at Beijing's Institute of Virology -- where SARS samples are kept -- and others who came in contact with them.

World Health Organization officials blame lab security for the mini-outbreak, but have yet to determine the cause of the virus' spread.

SARS first appeared in southern China in late 2002, eventually killing 774 people worldwide and infecting thousands before subsiding last spring.

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Breast-Fed Babies Have Lower Risk of Early Death

Breast-fed babies are 20 percent less likely to die during the first year of life than are bottle-fed infants, researchers concluded from a study of 9,000 American youngsters.

If every woman were to breast-feed, the findings would translate to preventing about 720 infant deaths in the United States every year, according to study leaders from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina.

Prior research has shown that breast-feeding boosts a baby's immune system and appears to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the Washington Post reported.

Epidemiologist Dr. Walter Rogan, one of the study's authors, told the newspaper that the reasons for breast-feeding's benefits are unclear. But he speculated simply that breast-feeding women spend more time near their children, offering more protection from possible harm.

"Breast-fed kids are closer to mom," said Rogan, whose conclusions are published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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Waiting Suggested for 'Silent' Ear Infections

Infants who suffer symptomless "silent" ear infections should not be treated unless the condition lingers for longer than three months, according to newly released guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Some 2 million American children a year have the condition -- medically known as otitis media with effusion -- which often follows a cold, the Associated Press reported. While Americans spend about $4 billion a year on everything from antibiotics to surgical implantation of ear drainage tubes, at least 75 percent of cases would clear up on their own within three months without intervention, the AAP estimated.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention speculated that at least 6 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written each year for the condition, the wire service reported. This leads to development of drug-resistant bacteria that become harder and harder to treat.

Antihistamines and decongestants are often prescribed for the condition as well, but are virtually useless for this purpose and should be avoided, the new guidelines say.

If the condition lasts longer than three months, hearing tests should be performed. As a last resort, surgery can be considered if the problem lasts four months or longer, according to the guidelines, which are published in May's issue of Pediatrics.

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Obese Children More Likely to be Bullied

Overweight children are more likely to be bullied or become bullies themselves, a new Canadian study found. The research appears to confirm that being fat takes an emotional, as well as physical toll, concluded scientists at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

The study of 5,749 children between ages 11 and 16 found that 19 percent of obese kids and 14 percent of overweight children were victims of bullying, vs. 11 percent of average-weight kids, according to results reported by the Associated Press.

And 9 percent to 11 percent of overweight children admitted being bullies themselves, compared with 8 percent of normal-weight kids, the researchers found.

An expert cited by the wire service said school anti-bullying programs should specifically address overweight kids, noting that the condition perpetuates itself when these children are isolated -- causing them to eat even more.

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U.S. Braces for Another Summer of West Nile Virus

With the arrival of warm weather throughout the United States, health officials are taking steps to limit threats posed by West Nile virus, the potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease.

In Arizona, for instance, Gov. Janet Napolitano has signed an order authorizing the Department of Health Services to spend $100,000 on prevention measures, primarily offering counties money for additional mosquito abatement efforts, the Associated Press reported.

"We are determined to be as proactive as possible to keep West Nile virus from inflicting Arizona," Napolitano said. Her state saw its first cases of the disease last year.

West Nile is transmitted to humans through bites by mosquitoes, which become infected when they feed on infected birds. People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop serious symptoms and should take special care to avoid mosquito bites. Safety tips include using insect repellent containing DEET when going out after dark; wearing long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors; and draining standing water -- a potential breeding spot for mosquitoes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Nile first appeared in the United States in New York in 1999 and has been spreading westward ever since.

Colorado was particularly hard hit last year, reporting nearly 3,000 cases and 61 deaths. That compared to just 14 cases in 2002, the AP said.

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