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Health Highlights: May 31, 2004

Driving Time Can Pack on the Pounds, Study Finds Medical Care on Planes Varies Widely, British Report Says U.S., Canada Adopt New Sun Radiation Risk Index FDA Announces Almond Recall Fla. Doctor Charged With Selling Diluted Cancer, AIDS Drugs

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

Driving Time Can Pack on the Pounds, Study Finds

Just in time for that long drive home from the holiday weekend comes this heavy piece of news: Where you live and how much you drive could have an effect on your weight.

Findings from a study that tracked more than 10,500 Atlanta-area residents' travel patterns and body mass index show a strong link between time spent on the road and obesity, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The research, to be published this week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, shows that every half hour spent in a car translates into a 3 percent greater chance of being obese. An average white man living in a compact community with nearby shops and services is expected to weigh 10 pounds less than a similar white man living in a low-density, residential-only cul-de-sac subdivision.

Lawrence Frank, the lead author and a professor at the University of British Columbia, said people who can walk to stores and restaurants are less likely to be obese than their counterparts living in more sprawling areas.

"I don't think people are equating their home-buying choices with their waistline," said Frank, a former professor at Georgia Tech. "The study shows they may want to give that a second thought."

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Medical Care on Planes Varies Widely, British Report Says

Medical care for air travellers varies between airlines, according to a new British Medical Association report that calls for international rules.

The group's report, designed to provide doctors with an up-to-date summary, noted that there are no international obligations on airlines to provide emergency medical care and few rules on the content of medical kits. Medical kits contain items for healthcare professionals to use, such as injectable drugs, according to a CBC News report.

In Europe, cabin crew must be trained in first aid, and in the United States, airlines are advised to carry first aid kits but it is not required. The Federal Aviation Administration's regulations exclude any requirement for airlines to provide medical care, the report said.

Passengers are advised to avoid dehydration and move around the plane when it is safe but the increase in blood flow to the legs is temporary and walking may expose passengers to a higher risk of injury during turbulence, the report said.

Although some people take Aspirin, the report advises against it just for prevention of travel-related deep vein thrombosis. It said most authorities advise wearing correctly fitted compression stockings for those at medium to high risk.

Estimates on the number of passengers who fall ill on planes range from one in every 33,600 passengers according to a U.S. study in the 1980s to one per 1,400 in a study published in 2002 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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U.S., Canada Adopt New Sun Radiation Risk Index

In a bid to reduce soaring skin cancer rates, the United States and Canada have joined other nations in adopting an international index that gauges the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation, according to the World Health Organization.

The Global Solar Ultraviolet Index reports UV radiation levels on a scale of 1 (low) to more than 11 (dangerously high). The index is typically given during daily weather forecasts to help people avoid sunburn, the AFP news service reported.

"The adoption of the UVI by countries such as Canada and the United States, where there is a strong 'tanning culture', is particularly welcome," said Mike Repacholi, WHO's coordinator of radiation and environmental health.

Just one bad sunburn can "significantly" increase a child's risk of getting skin cancer later in life, according to the United Nations' health agency. More than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States and Canada every year.

Ultraviolet rays have increased in intensity in many parts of the world in recent years because the protective ozone layer in the earth's atmosphere is thinning due to pollution, scientists say, AFP reported.

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FDA Announces Almond Recall

The Germack Pistachio Co. of Detroit is voluntarily recalling its Germack Almond brand raw whole almonds, due to possible salmonella contamination, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The company distributes the almonds in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Connecticut, and Florida.

The recall comes in response to a voluntary recall by Paramount Farms of California of Whole Brown Natural Raw Almonds, following reports of 20 possible cases of salmonella in Alaska, Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, as well as one case in Michigan. No salmonella has been found in any Germack or Paramount products, the FDA said.

Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with the germ often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare cases, salmonella infection can result in more severe illnesses such as arterial infections -- including aneurysms -- and arthritis, according to the FDA.

The Germack almonds are packaged in 1-pound packages that bear the Germack Pistachio Co. label, with code dates of 040806, 040807, 040819, 040824, 050105, 050421 and 050422.

The nuts should not be eaten; consumers can return them to the store of purchase for a full refund. For more information, call Germack Pistachio Co. at 800-872-4006, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

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Fla. Doctor Charged With Selling Diluted Cancer, AIDS Drugs

A Florida doctor has been charged with selling diluted cancer and AIDS drugs in a scheme that netted nearly $60 million, state prosecutors said.

Dr. Paul Perito, a 42-year-old urologist from Coral Gables, and his business partner, Nicholas Just, 47, were charged Thursday with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, organized scheme to defraud, product tampering, vending of counterfeit drugs, and the purchase of prescription drugs from an unlicensed person, according to the Lakeland Ledger.

If convicted on all counts, Perito could face 250 years in prison and Just, 150 years, state Attorney General Charlie Crist said.

Perito was being held Friday at Miami-Dade County jail on $2,274,500 bond and Just was held on $2,271,000 bail, a jail spokeswoman told the newspaper.

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