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Health Highlights: Sept. 29, 2003

Research Casts Doubt on Sunscreens For the Older Woman, a Younger Man No Longer Forbidden Fruit Kissing May Spread Hepatitis C NY Set to Offer Morning-After Pill for Rape Victims Doctors Look Down on Obese People Bedbugs Making a Comeback

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

Research Casts Doubt on Sunscreens

Even when sunscreen lotions are correctly applied, they may fail to completely protect users against skin cancer, British researchers report.

Harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) light is able to penetrate sunscreens and affect the skin, conclude researchers from the Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust in London. In fact, they say sunscreens may actually increase the risk of the deadly cancer melanoma by giving users a false sense of security about staying in the sun, reports CNN.

After testing three popular sun creams -- all of which touted protection against UVA rays -- the researchers found the products did not fully protect against the release of harmful "free radicals," which can destroy skin cells and increase the risk of cancer.

The researchers found that the sunscreens offered far better protection against ultraviolet B light, and therefore were better than staying in the sun unprotected, CNN reports. But they cautioned against using the products solely to prolong sun exposure.

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For the Older Woman, a Younger Man No Longer Forbidden Fruit

Toss the older woman-younger man taboo onto history's scrap heap.

Nearly one-third of unmarried American women in their 40s, 50s and 60s say they are dating younger men, according to a just-released survey by AARP The Magazine.

The magazine says it's one of the most comprehensive surveys ever done on the dating habits and sex lives of middle-aged singles, the Associated Press reports.

Other findings:

  • Asked about sex on a first date, only 2 percent of women approved, compared to 20 percent of the men.
  • Sixty percent of the women and 45 percent of the men said they hadn't had any sex in the past six months.
  • The main reason for dating -- for both men and women -- was to find fun and companionship. Only 11 percent of the men and 2 percent of the women cited sex as the main attraction. And just 10 percent of men and 7 percent of women said marriage was their primary goal.

The survey included 1,407 men and 2,094 women, according to the news service.

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Kissing May Spread Hepatitis C

The often-deadly hepatitis C virus may be spread by common activities including kissing or sharing toothbrushes, conclude researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The researchers say they detected the virus in the saliva of people who are carriers, and those with gum disease may be at greatest risk, reports BBC News Online. The scientists reported their findings over the weekend at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents in Chicago.

Of 52 people who tested positive for the virus during research trials, the germ was detected in the saliva of seven of the volunteers. Those most likely to have traces in their saliva had relatively high levels of the virus in their body, the BBC reports.

Some 170 million people carry the blood-borne hepatitis C virus worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates. About 20 percent of those infected become virus-free naturally within six months. For the rest, the infection often spans several decades and could become lifelong. It's a leading cause of chronic liver disease.

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NY to Offer Morning-After Pill for Rape Victims

Within days, New York Gov. George Pataki is expected to sign a bill that requires hospitals to offer emergency "morning-after" contraception to rape victims, the Associated Press reports.

If that happens, New York would become the fourth state to mandate the policy, joining California, Washington and New Mexico.

However, bills pending in Congress to extend the practice nationwide face a much more uncertain future, since they don't appear to be a priority for the Republican leadership, reports the AP. The matter also poses an ethical quandary for Catholic organizations and others that are against abortion.

A spokesman for the Catholic Health Association tells the wire service that hospitals under his watch strive to provide rape victims with "the full range of compassionate, effective medical care."

According to the AP, Catholic hospitals are allowed to administer the "morning-after" pill to rape victims, unless it's been medically determined that fertilization has already occurred.

Planned Parenthood estimates that some 300,000 American women are sexually assaulted every year, and about 25,000 of them become pregnant as a result. The organization contends that emergency contraceptives could prevent 80 percent of these pregnancies, the AP reports.

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Doctors Look Down on Obese People

A Yale University study finds that overcoming the stigma of obesity will be difficult because it extends to the doctors who treat overweight people.

The team did psychological profiles of 389 professionals who treat and study obese people, according to a BBC report. They found that younger professionals especially were more likely to have unfavorable opinions of them. Also, those who did not directly deal with obese people saw them in a bad light.

"The stigma of obesity is so strong that even those most knowledgeable about the condition infer that obese people have blameworthy behavioral characteristics that contribute to their problem, i.e. being lazy," said the lead researcher, Dr. Marlene Schwartz.

"It is disappointing but it is not surprising to see that health professionals have the same ingrained prejudice against obese people as the general public," a British obesity expert, Dr. Ian Campbell, told the BBC. This happens even though four in five cases of obesity can be attributed to genetics, he said.

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Bedbugs Making a Comeback

Bedbugs, once thought to be eliminated from the United States, are making a creepy comeback.

The Chicago Tribune writes that 28 states reported an influx of the pesky critters in 2002, and they've afflicted everything from tenements to world-class luxury hotels.

Experts attribute their return to an increase in international travel, since the pests can hide in luggage and stow a ride from countries where they haven't been eradicated. They also say that pesticides that helped get rid of them have since been banned because they prove dangerous to humans, according to the Tribune.

Bedbugs start out tiny and lurk in the crevices of mattresses and other tiny places like picture frames. Once they bite a host, they grow to the size of a ladybug and turn red. Then they leave blood-infused feces on the bedsheets, the Tribune reports.

Frank Meek, the pest control manager for Orkin, Inc., said his company has seen five times as many cases of the critters as it did two years ago.

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