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Health Highlights: May 27, 2008

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

Cases of PTSD Soar Among U.S. Troops

The number of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder rose by about 50 percent last year, the Pentagon disclosed Tuesday.

Almost 40,000 troops involved in the two wars have been diagnosed with PTSD since 2003, the Associated Press reported. And Pentagon officials said they believed many more troops weren't disclosing that they had symptoms of the illness.

Military officials have been urging troops to see civilian therapists, even if it meant not reporting these visits to the Pentagon, the wire service reported. Moreover, military estimates suggest that roughly half of those who have mental health problems don't seek help because they fear embarrassment or that it would hurt their careers.

The Army said more than 10,000 new cases of PTSD were diagnosed in 2007, compared to 6,800 in 2006. And the Marine Corps disclosed that there were more than 2,100 cases last year, compared to 1,366 in 2006, the AP said.

Officials attributed part of the rise to a program of electronic record keeping that began in 2004. But they also cited the emotional strain of recently extended tour lengths, to 15 months from 12 months.

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New Compounds More Potent Than DEET

Several new potential insect repellants much more potent than DEET have been identified by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, who found that the new compounds protected human volunteers from mosquitoes two to three times longer than DEET.

For more than 50 years, DEET has been the gold standard of insect repellants. Even though DEET-based repellants offer protection from a variety of insects, mosquitoes continue to spread malaria and other diseases, and some mosquitoes aren't deterred by DEET, Agence France-Presse reported.

"It would be good to have more effective repellants that protect against a greater number of insect species," said Ulrich Bernier, a research chemist with the USDA's Mosquito and Fly Research Unit.

He and his colleagues began with a field of 2,000 candidate compounds and plan to continue testing seven of the most promising ones, AFP reported.

The research appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Japanese Parents Warned About Children's Cell Phone Use

A new government program will urge Japanese parents and schools to limit children's use of Internet-linking cell phones. The government is worried about a number of problems, including the large amount of time students are spending exchanging mobile e-mails and the risk that they'll become involved in Internet-related crime, the Associated Press reported.

"Japanese parents are giving cell phones to their children without giving it enough thought," said Masaharu Kuba, a government official overseeing the initiative. "In Japan, cell phones have become an expensive toy."

The warning to parents and schools is one recommendation made by an education reform panel. The panel also wants Japanese companies to develop cell phones with only the talking function and GPS (global positioning system), which can help ensure a child's safety, the AP reported.

The panel also wants better filtering programming for mobile phones with Internet access.

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China Begins Emergency Vaccinations in Quake-Hit Areas

Mass emergency vaccinations are being launched in earthquake-hit areas of China in order to prevent possible epidemics, the government announced Tuesday.

"By June 15, emergency inoculation of vulnerable people will be completed including vaccines against hepatitis A and encephalitis B," said Ministry of Health spokesman Sun Jiahai, AFP reported. There was no clarification about how many people would be vaccinated or who was classed as vulnerable.

Sun also said China will store 100,000 vaccines against cholera, 20,000 against rabies, and 30,000 for measles, mumps and rubella.

"The immunity of local people has been weakened, so they will become more vulnerable to epidemics," warned Qi Xiaoqui, director of the disease control bureau of the Health Ministry, AFP reported.

While there has been an increase in cases of diarrhea and fever in quake-hit areas, there haven't been any major disease outbreaks, he said.

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Sodium Nitrite Stimulates Blood Vessel Growth

Daily injections of sodium nitrite stimulated the growth of new blood vessels and restored blood flow to tissues damaged by simulated vascular disease in just three to seven days, a new U.S. study found.

Researchers induced ischemia (reduced blood flow) in the hind legs of mice by tying off the rodents' femoral arteries. The mice then received twice-a-day injections of low-dose sodium nitrite, Agence France-Presse reported.

Within three days, the animals' hind legs were showing signs of new blood vessel growth (angiogenesis). Within seven days, the blood supply in their hind legs was almost back to normal. In a group of mice that received no treatment, it took 28 days for circulation in their hind legs to return to normal.

Ischemia occurs in people with conditions such as peripheral artery disease and diabetes.

"The treatment has tremendous potential for stimulating angiogenesis to alleviate the discomfort caused by ischemia, and at the dosages we used, sodium nitrite is safe and far below any toxicity threshold," said Christopher Kevil, an associate professor of pathology at Louisiana State University Health Science Center in Shreveport, AFP reported.

"Moreover, our work suggests that sodium nitrite therapy could be beneficial for stimulating angiogenesis and tissue healing after ischemic events seen in stroke and heart attacks," Kevil said.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Evolving Bird Flu Viruses May Pose Pandemic Threat

U.S. researchers have identified certain strains of bird flu that appear to be moving closer to developing traits that could trigger a human pandemic.

They found that a few of the H7 virus strains that caused minor, non-transmissible infections among people in North America between 2002 and 2004 may be evolving the same human tracheal cell sugar-binding properties seen in flu viruses that caused global pandemics in 1918, 1957 and 1968, Agence France-Presse reported.

"These findings suggest that the H7 class of viruses are partially adapted to recognize the receptors that are preferred by the human influenza virus," said Terrence Tumpey, a senior microbiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If these H7 viruses continue this type of evolution, they may be able to pass more easily between animals and people, said the researchers, who called for strict surveillance of avian flu viruses, AFP reported.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Posted: May 2008


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