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Health Highlights: April 23, 2008

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

Wisconsin Leads U.S. in Drunken Driving: Survey

Wisconsin has the highest incidence of drunken driving in the nation, a new federal report finds.

More than a quarter of adult drivers in Wisconsin, noted for its beer breweries, reported driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the just-released survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Completing the worst five were: North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota, the Associated Press reported. Nationwide, 15 percent of adult drivers said they drove under the influence.

Utah had the lowest drunk driving rate, followed by West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

The agency, part of the National Institutes of Health, also found that blacks had significantly lower drinking rates than whites, the AP reported.

And the number of drivers with blood alcohol levels of 0.08 percent or higher involved in alcohol-related crashes remained about the same over a decade -- from 12,348 in 1996 to 12,491 in 2006.


Rate Doubles for Nasty Infection Among Hospital Patients

The number of U.S. hospital patients stricken with a nasty infection called Clostrdium difficile soared by 200 percent between 2000 and 2005, a new federal report finds.

Commonly called C difficile or "C diff," the infection can cause severe diarrhea, blood poisoning, and even death, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said in a statement to coincide with its weekly AHRQ News and Numbers report. The infection often results when antibiotic use suppresses the bacteria normally found in the colon.

The report also found:

  • There were more than 2 million cases of the illness in U.S. hospitals from 1993 to 2005.
  • Two of three infected patients in 2005 were elderly.
  • People with the illness were hospitalized an average of about three times longer than uninfected people.


Social Bullying Linked to Adult Depression

The psychological effects of social bullying -- shunning a child or spreading rumors rather than threatening physical violence -- can last well into a person's adult life, a new University of Florida study concludes.

The research involving 210 college students found that victims of social bullying were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety in early adulthood. Lead author Allison Dempsey, a doctoral student, graduated from Colorado's Columbine High School one year before the 1999 shootings at the school. It was widely reported that the two boys who committed the murders were largely shunned by classmates.

Dempsey and her colleagues found no difference between boys and girls in this type of bullying and its link to depression and fear, the university said in a prepared statement. In a surprising finding, they also found that having friends and other positive social relationships didn't dampen the tendency to develop depression and anxiety in adulthood.

Results of the research are published in the journal Psychology in the Schools.


Mother's Diet May Influence Child's Gender

What a woman eats at about the time of conception could influence whether her baby is a boy or girl, British researchers say.

The study by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford found that a high-calorie diet, including regular breakfasts, could raise a woman's odds of having a boy, BBC News reported.

The trend toward low-calorie diets in developed nations could explain why the ratio of boys to girls is shifting in those countries, the network said.

In studying 740 first-time pregnancies, the researchers found 56 percent of women with high-calorie diets at the time of conception had boys, compared to 45 percent of women who had low-calorie diets. Women who had sons also were more likely to consume nutrients including potassium, calcium, and vitamins C, E, and B12, the researchers said.

The study was published in the journal Biological Sciences.


VA Mental Health Chief Should Resign: Senators

The mental health director of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department tried to cover up the rising number of suicides among veterans and should resign, two Democratic senators said Tuesday.

Dr. Ira Katz attempted to withhold important information on the true suicide risk among veterans, said Sens. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Patty Murray of Washington state, the Associated Press reported. Akaka is chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Murray is a committee member.

In an e-mail message made public this week, Katz starts with "Shh!" and writes that 12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while under VA care.

"Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" Katz asks in the e-mail, the AP reported.

"Dr Katz's irresponsible actions have been a disservice to our veterans, and it is time for him to go," said Murray, "The No. 1 priority of the VA should be caring for our veterans, not covering up the truth."

A VA spokesmen declined to comment Tuesday, the AP reported.


Loss of Biodiversity Threatens Development of New Medicines

If action isn't taken to protect the Earth's biodiversity, the opportunity to develop many new kinds of medical treatments will be lost, a senior United Nations environmental official warned Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

Living organisms offer a variety of naturally-produced chemical compounds that can be used to create new medicines, explained Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. But an increasing number of species are at risk of extinction.

"We must do something about what is happening to biodiversity. We must help society understand how much we already depend on diversity of life to run our economies, our lives, but more importantly, what we are losing in terms of future potential," he told journalists attending a UNEP-organized conference in Singapore, the AP reported.

"Because of science and technology ... we are in a much better position to unlock this ingenuity of nature found in so many species. Yet, in many cases, we will find that we have already lost it before we were able to use it," Steiner said.


World Faces 'Silent Tsunami' of Hunger

A "silent tsunami" of worldwide hunger could be unleashed by rising food costs, according to the head of the United Nations World Food Program.

Josette Sheeran said increasing food prices could push more than 100 million people into a level of poverty where they can't afford to feed themselves. She spoke at a summit in Britain to discuss the crisis, CBC News reported.

"This is the new face of hunger -- the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," said Sheeran, who described the crisis as "a silent tsunami that respects no borders."

"The world's misery index is rising ... as soaring food and fuel prices roll through the lives of the most vulnerable," she said.

A number of factors are contributing to increasing food costs: poor harvests; rising energy prices; increasing use of fields to produce corn for ethanol; and growing demand in China and India, CBC News reported.


Whirlpool Suspends Workers for Lying About Smoking

Whirlpool Corp. has suspended 39 workers at its Evansville, Ind., plant because they claimed on their health insurance that they were nonsmokers but were seen smoking in designated areas outside the plant. The company requires smokers to pay an extra $500 in insurance premiums.

Company spokeswoman Debby Castrale told Fox News that Whirlpool considers falsifying company documents a serious offense. Fact-finding meetings will be held with each of the suspended workers over the next few days, followed by final disciplinary action. Some may be fired.

Most of the 39 suspensions involved production workers. More suspensions, possibly including some administrative staff, could come, Castrale said.

Whirlpool had to recall some laid-off workers to keep production running due to the suspensions, the Associated Press reported.

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Posted: April 2008