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Health Highlights: April 6, 2009

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

U.S. Road Deaths Lowest Since 1960s, Agency Says

Experts say that more expensive gas and a troubled economy are among the reasons why the number of people killed on U.S. highways in 2008 declined to the lowest level since the early 1960s, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, 37,313 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, according to preliminary figures released Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's 9.1 percent lower than in 2007 (41,059 deaths), and the lowest death toll since the 36,285 fatalities in 1961.

The number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.28 in 2008, the lowest on record. That figure was 1.36 in 2007, the AP reported.

Vehicle miles traveled in 2008 decreased by about 3.6 percent, to 2.92 trillion miles, the NHTSA said.

"The silver lining in a bad economy is that people drive less, and so the number of deaths go down. Not only do they drive less, but the kinds of driving they do tend to be less risky -- there's less discretionary driving," Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told the AP.

Record-high seat-belt use, stricter enforcement of impaired driving laws and efforts to encourage safer driving habits are among the other reasons for the decline in traffic deaths, according to experts.


Scientists Discover Why Scratching Relieves Itchiness

Scratching help relieves itchiness by blocking activity in certain spinal cord nerve cells that transmit sensation to the brain, say University of Minnesota researchers.

The findings from their work in primates could help in efforts to develop the first effective ways to relieve chronic itch, said study author Dr. Glenn Giesler. But he added that more research is needed to learn about the chemistry involved in process, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

This is a "potentially significant" discovery, said itching expert Gil Yosipovitch, a professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, BBC News reported.

"Although there is a long way to go, methods that can induce a pleasurable scratch sensation without damaging the skin, via mechanical stimuli or drugs that can inhibit these neurons, could be developed to treat chronic itch," Yosipovitch said.

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Posted: April 2009