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Health Highlights: Jan. 28, 2009

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

Brain Damage Found in Sixth NFL Player Who Died Young

The debate about head injuries in pro football players has intensified with the revelation Tuesday that a sixth deceased former National Football League player age 50 or younger had brain damage commonly associated with boxers.

A condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in the brain of Tom McHale, an NFL lineman from 1987 to 1995. He was 45 when he died in May 2008. Tests on McHale's brain were conducted by doctors at Boston University's School of Medicine, The New York Times reported.

CTE, a progressive condition that results from repetitive head traumas, can cause dementia in people in their 40s or 50s. CTE has been identified in all six NFL veterans who died between the ages of 36 and 50 and were tested for the condition, the newspaper said.

"This is a medically significant finding," Dr. Daniel P. Perl, director of neuropathology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, told the Times. "I think with a sixth case identified, out of six, for a condition that is incredibly rare in the general population, there is more than enough evidence that football is clearly strongly related to the presence of this pathology."

However, a neurologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York said there's still no firm link between football and CTE.

"I think that there are many questions that still are out there as to whether there is a kind of traumatic encephalopathy associated with football. I think we don't know. I think that there is not enough scientific evidence to say that there is," Dr. Ira Casson, a co-chairman of the NFL committee that has studied concussions since 1994, told the Times.


High Folate Levels Seen in Children With Bowel Disease

Surprisingly high folate levels have been found in the blood of children newly diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a finding that questions the theory that IBD patients are prone to folate deficiency, U.S. researchers say.

IBD, which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, bleeding and nutritional deficiencies. Previous studies found that adult IBD patients often have lower folate levels than those without the condition, United Press International reported.

"However, pediatric inflammatory bowel disease appears to be somewhat different from the adult form, and before this study very little was known about folate levels in newly diagnosed children with the disease," study senior author Nina Holland said in a news release.

"This is exciting work that opens the door to additional research into the role of folic acid and its genetic basis in the development of inflammatory bowel disease, especially in young patients," added study co-author Dr. Melvin Heyman, UPI reported.

The study appears in the February issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


California Octuplets in Stable Condition

Southern California octuplets delivered by Caesarean section Monday are in stable condition and breathing on their own, doctors at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center said.

Two of the eight infants (six boys and two girls) were initially put on ventilators, but their breathing tubes have been removed, the Associated Press reported. The babies weighed between 1.8 pounds and 3.4 pounds when they were born with the help of 46 doctors, nurses and assistants.

The unidentified mother checked into the hospital seven weeks ago, when she was in her 23rd week of pregnancy. Hospital officials wouldn't reveal whether she'd used fertility drugs.

This is only the second time in recorded history that octuplets have survived more than a few hours. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the world's first live octuplets were born in March 1967 in Mexico City, but all of them died within 14 hours.

In 1998, octuplets were born in Houston, Texas, but the smallest of those babies died a week after birth. The surviving siblings turned 10 in December, the AP reported.


Few Postal Workers Took Anthrax Vaccine: Study

Fears about being "guinea pigs," disagreements among public health experts, and a belief that they had a low risk of infection are among the reasons why most U.S. postal workers decided not be vaccinated against anthrax when the deadly germ was sent through the mail in 2001.

Physician advice and conflicting media reports were other reasons cited in a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study that included postal workers in Trenton, N.J., New York City and Washington, D.C., United Press International reported.

During the attacks, which caused five deaths, a two-month dose of antibiotics was given to 10,000 postal workers and others known or suspected to have been exposed to anthrax. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then advised that people who failed to complete the regimen, or those at high risk for exposure, should take antibiotics for an additional 40 days with or without a supplemental anthrax vaccine.

But the researchers found that only 11. 5 percent of postal workers who took the additional 40-day dose of antibiotics also decided to receive the anthrax vaccine, UPI reported.

The study appears in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science.

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Posted: January 2009