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Health Highlights: July 28, 2009

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

Texting Greatly Increases Crash Risk

Texting while driving increased truckers' risk of collision 23-fold, according to new U.S. research.

The analysis of images recorded by video cameras in the cabs of more than 100 long-haul truckers over 18 months also revealed that in the moments before a crash or near-crash, drivers spent about five seconds looking at their texting devices, the New York Times reported. At highway speeds, a vehicle travels more than the length of a football field in five seconds.

In terms of driver distraction, not just in trucks, "texting is in its own universe of risk," Rich Hanowski, who oversaw the study, told the Times.

The findings, released Tuesday, deliver a clear message about texting while driving, said Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which did the research. "You should never do this," he told the newspaper. "It should be illegal."

Currently, only 14 states ban texting while driving.

In a related study, University of Utah researchers found that college students using a driving simulator were eight times more likely to crash when texting, the Times reported.


Probiotics May Help Fight Flu in Children: Study

Probiotics may help prevent flu symptoms and reduce their duration in children, according to a study sponsored by a company that makes probiotics products. But some experts are skeptical about the findings.

The study of nearly 250 Chinese children, ages 3 to 5 years old, found that taking probiotics for six months reduced fever incidence by up to 72.7 percent, decreased coughing by up to 62.1 percent, and reduced runny noses by up to 58.5 percent, ABC News reported.

The Danish nutritional supplement company Danisco funded the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics.

"It is a surprising result and one that is hard to reconcile with traditional medical wisdom," Dr. Julie Gerberding, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told ABC News. "I would take (the findings) as 'interesting but still very preliminary.'"

"Most practitioners will feel more confident when these results are replicated in trials sponsored by government or other parties without a potential conflict of interest," noted Dr. Kathi Kemper of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.


Swine Flu Death Toll 816: WHO

The worldwide swine flu death toll now stands at 816, according to a bulletin released Monday by the World Health Organization.

Most of the victims (707) have been in the Americas, followed by the Asia-Pacific region (74) and Europe (34). There has been one death in the eastern Mediterranean region, which includes the Middle East and parts of northern Africa, Agence France Presse reported.

The WHO bulletin also said that several countries and territories have reported their first cases of swine flu since the previous bulletin on July 6.

So far, 134,503 cases of infection with the H1N1 swine flu virus have been reported to the agency, AFP reported. However, countries are no longer required to test and report individual cases, which means that latest figure "understates" the actual number of infections, the WHO said.


Chemical In Some IV Bags May Cause Infant Liver Damage: Study

The chemical phthalate may increase the risk of liver damage in premature babies, say German researchers who looked at DEHP, a type of phthalate used to make some intravenous feeding bags and tubing.

The study found that liver problems developed in 50 percent of infants fed with tubes containing DEHP, compared with 13 percent of infants fed with tubes that didn't contain the chemical, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers said their findings show that hospitals treating preemies and other newborns should use IV feeding equipment that doesn't contain DEHP. The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

"This is a pretty strong damnation of" the chemical, Deborah Cory-Slechta, an environmental medicine professor at the University of Rochester medical school, told the AP. "It needs to be replicated. But I still think this makes a very strong case for getting rid of these compounds" in intensive care units that treat infants.

Some U.S. hospitals have already taken action.

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Posted: July 2009