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Health Highlights: March 30, 2009

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

Triathlons Can Pose Deadly Heart Risks for the Unprepared: Study

Triathletes take note: A new study finds that participants in these swim-bike-run athletic events face at least twice the risk of sudden death as marathoners do, the Associated Press reported. And, it's the swimming section of the race that's the riskiest.

About 1,000 triathlons are held each year, and several hundred thousand Americans try one, often without adequate preparation or check-up to see if they have any hidden physical problems, the study suggested. "It's something someone just signs up to do," often without proper training or a medical checkup to rule out heart problems, Dr. Kevin Harris, lead author and a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, told the AP. Harris presented his study over the weekend at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

While the risk for sudden death is low -- about 15 out of a million participants, according to Harris, -- it's not inconsequential because of the numbers of people who take part in triathlons. Stress and cold water for the swimming section -- often the first of the three events in the competitions -- can constrict blood vessels and make the heart work harder or aggravate pre-existing problems, Harris told the AP.

Doctors offered these tips for would-be triathletes, the AP said:

  • Get a checkup to make sure you don't have any hidden heart problems.
  • Start training long before the event and include open-water swims, not just laps in a pool. Acclimate to the water temperature before a race and wear a wetsuit if the water is too cold.
  • Check that race officials have medical staff and defibrillators on site.


Transit Users More Likely to Meet Exercise Guidelines: Study

Transit users are three times more likely to achieve fitness guidelines than those who don't use transit, say Canadian researchers who interviewed 18,326 people in Atlanta, Ga., who kept diaries of their modes of travel over two consecutive days.

The study used the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada's suggested daily minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, five days a week, CBC News reported.

The more people in the study used their cars, they less likely they were to meet the minimum activity guideline, said the University of British Columbia study.

"The idea of needing to go to the gym to get your daily dose of exercise is a misperception," associate professor Lawrence Frank, who teaches community and regional planning, said in a news release, CBC News reported.

"These short walks throughout our day are historically how we have gotten our activity," he noted. "Unfortunately, we've engineered this activity out of our daily lives."

The study was published in the Journal of Public Health Policy.


China Reports More Cases of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

So far this year, 41,000 people in China have been sickened by hand, foot and mouth disease, and 18 children have died, Chinese health officials have said.

Based on previously release data, about twice as many people have been infected so far this year compared with the same time period last year, the Associated Press reported.

May through July is the normal peak season for the spread of the disease, so this early spike suggests this year's toll will be higher than average, said Li Xinwang, a doctor at Beijing's Ditan Hospital.

He suggested the high number of cases so far this year may be due to "dramatic temperature fluctuations" which helped spread the virus, especially in rural areas where sanitation and health care are substandard, the AP reported.

Hand, foot and mouth disease typically strikes infants and children. It can be deadly, but most cases are mild, and children recover quickly after suffering little more than a fever and rash.

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Posted: March 2009