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Health Highlights: Oct. 5, 2009

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

American Scientists Receive Nobel Prize in Medicine

Three American scientists were awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for their genetic discovery that could lead to new cancer treatments.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak found that an enzyme called telomerase may play a role in the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells, the Associated Press reported.

Researchers are currently studying whether drugs that block the enzyme are effective against cancer and whether telomerase may be involved in other diseases.

"The discoveries by Blackburn, Greider and Szostak have added a new dimension to our understanding of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms, and stimulated the development of potential new therapies," the Nobel prize committee said in its citation, the AP reported.

Committee members said this is the first time that two women have been among the winners of the medicine prize.

Blackburn is a professor of biology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. Greider is a professor in the department of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Szostak is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School.


U.S. Poisoning Deaths Nearly Double Since 1999

Drugs played a major role in the near doubling of poisoning fatalities in the United States between 1999 and 2006, according to a U.S. government report.

During that time, poisoning death increased from almost 20,000 to more than 37,000, said the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, more than 90 percent of poisoning deaths involved drugs, United Press International reported.

Opioid analgesics were involved in about 20 percent of poisoning deaths in 1999 and almost 40 percent in 2006. Methadone-related poisoning deaths increased nearly seven-fold, from 790 in 1999 to 5,420 in 2006. That rate of increase is far greater than for other opioid analgesics, cocaine, or heroin.

The government report said poisoning is the second leading cause of injury death overall in the United States, and the leading cause of injury death for people ages 35 to 64, UPI reported.


No Scientific Evidence for Probiotic Health Claims: EU Panel

General health claims for probiotic yogurts and drinks aren't backed by science, say European Union experts who studied 523 health claims related to 200 foods and food components, including fiber, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, botanical substances and probiotic bacteria.

Of those claims, about two-thirds (350) were rejected, CBC News reported. Nearly half were rejected because they lacked information about the component on which the claim was based, including probiotic bacteria and botanical substances.

While those claims were dismissed, the EU expert panel said they found sufficient scientific evidence to support claims related to vitamins and minerals, dietary fibers or fatty acids for maintenance of cholesterol levels, along with the use of sugar-free chewing gum for dental health, CBC News reported.

The general health claims review was the first stage. Next, the panel will examine more specific health claims made by individual companies.


Texas City Tops Fall Allergy List

McAllen, Texas is the most challenging U.S. city for people with fall allergies, according to rankings announced Friday by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

The other cities in the top five of the 100 cities included in the 2009 rankings are: Wichita, Kan., Louisville, Ky., Oklahoma City, Okla. and Jackson, Miss.

"Whether a city is ranked number 100 on the Allergy Capitals list or number 1, it's essential for allergy sufferers to take the appropriate steps to manage their allergies," Mike Tringale, director of external affairs at AAFA, said in a news release. "Allergy sufferers should know what allergens trigger their symptoms and how to manage them."

Many Americans know that spring is a difficult time for allergy sufferers, but fewer people are aware that fall brings new allergy triggers that aren't present in the spring, such as ragweed, according to the AAFA.

More than 35 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies.

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Posted: October 2009