Health Highlights: May 19, 2007

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

Where Do People Live the Longest?

If you want your son to have a long life -- in fact, statistically the longest life expectancy on earth -- move to San Marino, a small republic on a hill near the Adriatic sea, surrounded by Italy.

And if you have a daughter and want her lifespan to be the longest, you can move across to the Mediterranean to Monaco, or across the sea to Japan.

According to the Associated Press, these countries rank among the best for a person's longevity. The annual list was issued Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO). San Marino's male life expectancy is 80, and Japan and Monaco's (among others) female life expectancy is 86, the wire service reports.

    • Where Do People Live the Longest?
    • Son Gets Near-Fatal Infection from Father's Smallpox Vaccination
    • Pill That Would End Periods to Get FDA Blessing
    • Boiling 'Cabbage Family' Veggies Cuts Anti-Cancer Properties
    • 5% Reduction in Smoking Could Save 100 Million Lives
    • Blood from Donors With Undiagnosed Cancer No Threat

The lowest life expectancy for both males and females is in Africa, the A.P. reports. Males in Sierra Leone, on the continent's west coast, have an average lifespan of only 37, which is the same for females in Swaziland, in the southern part of Africa.

The United States is on the high side in average lifespan, the A.P. reports, although not a leader in either category. U.S. males reach an average age of 75 and women can be expected to live to be 80.


Son Gets Near-Fatal Infection from Father's Smallpox Vaccination

In some rare cases, getting a smallpox vaccination can cause serious consequences.

The New York Times reports the case of a 2-year-old boy who nearly died and spent almost two months in the hospital after suffering from a viral infection attributable to the smallpox vaccination his father, who was in the military, received before leaving for Iraq.

The incident occurred in March, the Times reports and occurred probably because the boy's constant exposure to his father before he left caused a condition known as eczema vaccinatum to incubate and become active.

A government investigation into the incident found that the father had suffered from the skin condition eczema as a child and should never have been given a smallpox shot, the newspaper said. Military procedures require health officials to take a full medical history of a soldier before administering vaccinations.

The son, too, suffered from eczema, and contact with his father caused him to contract eczema vaccinatum, which resulted in kidney failure and the loss of most of his skin, according to the Times. He spent seven weeks in the hospital, the newspaper reports.

Even though smallpox has officially been declared eradicated, U.S. military personnel and certain health workers get the vaccine, the Times reported. About 1.2 million vaccines were given to Americans last year, the newspaper said.


Pill That Would End Periods to Get FDA Blessing

A birth control pill that would eliminate periods completely for women is expected to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Lybrel, which is made by Wyeth, would be the fourth oral contraceptive that doesn't mirror a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. Seasonique, an updated version of Seasonale, limits menstrual periods to four a year, the AP reported.

Almost 50 percent of women surveyed have indicated a desire to eliminate monthly periods, and most would rather have periods less often, the wire service said.

I think it's the beginning of it being very common," Dr. Leslie Miller, a University of Washington-Seattle obstetrician/gynecologist told the AP. "Lybrel says, 'You don't need a period.'"

Lybrel should hit the U.S. market in July, and analysts have predicted that sales could reach $40 million this year and $235 million by 2010, the AP reported.


Boiling 'Cabbage Family' Veggies Cuts Anti-Cancer Properties

Boiling broccoli and related kinds of vegetables -- including cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts -- reduces their anti-cancer properties, according to a U.K. study in the journal Food Chemistry and Toxicology.

Researchers at the University of Warwick Medical School found that boiling these vegetables causes the loss of a substance called glucosinolate. When consumed, glucosinolate changes into another compound called isothiocyanate, which fights the effects of carcinogens and hastens their removal from the body, Agence France-Presse reported.

The study found that boiling reduced glucosinolate content by 77 percent in broccoli, 58 percent in Brussels sprouts, 75 percent in cauliflower, and 65 percent in green cabbage.

Steaming, stir-frying or microwaving had little effect on these vegetables, however, AFP reported.

There are a number of other related vegetables with anti-cancer properties, including collards, kale, horseradish, radish, watercress, boy choy, rutabaga, kohlrabi, turnips, and Chinese cabbage.


5% Reduction in Smoking Could Save 100 Million Lives

A 5 percent worldwide reduction in the number of smokers by 2020 would save at least 100 million lives, according to a study by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden.

Currently, about 25 percent of adults (one billion people) in the world are smokers. Reducing that to 20 percent can be achieved by increasing tobacco taxes, expanding smoke-free zones, banning tobacco advertising, and helping people kick the habit, said the study. It noted that a number of countries have already cut adult smoking levels to less than 20 percent, Agence France-Presse reported.

Special focus must be made on educating smokers and would-be smokers in developing nations about the dangers of tobacco, Bloomberg and Frieden said. They pointed out that two-thirds of smokers live in 15 low- or middle-income nations and that 50 percent live in just five countries -- China, India, Russia, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

"Keeping rates low is especially important for the large population of young women in Asia and elsewhere who do not currently smoke but are targeted by the tobacco industry," according to the study, which was published Friday in The Lancet medical journal.

Bloomberg is an ex-smoker who spent $125 million of his own money to start a Worldwide Stop Smoking Initiative last year, AFP reported.


Blood from Donors With Undiagnosed Cancer No Threat

European researchers say that blood from donors with undiagnosed cancers does not appear to increase the risk of cancer in people who receive it, CBC News reported.

Danish and Swedish researchers analyzed data from a computerized blood bank on 350,000 people who received blood transfusions. Of those, 12,000 received blood products from donors with undiagnosed cancers at the time they gave blood. The recipients were followed for up to 34 years.

"Our data provide no evidence that blood transfusions from precancerous blood donors are associated with increased risk of cancer among recipients compared with transfusions from non-cancerous donors," the study authors wrote.

The study was published this week in The Lancet medical journal.