Health Highlights: Oct. 13, 2007

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

Smoking Could Speed MS Disability

Smokers with multiple sclerosis show more evidence of brain tissue shrinkage on MRI scans than people with the illness who do not smoke, U.S. researchers say.

A team at the University of Buffalo's Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center (BNAC) compared the MRIs of 368 MS patients, 128 of who had a history of smoking. Most of the patients had one of the three most common forms of MS -- relapsing-remitting (acute attacks with recovery), primary-progressive (steadily worsening), or secondary progressive (occasional attacks with progression).

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Smoking Could Speed MS Disability
    • Staph Skin Infections Spreading in U.S. Schools
    • FDA Approves New AIDS Medication
    • U.S. and China Discuss Product Safety
    • Sen. Kennedy Has Surgery for Artery Blockage
    • Report Raises Concerns About Lead in Lipsticks

Smokers had higher disability scores than nonsmokers, as well as lower brain volumes. As packs-per-day smoked increased, the volume of the neocortex -- a key brain area linked to higher thinking -- shrank, the team said.

Based on the findings, "MS patients should be counseled to stop smoking, or at least to cut down so they can preserve as much brain function as possible," lead researcher Dr. Robert Zivadinov, professor of neurology and director of the BNAC, said in a statement.

The findings were to be presented Saturday at the Congress of the European Committee for the Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, in Prague, Czech Republic.

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Staph Skin Infections Spreading in U.S. Schools

Schools across America are reporting outbreaks of Staphylococcus aureus skin infections, some of them drug-resistant, according to the Associated Press. Most infections are being spread in school gyms and locker rooms as athletes with minor cuts and abrasions share equipment, experts said.

"Most of these are mild infections," Nicole Coffin, spokeswoman at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the AP. "They can be as simple as a pimple or a boil, or as serious as a blood infection."

Most worrisome are cases of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which resists treatment with many antibiotics. In a Newport News, Va., high school, four students were infected with staph, one of them carrying the MRSA strain. That patient, a football player, was briefly hospitalized this week, the AP said.

Other outbreaks of a similar nature have occurred in schools in Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, the AP added.

Experts say the best way to minimize the risk of staph skin infections is through frequent and thorough handwashing, by covering any wounds, and by avoiding sharing personal items such as towels and razors.

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FDA Approves New AIDS Medication

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a new kind of pill to fight AIDS.

According to the Associated Press, Merck & Co.'s Isentress could be a valuable new weapon for patients battling tough-to-treat forms of AIDS, since it targets an enzyme produced by HIV called integrase.

Existing medications do not act on this enzyme, but they do target two other enzymes crucial to HIV's infection and spread. Adding twice-a-day Isentress to standard drug cocktails should boost overall treatment effectiveness, the AP said.

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