Health Highlights: Dec. 19, 2007

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

NIH Project Examines Impact of Microbes on Human Health

A large research project to explore the role of bacteria, fungi and other microbes in human health and disease was announced Wednesday by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Over the next five years, the Human Microbiome Project will award a total of $115 million to researchers.

As part of the project, scientists will collect and analyze microbes present in five specific body regions known to be inhabited by microbial communities: the digestive tract, the mouth, the skin, the nose and the female urogenital tract.

    • NIH Project Examines Impact of Microbes on Human Health
    • Immigrant Children in NYC Have Higher Risk of Lead Poisoning
    • U.S. Hospital Admissions Rise for Pulmonary Heart Disease
    • Contaminated Syringes Linked to Blood Infections
    • Green Tea Halves Risk of Advanced Prostate Cancer: Study
    • Marijuana Smoke Packed With Toxins

Researchers will also sequence hundreds of microbial genomes.

"The human microbiome is largely unexplored. It is essential that we understand how microorganisms interact with the human body to affect health and disease. This project has the potential to transform the ways we understand human health and prevent, diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions," NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni said in a prepared statement.


Immigrant Children in NYC Have Higher Risk of Lead Poisoning

In New York City, immigrant children are five times more likely than U.S.-born children to acquire lead poisoning, says a city health department study published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study of children tested for lead poisoning in 2002 found that the risk was highest among recent immigrants. Children who had arrived in the United States within the previous six months were 11 times more likely to have lead poisoning than U.S.-born children.

The highest-risk children were from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico and Pakistan.

Lead-based paint is the primary cause of lead poisoning in both U.S.- (80 percent) and foreign-born children (65 percent) in New York City. But immigrant children may have been exposed to other sources of lead in their homes countries, including pollution, foods, herbal medicines, dishes, toys, jewelry, and cosmetics, researchers said.

"This study suggests that immigrant children are being exposed to lead in their home countries before they arrive in New York City," study co-author Jessica Leighton, Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Health, said in a prepared statement. "And some immigrant families may be bringing tainted products with them to New York City. We encourage all parents, especially parents who are recent immigrants, to be sure their children are tested for lead poisoning at ages one and two, as required by law."


U.S. Hospital Admissions Rise for Pulmonary Heart Disease

Between 1997 and 2005, U.S. hospital admissions for chronic pulmonary heart disease rose from 301,400 to 456,500, an increase of more than 50 percent, according to the latest News and Numbers from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Pulmonary heart disease is a serious, often fatal, lung blood vessel disorder that causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness and fainting. Most people with pulmonary heart disease have an underlying heart or lung disorder.

The AHRQ found that:

  • About 20,000 hospital patients died from chronic pulmonary heart disease in 2005 -- a death rate of 4.4 percent. That's two times higher than the overall death rate for all hospital patients.
  • Women accounted for 60 percent of hospital stays for pulmonary heart disease.
  • In 2005, hospitalizations for pulmonary heart disease cost $5.6 billion. Each hospital stay for a patient with pulmonary heart disease cost an average of $12,400, compared to an average of $8,100 for all hospital stays.


Contaminated Syringes Linked to Blood Infections

U.S. health authorities are investigating a suspected link between bacteria-contaminated syringes and blood infections in 40 people in Illinois and Texas, including 20 outpatients from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, the Associated Press reported. There have been no deaths.

Earlier this month, Rush doctors traced the infections to heparin-filled syringes used during home treatment for cancer and other health problems. Heparin is a blood thinner. The heparin-filled syringes were from a single batch produced by Sierra Pre-Filled of Angier, N.C., the AP said.

Syringes from that same batch were also sent to Colorado, Florida and Pennsylvania, but no infections have been reported in those states, said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the AP reported.

The infections, caused by bacteria called Serratia marcescens, can cause fever and chills. While such infections can be serious, they generally respond well to antibiotics.

Sierra Pre-Filled has recalled the affected batch of syringes and is cooperating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the investigation, the AP reported. Doctors are being alerted about the contaminated syringes and asked to watch for cases of infection.


Green Tea Halves Risk of Advanced Prostate Cancer: Study

Men who drink five or more cups of green tea a day may reduce their risk of advanced prostate cancer by about half, according to a Japanese study published online Wednesday in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study included 49,920 men who were surveyed in 1990 and 1993 and followed until 2004. During that time, 404 of the men were diagnosed with prostate cancer: 114 with advanced cancer; 271 with localized cancer; and 19 with cancer of undetermined stage, Agence France-Presse reported.

The researchers found that men who drank five or more cups of green tea a day were 50 percent less likely to have advanced prostate cancer than those who drank less than one cup of green tea daily.

There was no association between green tea and localized prostate cancer, the study authors said, AFP reported.

The researchers noted that green tea contains catechin, a substance that curbs levels of testosterone. The male hormone is believed to be a risk factor for prostate cancer.


Marijuana Smoke Packed With Toxins

Inhaled marijuana smoke contains higher levels of certain toxins than tobacco smoke, according to a Health Canada study, BBC News reported.

Compared to tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke contains 20 times as much ammonia (a chemical linked to cancer) and about five times as much hydrogen cyanide (heart damage) and nitrogen oxides (lung damage), the Canadian government researchers said.

However, the found that tobacco smoke contained higher levels of a toxin linked to infertility, BBC News reported. The findings were reported in New Scientist.

Previous research has concluded that marijuana smoke does more harm to the lungs than tobacco smoke because marijuana smoke is inhaled more deeply and held in the lungs for a longer time.

"The health impact of cannabis is often overlooked amid the legal debate," Dr. Richard Russell, a specialist at the Windsor Chest Clinic in the United Kingdom, told BBC News. "These findings do not surprise me. The toxins from cannabis smoke cause lung inflammation, lung damage and cancer."