Health Highlights: March 16, 2008

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

Optical Scanning Method May Be Able to Detect Early Onset of Alzheimer's

A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and Boston University says it has found a way to detect the amyloid plaque in the brain that may be able to signal the progression of Alzheimers disease while the patient is still alive.

According to a news release from the Optical Society of America, the detection method, which uses near-infrared light detection to scan a person's brain to find the plaque, is being tested on living subjects. Finding the amyloid substances, believed to be the chief cause of memory loss and other symptoms of Alzheimer's dementia, had previously been accomplished only during autopsies.

    • Optical Scanning Method May Be Able to Detect Early Onset of Alzheimer's
    • Varicose, Spider Vein Removal Jump to No. 2 as Most-Performed Cosmetic Surgery
    • Meningitis Kills 1 of 3 College Students in Upstate New York
    • Breast Cancer Awareness Program Unites U.S., Mexico
    • Lubbock Has Worst Teeth in U.S.: Study
    • Microwave Popcorn Chemical Damages Airways: Study

"We're primarily interested in finding a way of diagnosing and monitoring Alzheimer's disease during life," U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Research Scientist Eugene Hanlon says in the news release. "We think this technique has a lot of potential for detecting the disease early on."

Hanlon and his colleagues from Harvard Medical School-Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston University used the near-infrared scanning technology to demonstrate that as the microscopic plaques accumulate, the optical properties of the brain change. The current research on living subjects will determine the technology's effectiveness as a an early-detection tool, the news release said.

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Optics Letters.


Varicose, Spider Vein Removal Jump to No. 2 as Most-Performed Cosmetic Surgery

Varicose vein removal has moved ahead of eyelid surgery as the second most often performed cosmetic surgical procedure, according to a new survey.

The reason for this, The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS) says in a news release, is cosmetic surgery preferences of men, not women, have changed dramatically. Sclerotherapy, the removal of spider veins and varicose veins, has increased about 226 percent among U.S. men in the past five years, the AACS says, while it has only increased about 3.5 percent as a preference for U.S. females.

By contrast, U.S men seem to be thinking twice about hair transplants, according to the survey. Price may be a factor, with hair transplant costs increasing by almost $1,300 in the past five years, while sclerotherapy costs have declined by slightly more than $100, according to AACS statistics.

Liposuction remains the top cosmetic surgical procedure, the AACS says, followed by sclerotherapy and blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery). The top non-surgical cosmetic procedure is Botox injection, the AACS reports.


Meningitis Kills 1 of 3 College Students in Upstate New York

An 18-year-old student at an upstate New York college has died from what health officials suspect is a case of bacterial meningitis, the New York Times reports.

The death March 14 of Craig Schiesser, a freshman at the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oswego on Lake Ontario, was one of three bacterial meningitis cases reported on two upstate New York college campuses in the past week-and-a-half, the newspaper reports.

Two Cornell University students, a 21-year-old woman and a 19-year-old man, have been hospitalized, the Times reports, causing health to warn students that they may need to take medicine to prevent their contracting the disease.

This is particularly true of anyone who may have been in contact with Schiesser during the past 10 days, the newspaper said. Health and college officials were also investigating whether the three cases were connected through campus parties, because the two colleges are relatively near each other.

Earlier this year, two fatal cases of bacterial meningitis struck a high school guidance counselor and a 17-year-old high school senior over a 24-hour period and within a few miles of each other in the New York City suburban area of Long Island.

Bacterial meningitis inflames the outer membranes of the brain and spinal cord and kills a few hundred people nationwide each year, the Times reports. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms include a sore neck, headaches, flu-like symptoms and a high fever.


Breast Cancer Awareness Program Unites U.S., Mexico

The effort to expand breast cancer awareness went beyond United States borders this weekend as U.S. First lady Laura Bush joined Mexico's First Lady Margarita Zavala in announcing an alliance between the two countries for awareness and research into cures for the deadly disease.

The Associated Press reports that the U.S.-Mexico Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research was officially launched March 14, with Bush and Zavala speaking about ways to educate people not only about preventative measures but also in getting rid of stigmas associated with breast cancer.

"In Mexico, one out of every 258 women will discover they have breast cancer in the next 10 years," the wire service quotes Bush saying at the ceremony in the Mexico City. "The majority of these cases will be detected in their later stages, greatly reducing their chances of survival."

Eventually, the partnership will extend to Brazil and Costa Rica, the A.P. reported. And the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation create training programs in Mexico.


Lubbock Has Worst Teeth in U.S.: Study

The best teeth in the United States are found in Madison, Wis., Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh, N.C., while the worst are in Lubbock, Texas. Three other cities in the Lone Star state -- El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas -- are also in the bottom 15 cities, says an article in next month's Men's Health magazine.

The authors looked at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on the number of annual dentists visits, canceled appointments, regular flossers, and households using fluoride in 100 large cities, the Associated Press reported.

Some experts theorized that high level of fluoride in Lubbock's well water may be a factor. Too much fluoride in water can cause tooth enamel to become rough, leaving white or brown stains.

Others suggested that dental care is too expensive, which means low-income people can't afford regular checkups or education, the AP reported.


Microwave Popcorn Chemical Damages Airways: Study

Inhalation of a chemical used in microwave popcorn artificial butter flavoring damaged the airways of mice, which developed a condition that can lead to a life-threatening lung disease, says a study by researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Mice exposed to diacetyl vapors for three months developed lymphocytic bronchiolitis, a precursor to obliterative bronchiolitis (popcorn lung). None of the mice developed the more serious disease, said

"This is one of the first studies to evaluate the respiratory toxicity of diacetyl at levels relevant to human health. Mice were exposed to diacetyl at concentrations and durations comparable to what may be inhaled at some microwave popcorn packaging plants," study co-author Daniel L. Morgan, chief of the Respiratory Toxicology Group at the NIEHS, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues concluded that workplace exposure to diacetyl contributes to the development of obliterative bronchiolitis, but noted that more research was needed. The study was published online in the journal Toxicological Sciences.

Obliterative bronchiolitis has been noted in microwave popcorn packaging plant workers who have inhaled significant concentrations of artificial butter flavoring. Late last year, a number of leading popcorn makers said they planned to eliminate diacetyl from their products, said.