Health Highlights: May 6, 2008

"If somebody is sick in the family, for example, and it's difficult to get to hospital, they need to know what sort of advice might be available," Fukuda told the AP.

While most human cases of H5N1 bird flu have been caused by direct contact with infected birds, experts fear the virus may mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between people.

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Treatable Ailments Kill Nearly 10 Million Children Each Year

An estimated 9.7 million children worldwide under the age of 5 die each year from easily preventable or treatable health problems such as pneumonia and diarrhea, says a report released by the U.S.-based charity Save the Children.

Most of the deaths occur in developing nations, and poor children are twice as likely to die as rich children, the Associated Press reported.

Save the Children ranked 146 countries based on well-being for mothers and children. Sweden, Norway and Iceland were at the top of the list, while Nigeria was last. Eight of the 10 bottom-ranked countries were in sub-Saharan Africa, where four out of five mothers are likely to experience the death of a child.

The group said 30 percent of mothers and children in developing countries don't receive basic health interventions, such as prenatal care, skilled assistance during birth, immunizations and treatment for pneumonia and diarrhea, the AP reported.

More than six million of the 9.7 million children's deaths each year could be prevented using existing, low-cost tools and knowledge, Save the Children said.

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Restaurant Tobacco Bans May Prevent Teen Smoking

Total cigarette bans in restaurants may help prevent teen smoking, suggests a Massachusetts study that included 2,791 teens, ages 12 to 17, who were followed for four years.

Teens who lived in towns with strict restaurant smoking bans were 40 percent less likely to become regular smokers than teens in towns with no bans or weak bans (smoking allowed in designated areas), the study found.

Overall, about nine percent of the teens became smokers. The rate in towns without bans or with weak bans was 10 percent, compared to eight percent in towns with strict smoking bans, the Associated Press reported.

Along with reducing teens' exposure to smokers, smoking bans send teens the message that smoking is socially unacceptable, said study lead author Dr. Michael Siegel, of Boston University's School of Public Health.

"When kids grow up in an environment where they don't see smoking, they are going to think it's not socially acceptable. If they perceive a lot of other people are smoking, they think it's the norm," Siegel told the AP.

The study is published in the May issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Depression Risk in Elderly

Elderly people with low levels of vitamin D may be at increased risk for depression and other mental health disorders, Dutch researchers say.

Of the 1,282 people, ages 65 to 92, in the study, 26 had major depression and 169 had minor depression. Vitamin D levels were 14 percent lower in those with major or minor depression, Agence France-Presse reported.

The researchers also found that low vitamin D levels were associated with increased levels of a hormone secreted by the parathyroid gland. Overactive parathyroid glands are often linked with depression.

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