Health Highlights: June 11, 2008

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

U.S. Life Expectancy Hits New High

Life expectancy in the United States hit a record high in 2006 of 78.1 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. Life expectancy rose to new highs for white males (76), black males (70), white females (81) and black females (76.9).

In addition, the age-adjusted death rate fell to 776.4 deaths per 100,000 people from 799 in 2005, the agency said in a prepared statement. Death rates for many of the leading causes of death fell significantly in 2006, including a 12.8 percent drop in deaths from flu and pneumonia.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Life Expectancy Hits New High
    • AP: Paul Newman Has Cancer
    • U.S. Tab for Allergy Sufferers: $11 Billion
    • Hong Kong, Fighting Bird Flu Outbreak, Orders Chicken Cull
    • Kids' Pajamas Recalled for Excessive Lead
    • Bottles With Bisphenol A Safe: FDA Official
    • Chemical Changes May Identify Defects That Lead to Cancer
    • Smoking, High BMI Increase Risk of Hearing Loss

Deaths from lower respiratory disease fell 6.5 percent from 2005 to 2006, cases of stroke fell by 6.4 percent, heart disease by 5.5 percent, diabetes by 5.3 percent, and deaths from HIV/AIDS declined 4.8 percent from 2005.

The preliminary infant mortality rate for 2006 fell to 6.7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, a 2.3 percent drop from the 2005 figure of 6.9, the CDC said.

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AP: Paul Newman Has Cancer

Actor Paul Newman has cancer, the Associated Press reported, citing Newman's longtime business partner.

"I know that it's a form of cancer," the wire service quoted writer A.E. Hotchner as saying, although he didn't specify the type of cancer. He said Newman was still undergoing treatment.

Newman put out a statement Tuesday that he was "doing nicely," but didn't address speculation that he had cancer.

Appearing last month at a practice for the Indianapolis 500 car race, Newman appeared to have lost a significant amount of weight, the AP said.

In the 1980s, Hotchner partnered with Newman to start "Newman's Own," a salad dressing company that has branched out to other food products. By 2007, the company had contributed more than $200 million in profits to charity, according to the "Newman's Own" Web site.

Hotchner told the AP that Newman had an operation a few years ago "somewhere in the area of the lung."

"Everybody is hopeful," he said of Newman's prognosis. "That's all we know."

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American Tab for Allergy Sufferers: $11 Billion

It may be nothing to sneeze at, but $11 billion is how much Americans spent on doctor bills, prescription drugs, and other medical costs to fight allergy symptoms, the federal government revealed Wednesday.

The total for 2005, the most recent year evaluated, was nearly double the $6 billion spent five years earlier, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said.

The analysis from the agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also found:

  • Some 22 million Americans visited a doctor, got a prescription drug, were hospitalized, or received home health care for allergy symptoms in 2005.
  • Some $7 billion was spent on prescription drugs, and the remaining $4 billion was divided among doctor visits and hospital outpatient care.
  • From 2000 to 2005, the annual average cost of allergy treatment rose from $350 per person to $520.

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Hong Kong, Fighting Bird Flu Outbreak, Orders Mass Chicken Cull

Hong Kong has begun culling all chickens in its markets and retail outlets after finding the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu among fowl in a total of seven markets, the Bloomberg news service reported Wednesday.

The outbreak was first detected at four markets last week, and the virus has since been found at three additional markets. Poultry imports from mainland China were suspended on June 7.

Some 3,500 chickens were to be slaughtered at about 470 locations, Bloomberg reported. Additional testing at bird farms will determine if more culls are needed, the government said.

So far, it has been difficult for the virus to pass between fowl and people, but experts have long feared that the germ would mutate and spark a human flu pandemic.

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Kids' Pajamas Recalled for Excessive Lead

Some 28,000 sets of camouflage child pajamas are being recalled because the screen print on the shirt contains excessive lead, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

Made in Vietnam, the pajamas were sold at The Children's Place retail stores nationwide between December 2006 and January 2008. They also were sold on the retailer's Web site during the same period for $15 to $17.

No injuries have been reported. Consumers should immediately take the pajamas away from children and return them to any The Children's Place store for a full refund.

recalled pajamas

For more information, contact the retailer at 877-752-2387.

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Bottles With Bisphenol A Safe: FDA Official

Plastic baby bottles and water bottles made with a chemical called bisphenol A are safe, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official.

While small amounts of bisphenol A can be released as plastics break down, the levels of exposure is safe, Dr. Norris Alderson, the FDA's associate commissioner for science, said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

"Although our review is ongoing, there's no reason to recommend consumers stop using products with (bisphenol A)," Alderson told a House subcommittee.

The chemical has come under intense scrutiny. In a recent draft report, the U.S. National Toxicology Program said animal studies suggest bisphenol A may cause changes in behavior and the brain, and reduce birth weight and survival in fetuses, the AP reported.

The Canadian government plans to ban bisphenol A in baby bottles, and proposed U.S. legislation would ban the chemical in children's products.

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Chemical Changes May Identify Defects That Lead to Cancer

Subtle changes in cell chemicals may help identify people at risk for cancer before they actually develop the disease, according to researchers at the U.K. Institute of Food Research.

They detected these changes in apparently normal cells taken from the intestines of bowel cancer patients, BBC News reported.

"We looked at changes in 18 genes that play a role in the very earliest stages of colorectal cancer and detected clear chemical differences in these genes in otherwise normal tissue in cancer patients," said lead researcher Professor Ian Johnson. "This represents a new way to identify defects that could eventually lead to cancer."

The study was published in the British Journal of Cancer.

While this is an interesting finding, it requires much more research, Henry Scowcroft, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, told BBC News. He noted the chemical changes detected in the normal cells could occur in response to already having cancer or to cancer treatment.

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Smoking, High BMI Increase Risk of Hearing Loss

Smoking and high body mass index (BMI) increase the risk of hearing loss, says a European study that included 4,083 people in seven countries.

The more years a person smoked, the greater their risk of high-frequency hearing loss, said the study, which also found that people with higher BMIs had more pronounced hearing loss across the frequency range tested, CBC News reported.

Interestingly, moderate alcohol consumption appeared to protect against hearing loss. The study was published online in the Journal for Research in Otolaryngology.

The researchers couldn't explain their findings, but noted that smoking and high BMI lead to cardiovascular disease, which has been linked in previous studies to hearing loss, CBC News reported. And previous research has suggested that moderate alcohol consumption may help protect the heart.