Health Highlights: Aug. 14, 2008

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

Bush Signs Bill Banning Lead in Children's Products

Legislation that bans lead from children's products was signed Thursday by President George W. Bush, giving the United States the toughest standard in the world. The bill was passed by both houses of Congress two weeks ago.

Under the new law, lead beyond minute levels is prohibited in products for children under 12 years old, the Associated Press reported. Last year, lead paint was a major factor in U.S. recalls of 45 million toys and other children's products, mainly from China.

    • Bush Signs Bill Banning Lead in Children's Products
    • Neck Artery Stent Devices Recalled
    • Food Additive MSG Increases Risk of Overweight
    • U.S. Traffic Deaths Decreased in 2007
    • A Happy Attitude May Extend Life
    • Birth Control Pills May Impair Women's Mate Selection: Study
    • Portable Machine Speeds Bird Flu Diagnosis

The new legislation also bans the use of phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic products softer and more flexible. It also gives the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission more money and power to oversee testing of products and to penalize violators.

Each year in the United States, unsafe products cause about 28,000 deaths, according to the CPSC. Last year, faulty consumer products injured more than 33 million people, the AP reported.


Neck Artery Stent Devices Recalled

Stents and related devices made by Boston Scientific -- used to keep once-clogged neck arteries open -- are being recalled because of problems with the system used to implant the stents, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The recall affecting the NexStent Monorail, NexStent Carotid Stent and Monorail Delivery System does not affect devices that have already been implanted, the Dow Jones news service reported. Affected devices were produced between June 12, 2007 and May 2, 2008.

Stents are hollow tubes of wire mesh that are surgically implanted inside an artery to keep it open after a procedure to unclog the blood vessel. The affected devices are meant to be used in the carotid artery, a primary supplier of blood to the brain. They're being recalled because "the tip of the stent delivery system may detach from the delivery system during the procedure," the news service said, citing a notice on the FDA's Web site.

This problem could "lead to increased procedure time, cause vessel wall injury, stroke and/or emergency surgery to remove the detached tip," the agency warning continued.

The FDA said Boston Scientific sent a recall letter to customers on June 6.


Food Additive MSG Increases Risk of Overweight

People who eat foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG) are more likely to be overweight, according to American and Chinese researchers who studied more than 750 people, ages 40 to 59, in three rural villages in China.

About 82 percent of the study participants used MSG in their home food preparation. One-third of those who used the most MSG were nearly three time more likely to be overweight than people who didn't use MSG, United Press International reported.

"We saw this risk even when we controlled for physical activity, total calorie intake and other possible explanations for the difference in body mass," Dr. Ka He, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health, said in a news release.

"The positive associations between MSG intake and overweight were consistent with data from animal studies," said He, UPI reported.

The study was published in the journal Obesity.


U.S. Traffic Deaths Decreased in 2007

U.S. traffic fatalities declined last year to 41,059, the lowest death toll since 40,716 people were killed in 1994, says a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report released Thursday. Safer vehicles and aggressive law enforcement were among the reasons cited for the decline.

The 2007 fatality rate of 1.37 deaths for every 100 million miles was the lowest on record. California had the largest number decline in 2007, with 266 fewer traffic deaths than the previous year. South Dakota and Vermont had the largest percentage decreases, while North Carolina had the largest percentage increase -- 121 percent, the Associated Press reported.

Traffic injuries decreased for the eighth straight year, from 2.58 million in 2006 to 2.49 million in 2007.

While there was an overall decrease in traffic deaths, motorcycle deaths increased for the 10th straight year, going from 4,837 in 2006 to 5,154 in 2007. Officials noted there are now more than six million registered motorcycles in the United States, compared with 3.8 million in 1998, the AP reported.


A Happy Attitude May Extend Life

Being happy may add several years to your life, suggests a Dutch researcher who reviewed 30 studies conducted around the world.

Ruut Veenhoven of Erasmus University in Rotterdam concluded that the effects of happiness on longevity were "comparable to that of smoking or not," and that being happy could extend a person's life by 7.5 to 10 years, Agence France Presse reported.

Among the studies reviewed by Veenhoven, the strongest effect of happiness on longevity was seen in a group of American nuns, which may reflect the benefits of belonging to a close-knit, stress-free community with a sense of purpose.

The study was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.


Birth Control Pills May Impair Women's Mate Selection: Study

Taking birth control pills may hinder a woman's ability to select a genetically compatible mate, say researchers at the University of Newcastle in England.

Normally, women's sense of smell instinctively leads them to men with a dissimilar genetic makeup -- a union that improves the likelihood of successful conception and healthy children.

However, this study of 100 women found that the use of birth control pills disrupted the capacity to sniff out a suitable partner, Agence France Presse reported.

"The results showed that the preferences of women who began using the contraceptive pill shifted toward men with genetically similar odors," said team leader Craig Roberts. This can lead to relationship problems in the long term, he suggested.

"It could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pills, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners," said Roberts, AFP reported.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science.


Portable Machine Speeds Bird Flu Diagnosis

A portable testing machine that can diagnose human cases of bird flu in about two hours is being developed by researchers at Nottingham Trent University in Great Britain. At the moment, it takes about one week for lab testing to confirm bird flu.

Using a swab of saliva taken from a patient's mouth, the unit can detect molecules specific to the potentially deadly H5N1 virus or other bird flu strains, BBC News reported.

Quicker identification of H5N1 means patients can start treatment sooner, which may improve their odds of survival. The machine may also boost efforts to contain outbreaks.

"There's a large train of thought that one of the best ways of dealing with avian influenza is by detection and containment," said researcher Dr. Alan McNally, BBC News reported. "The ability to detect and type the influenza virus immediately is essential in setting up controls as quickly as possible to minimize the spread of any potential pandemic virus."