Health Highlights: Oct. 27, 2008

The rate of methylation -- which shuts down unwanted genes in a cell -- was nearly 10 times higher in the brains of those who committed suicide. The gene being shut down in the brains of the suicide victims was a chemical message receptor that plays a critical role in behavior regulation, the researchers said.

Environmental factors may play a role in the brain changes, said research leader Dr. Michael Poulter and colleagues, who added the study findings open up new areas of research that could lead to better treatments for depression and suicidal tendencies.

The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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New Vaccine Offers Better Pneumococcal Disease Protection

An experimental vaccine called Prevnar-13 appears to offer young children better protection against pneumococcal disease than the current vaccine Prevnar, according to the findings of four European studies released Monday. Both vaccines are made by Wyeth.

Compared to the current vaccine, the new vaccine is designed to protect against six more types of streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria that can cause pneumococcal disease, which can lead to ear infections, pneumonia and meningitis, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Data from the four studies appear to show that Prevnar-13 produces a strength of antibody response similar to that of Prevnar, and that both vaccines have similar levels of safety and tolerability. The studies also found that Prevnar-13 didn't react negatively with common immunizations received by children.

As of 2006, Prevnar had decreased the incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease in U.S. children age 5 and younger by nearly 80 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wyeth said it expects Prevnar-13 to increase prevention to 92 percent in the United States and Canada, The Journal reported.

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Earlier AIDS Drug Treatment Saves Lives: Study

Drug treatments for AIDS patients should start sooner than current guidelines suggest, according to a study that included more than 8,000 American and Canadian patients.

Dr. Mari Kitahata, of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues found that patients whose treatment was delayed until their immune system was badly damaged (T-cell count below 350) were nearly twice as likely to die within a few years than those whose treatment started earlier, the Associated Press reported.

The findings were presented Sunday at an infectious diseases conference in Washington, D.C.

The widely accepted approach has been to spare patients the side effects of AIDS drugs as long as possible. But AIDS specialists predict this study will lead to a change in practice, and several hundred thousand HIV-infected Americans who aren't taking AIDS drugs will be advised to start, the AP reported.

"The data are rather compelling that the risk of death appears to be higher if you wait than if you treat," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped fund the study.

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High Melamine Levels Found in Chinese Eggs

Eggs imported from northeastern Chinese city of Dalian were found to have high levels of the toxic industrial chemical melamine, Hong Kong food safety officials reported Saturday. The levels were almost double the legal limit for food sold in Hong Kong.

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