Health Highlights: May 21, 2007

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

Most Nations Have Quelled H5N1 Outbreaks in Birds

Most countries have been able to suppress outbreaks of the H5N1 avian flu virus among birds, the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health said in a statement issued Monday.

Bernard Vallat noted that, so far in 2007, countries have reported fewer H5N1-related deaths among wild and migratory birds, which "could indicate the disease is coming closer to the end of a cycle," Agence France-Presse reported.

    • Most Nations Have Quelled H5N1 Outbreaks in Birds
    • Pollution Boosting Cancer Rates in China
    • Magazine Lists Top 10 U.S. Food Trends
    • FDA Delays Approval of New Anemia Drug
    • Scientists 'Add' an Hour to the 24-Hour Day
    • Where Do People Live the Longest?

But he added that poultry outbreaks continue in some countries, which means the international community should maintain rigorous H5N1 prevention and control measures.

Since 2003, H5N1 outbreaks have been reported in 59 countries. Most of these have been successfully eradicated, Vallat noted. However, he said H5N1 remains endemic in at least three countries -- Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria, AFP reported.

Preventing the spread of H5N1 among poultry is the best way to keep the dangerous virus from infecting people, Vallat said. So far, the virus has killed 185 people worldwide, mostly in Southeast Asia.

Experts fear a deadly human pandemic if H5N1 mutates into a form that's easily transmitted between people.


Pollution Boosting Cancer Rates in China

Soaring cancer rates in China are being fuelled by pollution and the overuse of chemicals in food production, according to an article in Monday's edition of the China Daily, Agence France-Presse reported.

The article said health ministry survey statistics show that cancer death rates have increased 23 percent in rural areas and by 19 percent in urban areas. No time frame was provided for the survey, conducted in 78 counties and 30 cities, AFP reported.

Cancer has been the leading cause of death in China since 2002.

The China Daily article quoted Chen Zhizhou, a cancer expert at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, as saying: "The main reason behind the rising number of cancer cases is that pollution of the environment, water and air is getting worse by day."

He noted that many "chemical and industrial enterprises are built along rivers so they can dump waste into water easily ... the contaminated water has directly affected soil, crops and food."

The paper also quoted Zhizhou as saying that underground water is being polluted by excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, and farmers are using additives to make crops, poultry and pigs grow faster, AFP said.


Magazine Lists Top 10 U.S. Food Trends

More Americans are cooking and eating meals at home, and locally produced foods are becoming more popular, according to a list of 2007's top 10 food trends in the current issue of Food Technology magazine.

Among the trends:

  • Economic pressures are among the factors pushing Americans to prepare and eat more meals at home.
  • Word-of-mouth is a key factor in the success of new food products and celebrity chefs are encouraging more adventuresome cooking.
  • Reducing the number of steps in food preparation is a major way to increase sales of food products.
  • Texture, crispness and crunch are important.
  • Products free of undesirable ingredients are viewed favorably by consumers.
  • Fresh is the most desirable attribute in food and foods marketed as local, seasonal, hand-made, and natural are increasingly popular.
  • Food purchases are greatly influenced by shoppers' desire to lower their risk of developing health problems.


FDA Delays Approval of New Anemia Drug

In the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's concern about the safety of anemia treatment drugs, the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche has announced the federal agency has delayed approving its drug, Mircera.

The Associated Press reports that Roche won't say specifically what questions the FDA wants answered about Mircera, but a company spokesperson said it has received an FDA draft for the drug's labeling. She added that no approval would be given until the FDA met in the fall to discuss the safety of drugs used to combat anemia in patients with kidney disease, for which Mircera was designed.

If approved, Mircera would compete with Amgen's Aranesp and Epogen and Johnson and Johnson's Procrit. An FDA advisory panel last week recommended warning labels for Aranesp and Epogen when they are used in treating anemia in cancer patients.

And the agency has already ordered increased warnings for all of the drugs, emphasizing increased risk of blood clots and heat attack when they are taken in high doses, the wire service said.


Scientists 'Add' an Hour to the 24-Hour Day

If you've ever complained that there weren't enough hours in the day to get things done, be patient. It may not be long before you get some extra time.

According to BBC News, researchers from the United States and France have conducted an experiment that suggests it might be possible to "stretch" our day beyond 24 hours.

The research, which was published in the May 14 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had 12 volunteers who were subjected to bright, pulsing light in a controlled environment that blocked out any difference between night and day.

This, in turn, adjusted the natural human circadian rhythm, programmed in many species to match the 24-hour cycle that makes up one day.

According to BBC, using the pulses of bright light, the scientists were able to reprogram the study subjects, "adding" an average of an extra hour to their day.

Why would this be necessary? "Jet-lag, shift work and circadian disorders such as advanced and delayed sleep phase syndromes are all associated, to different extents, with a condition where the circadian system is out of synchrony with the light/dark cycle," the BBC quotes the scientists as saying.


Where Do People Live the Longest?

If you want your son to have a long life -- in fact, statistically the longest life expectancy on earth -- move to San Marino, a small republic on a hill near the Adriatic sea, surrounded by Italy.

And if you have a daughter and want her lifespan to be longest, you can move across to the Mediterranean to Monaco, or across the sea to Japan.

According to the Associated Press, these countries rank among the best for a person's longevity. The annual list was issued Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO). San Marino's male life expectancy is 80, and Japan and Monaco's (among others) female life expectancy is 86, the wire service reports.

The lowest life expectancy for both males and females is in Africa, the AP reports. Males in Sierra Leone, on the continent's west coast, have an average lifespan of only 37, which is the same for females in Swaziland, in the southern part of Africa.

The United States is on the high side in average lifespan, the AP reports, although not a leader in either category. U.S. males reach an average age of 75 and women can be expected to live to be 80.