Health Highlights: Oct. 15, 2007

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

Personal Care, Food Service Workers Have Highest Depression Rates

Personal care and food service workers have the highest rates of depression (10.8 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively) among full time workers in the United States, says a report released Monday by the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Overall, seven percent of fulltime workers ages 18-64 experienced one or more major depressive episodes in the past year. Women were more likely than men to suffer depression and young adults, ages 18-25, had the highest rate of depression (8.9 percent) among all age groups of adults working fulltime.

    • Personal Care, Food Service Workers Have Highest Depression Rates
    • California Bans Kids' Products with Dangerous Chemical
    • Chlamydia Harms Male Fertility
    • Medtronic Warns of Faulty Heart Implant Component
    • More Family Dinners Seen as Help in Fighting Teen Obesity
    • Fearful Expressions More Rapidly Identified, Study Says

Depression rates among other age groups were: 7.6 percent, ages 26-34; 7.2 percent, ages 35-49; 5.1 percent, ages 50-64. Among young adult workers, those in health care and technical occupations had the highest rate of depression within the past year (11.9 percent).

Occupations with the lowest rates of depression were: engineering, architecture and surveying, 4.3 percent; life, physical and social science, 4.4 percent; and installation, maintenance and repair, 4.4 percent.


California Bans Kids' Products with Dangerous Chemical

Toys and baby products such as teething rings that contain more than a trace amount of a chemical used to soften plastics will be banned from California beginning in 2009. Studies have found that the chemical, phthalate, interferes with hormones and may lead to early puberty, reproduction defects and other health issues, the Associated Press reported.

Under the bill, signed into law Sunday, any product made for young children that contains more than one tenth of one percent of phthalates can't be made, sold or distributed in California, the first state to impose such a ban. Some other states are considering banning phthalates in certain products.

The European Union and at least 14 other countries have banned phthalates, the Associated Press reported.

Toy industry representatives have claimed that the levels of toxic chemicals and the length of exposures associated with children's toys are both so low that they're not a health threat.


Chlamydia Harms Male Fertility

The common sexually transmitted disease chlamydia damages male fertility, according to a Spanish study of 143 men. It was already known that untreated chlamydia infection can cause infertility in women.

In this new study, researchers analyzed sperm from men infected with chlamydia who hadn't been able to father children. The level of DNA damage in the men's sperm was more than three times higher than in healthy men, BBC News reported.

The researchers also found that the men with chlamydia infection had low sperm concentrations, defective-shaped sperm, and sperm that were unable to swim quickly. When 95 of the infertile men were treated with antibiotics, their DNA sperm damage improved an average of 36 percent within four months.

After completion of antibiotic treatment, 86 percent of the men were able to impregnate their partners, BBC News reported. The study was presented at an American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting.


Medtronic Warns of Faulty Heart Implant Component

U.S. medical device maker Medtronic said Sunday that an important component in its most recent implantable heart defibrillator models is prone to a defect that has caused hundreds of malfunctions and may have contributed to five deaths.

The company warned doctors to stop using the faulty Sprint Fidelis electrical lead, a wire that connects the heart to the defibrillator, which is designed to shock faltering hearts back into normal rhythm, The New York Times reported. Medtronic has halted sales of the Sprint Fidelis lead and plans to recall all leads not yet implanted in patients.

All the estimated 235,000 patients with the Sprint Fidelis lead should see their doctors to determine whether the lead has developed a fracture that can cause the defibrillator to misread heart-rhythm data, Medtronic said.

The company said this type of malfunction can cause the defibrillator to deliver an unnecessary electrical jolt to the heart, or fail to deliver a shock when it's actually needed, the Times reported.

According to Medtronic, about 2.3 percent (4,000 to 5,000) patients with the Fidelis lead may experience a lead fracture within 30 months of implantation. In such cases, surgery will be required to replace the faulty lead.

Dr. Daniel Schultz, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, offered some reassurance to patients. "We know it can be frightening for a patient to learn that a product they rely on so much might have a serious defect," he said in a statement released Monday. "However, patients can be assured that the likelihood of fracture is very low and FDA is committed to ensuring that the risk to patients is minimized."

Schultz added that his agency will soon be issuing a "recall classification" regarding the Sprint Fidelis leads. This does not mean that the devices must be surgically removed, he said, only that new ones should not be implanted in patients.

"Neither FDA, Medtronic, nor representatives of the Heart Rhythm Society, recommend the routine surgical removal of a fractured lead because removal carries risks," Schultz said. "Instead, physicians should weigh the benefits and risks of either continuing to use the lead with careful monitoring or capping the lead so it is no longer useable and implanting a different model."

Schultz also noted that "a small number of Sprint Fidelis leads are used with defibrillators made by manufacturers other than Medtronic." Patients who are unsure as to whether they are using the Sprint Fidelis lead should consult with their physician, he said.


More Family Dinners Seen as Help in Fighting Teen Obesity

The family that eats together may have healthy weight together.

So say University of Minnesota researchers who studied ways parents could help their obese teenage children lose weight.

According to the Associated Press, the scientists, who studied the eating habits of more than 2,500 adolescents over a five year period found that 44 percent of the girls and 20 percent of the boys had weight issues. Among these, 25 percent of the females and 10 percent of the males used extreme measures to control their weight, including vomiting and laxatives.

"We know that these behaviors tend to actually increase weight gain over time, the A.P. quotes lead author Dianne Neumark-Sztainer as saying. "It points to a need to address these behaviors with... overweight kids."

Part of the solution, the researchers concluded, was to have as many family meals together as possible, with no teasing about eating habits, and offering healthful menus. This should accompany family participation in outdoor activities and exercise, the wire service reported.

The study is to be published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.


Fearful Expressions More Rapidly Identified, Study Says

The old axiom that some animals can "smell" fear in another creature has been found to have a slightly different face -- literally -- when it comes to humans recognizing when someone is afraid.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University say they have found evidence that the human brain recognizes fear in a person's face more quickly than it does other emotions.

In a study appearing in the November issue of the journal Emotion, scientists from Vanderbilt's department of psychology attempted to find out how quickly humans could recognize emotional changes in each other's faces, according to a university news release.

Using a technique called continuous flash suppression that keeps people from becoming aware of what they are seeing for up to 10 seconds, the researchers were able to project multiple images to study participants. What they found was that fearful faces were most immediately recognizable.

The reason for this, said David Zald, associate professor of psychology and a co-author of the study, may be because a brain area called the amygdala shortcuts the normal brain pathway for processing visual images.

"We think the amygdala has some crude ability to process stimuli and that it can cue some other visual areas to what they need to focus on," Zald said in the university news release."Fearful eyes are a particular shape, where you get more of the whites of the eye showing," he added.

"That may be the sort of simple feature that the amygdala can pick up on."