Health Highlights: Oct. 30, 2008

Oct. 31 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Women Pay More for Health Insurance: Report

American women pay much more -- sometimes hundreds of dollars per year -- than men of the same age for individual health insurance, according to data from insurance companies and online brokers.

Insurers said they charge women higher premiums because women, ages 19 to 55, tend to incur more health-care costs, especially in childbearing years, than men, The New York Times reported. Women are more likely to visit doctors, get regular checkups, to take prescription medications, and to have certain chronic conditions, the report said.

But the differences in women's and men's premiums have raised concerns among some groups, and members of Congress have started to question insurers' justifications.

"The wide variation in premiums could not possibly be justified by actuarial principles. We should not tolerate women having to pay more for health insurance, just as we do not tolerate the practice of using race as a factor in setting rates," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, the Times reported.

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Vehicle-Animal Crash Deaths Rising

In the last 15 years, the number of people killed each year in vehicle crashes with deer and other animals has more than doubled -- from 101 in 1993 to 223 in 2007, according to a study by the U.S. Highway Loss Data Institute.

Since 1993, Texas has recorded the most deaths (227) from vehicle-animal crashes, followed by Wisconsin (123) and Pennsylvania (112), the Associated Press reported.

The rising death toll is due to urban sprawl into deer habitat, the study said.

"Urban sprawl means suburbia and deer habitat intersect in many parts of the country," said Kim Hazelbaker, the institute's senior vice president. "If you're driving in areas where deer are prevalent, the caution flag is out, especially in November."

Insurance claims for crashes with animals are three times higher in November than from January to September, the study said. Fall is breeding season.

The only proven countermeasure is fencing, but that's "extremely expensive and not practical. Our message to motorists is to slow down, particularly at dusk and on rural roads," Jonathon Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the AP.

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High-Fat Diet May Increase Alzheimer's Risk

A high-fat diet may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease, suggests a Canadian study with mice genetically engineered to produce two proteins --tau and amyloid beta -- found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

The University of Laval team fed a diet rich in animal fat and poor in omega-3 to one group of mice, and a diet that contained seven times less fat to a control group of mice. The mice on the high-fat diet (in which fat accounted for 60 percent of consumed calories) had 8.7 times more amyloid beta and 1.5 times more tau than the control mice, United Press International reported.

Mice on the high-fat diet also had lower levels of drebin protein in their brains, another characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

"Metabolic changes induced by such a diet could affect the inflammatory response in the brain," said study co-author Carl Julien, UPI reported.

The study was published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

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Cold Germs Found on Many Household Surfaces

Doorknobs, TV remotes, refrigerator handles and other commonly touched household surfaces are hotbeds of cold germs, which can survive on those surfaces for two days or longer, says a University of Virginia study.

The study included adults with cold symptoms who were asked to name 10 places in their homes they had touched in the preceding 18 hours. The researchers then went to the participants' homes to hunt for cold germs, the Associated Press reported.

"We found that commonly touched areas ... were positive (for cold germs) about 40 percent of the time," said ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Birgit Winther. Cold germs were found on six of 10 doorknobs, eight of 14 refrigerator handles, three of 13 light switches, six of 10 TV remote controls, eight of 10 bathroom faucets, four of seven phones, three of four dishwasher handles, and three of three salt and pepper shakers.

The study was presented this week at a national conference on infectious diseases in Washington, D.C., the AP reported.