Health Highlights: Dec. 8, 2006
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Chewable Birth Control Pill Launched in U.S.
The first chewable birth control tablet in the United States was officially launched Thursday by drug maker Warner Chilcott.
The company says that Femcon Fe provides an option for women who don't like swallowing pills and want to carry their birth control with them. The chewable tablet, which is aimed at women who occasionally forget to take their pills, contains the same hormones as standard oral contraceptives, the Associated Press reported.
Femcon Fe is packaged in the typical 28-day cycle -- 21 days of active pills and seven days of inactive pills. Women must drink 8 ounces of water when taking a tablet. A month's supply will sell for $44 wholesale. The price will be slightly more at pharmacies.
The spearmint-flavored tablet can also be swallowed without chewing.
"This isn't a great leap forward, but I think this is a helpful step," Dr. Lee Shulman, chairman of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, told the AP.
Ebola Could Push Gorillas to Extinction
A strain of Ebola virus has killed about 5,500 gorillas in the Republic of Congo and Gabon since 2001. The virus, combined with hunting, may be enough to cause extinction of the great apes, says a study in the current issue of the journal Science.
European researchers looking into reports of large-scale gorilla deaths conducted an investigation at the Lossi Sanctuary in the Congo. Between 2002 and 2003, 93 percent of the gorillas in the sanctuary died, CBC News reported.
Tests on the remains of dead gorillas were positive for Ebola Zaire, one of the four strains of the virus. Chimpanzees in the region were also severely affected, with a 77 percent death rate due to Ebola.
"Ape species that were abundant and widely distributed a decade ago are rapidly being reduced to remnant populations," the researchers wrote. "Add commercial hunting to the mix, and we have a recipe for ecological disaster."
In humans, Ebola causes massive internal and external bleeding and kills about 90 percent of people who are infected with the virus. Since it was first recorded in 1976, Ebola has killed more than 1,200 people, CBC News reported.
Malaria/HIV Co-Infections Major Problem in Africa
Malaria and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are promoting each other's spread in sub-Saharan Africa, says a U.S. study published Friday in the journal Science.
Researchers identified a large overlap between the two diseases in the region, Agence France Presse reported.
Malaria helps to multiple by 10 times the amount of HIV in the blood of an HIV-infected person, which means that person is more likely to transmit HIV to a sex partner. And due to their compromised immune systems, people with HIV are more susceptible to malaria infection, the study said.
The researchers estimated that this kind of co-infection has resulted in millions of malaria cases and tens of thousands of HIV infections, AFP reported.
The findings suggest that other co-infections such as tuberculosis or genital herpes may also have contributed to the large numbers of HIV cases in Africa, the researchers said.
Smoking Boosts Men's Risk of Knee Arthritis
Smoking increases the risk of knee osteoarthritis in men, says a Mayo Clinic-led study in this week's online issue of the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
Over 30 months, 159 men were given three MRI scans. The results showed that smokers had a faster loss of knee cartilage than non-smokers, CBC News reported.
Compared with men who never smoked or had quit, current smokers had a 2.3-fold increased risk of cartilage loss in the medial tibiofemoral joint, which connects the thighbone and shinbone. Smokers also had a 2.5-fold increased risk of cartilage loss at the patellofemoral joint, located between the knee cap and thigh bone.
"This is a novel finding. Previous studies showed no association between cigarette smoking and knee osteoarthritis or even a protective effect of smoking," said Dr. Shreyasee Amin, a clinical rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
He and his colleagues wrote that smoking "increases the levels of toxic substances in the blood and starves tissues of oxygen, which may hasten the loss of cartilage, " CBC News reported.
Keep Toys With Magnets Away From Young Kids, CDC Warns
U.S. health officials are warning parents to keep toys with magnets away from small children because swallowing the magnets can lead to digestive tract blockages and other problems.
Since 2003, one child died and 19 others have required surgery after they swallowed magnets found in toys, according to a report released Thursday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Magnets in separate sections of the bowel can become magnetically attached, resulting in obstructions, perforations, and a life-threatening bloodstream infection (sepsis). Initial signs and symptoms are non-specific, which can result in delayed diagnosis and greater harm to the child.
A radiological examination cannot tell a doctor whether swallowed objects are magnetic or whether they have trapped tissues between them, the report, from the noted. It did suggest that doctors pass a compass close to the abdomen in order to help them determine whether an unidentified object in a child's bowel is a magnet.
Parents should not let children younger than 6 years old play with toys that have magnets or allow younger children in areas where older children are playing with such toys, the report said. In addition, healthcare providers should be aware of the potential complications caused by ingestion of magnets.
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