Health Highlights: 2005

E.U. Bars Imports of Wild Birds to Prevent Avian Flu SpreadWomen Bear Brunt of Domestic Violence: StudyDoctors Adopt Guidelines on Patient Waking During SurgeryParents Say Inactivity Is Main Cause of Childhood ObesityGinseng Effective Against Colds: StudyAir Pollution in China Kills 400,000 People a Year: Report

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

E.U. Bars Imports of Wild Birds to Prevent Avian Flu Spread

The European Union on Tuesday banned all commercial imports of live wild birds in an attempt to prevent the spread of avian flu, the Bloomberg news service reported. The decision followed by two days discovery of the lethal virus in a South American parrot that had been quarantined in Britain.

The ban imposed by the 25-nation group permits individuals to import up to six birds, provided the animals have been quarantined or vaccinated against bird flu, Bloomberg said.

In Canada, health ministers from around the globe gathered Tuesday in Ottawa to discuss how to contain the lethal HN51 strain of bird flu in Southeast Asia, where it has killed 62 people and millions of birds since 2003. While the present virus isn't easily transmitted from person to person, health officials worry that the germ could mutate and lead to a human pandemic that could kill millions of people worldwide.

The 62nd human bird flu death -- a 23-year-old man in Indonesia -- was announced Tuesday by the country's health ministry.

Migratory birds are believed behind recent outbreaks among fowl in Europe, health officials said. The Associated Press, citing the opinion of biologists in the United States and Canada, reported Tuesday that bird flu could reach the shores of North America as early as next year. A consortium of U.S. government agencies is seeking $5 million over three years to test birds along their migratory routes in the United States beginning next spring, the AP reported.


Women Bear Brunt of Domestic Violence: Study

The average medical cost for women victimized by physical domestic violence is almost six times that of the average male victim, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded in study results released Tuesday.

The average medical cost was $483 for women, compared to $83 for men, the agency said in announcing what it called the first study to measure the economic impact of domestic violence. Mental-health services cost $207 for average adult women victimized by domestic violence, versus $80 for the average man, the CDC said.

The study, published in the journal Violence and Victims, also found that domestic violence against women resulted in more emergency room visits and hospitalizations than in cases where men were victims, the agency said.

Domestic violence affects more than 32 million Americans annually, causing more than 2 million injuries and about 1,300 deaths, the CDC said. The agency classified domestic violence as including physical, sexual, or psychological harm brought by a current or former partner or spouse.


Doctors Adopt Guidelines on Patient Waking During Surgery

The American Society of Anesthesiologists adopted on Tuesday new guidelines to help prevent patients from the rare but terrifying experience of awakening during surgery, the Associated Press reported.

While this experience only occurs in one or two cases of every 1,000 surgeries, patients can feel excruciating pain without being able to alert doctors. Last year, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations urged hospitals to ask post-surgical patients about whether they had experienced the phenomenon.

The anesthesiologist group, however, stopped short of recommending that its members use a new generation of brain-function monitors that proponents argue could alert surgeons to the problem, the AP said. The society said doctors could consider the devices on a case-by-case basis, particularly during Cesarean sections and other procedures in which deep anesthesia often is avoided, the wire service said.


Parents Say Inactivity Is Main Cause of Childhood Obesity

Lack of exercise is a main cause of childhood obesity, according to many of the 961 parents who took part in a poll by the Associated Press and KOL, the children's service of America Online.

The poll found that inactivity was rated just ahead of easy access to junk food as the main concern of 21 percent of the parents who acknowledged that their children were overweight.

In terms of food, more than 50 percent of the parents said the cost of healthy food, along with food packaging and television commercials, were factors in terms of children's weight problems.

The survey found that children of parents who earned less than $50,000 a year were slightly more likely to be overweight than children from higher-income families, the AP reported. Parents with yearly incomes of less than $25,000 were more likely than parents with higher incomes to point to the cost of healthy food as a barrier to improving the eating habits of their children.

Rural parents were more likely than suburban parents to cite the cost of healthy food as an issue.

The survey also found that 49 percent of parents pointed to a lack of time for home-cooked meals as a problem, the AP reported.


Ginseng Effective Against Colds: Study

Taking ginseng appears to lower the risk of developing a cold, says a study by researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Their study of 323 people found that 10 percent of those who took daily ginseng capsules for four months suffered two or more colds, compared to 25 percent of those who didn't take ginseng. The study also concluded that taking the herb seemed to reduce the severity of colds by about a third, BBC News reported.

The findings were published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

It's believed that ingredients in ginseng bolster the immune system by stimulating immunoglobin -- proteins that act as antibodies, BBC News reported.

Study lead researcher Dr. Tapun Basu said the results show that ginseng is effective in warding off colds.

However, not everyone is convinced.

"We cannot advise people to use ginseng," Dr. Jim Kennedy, prescribing spokesman of the Royal College of GPs in Great Britain, told BBC News. "While the supposed benefits of ginseng are widely known, there is still no proof it helps. The evidence is still anecdotal."


Air Pollution in China Kills 400,000 People a Year: Report

Air pollution causes the premature deaths of more than 400,000 people in China each year, says an unpublished government report, Agence France Press reported.

About 300,000 people die from outdoor air pollution and another 111,000 die from indoor air pollution each year, said the study conducted in 2003 by the Chinese Academy on Environmental Planning.

"It's a conservative figure. The real figure could be higher," Wang Jin'nan, chief engineer of the academy, told AFP.

Wang said the report hasn't been made public because different levels of governments in China, especially at the provincial level, don't want bad publicity.

The figures in this report match World Bank estimates that air pollution-related illnesses such as lung and heart diseases kill about 400,000 people in China each year. Coal-fired power plants are the main source of outdoor air pollution in that country, AFP reported.

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