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Apr 30
Give treatment earlier to slow spread of HIV: WHO
An HIV-infected person whose partner is not infected should be offered immediate treatment to cut the risk of transmission, the World Health Organisation has recommended.

The WHO`s recommendations as part of a global crackdown on the spread of HIV come in the wake of a a clinical trial last year which found that giving antiretroviral drugs to an infected partner earlier reduces the risk of transmission by 96 per cent, the `New Scientist` reported.

The new WHO strategy is part of a drive to stop HIV spreading, even if it means treating people whose immune systems are not yet depleted to the levels that usually require therapy.

"This is the first time people would get treatment not necessarily for their own benefit, but to protect their partners," said Bernhard Schwartlander, Director of evidence, innovation and policy at UNAIDS in Geneva, Switzerland.

"The big question is to what extent reducing the viral load in a community impacts the HIV epidemic overall," added Andrew Ball of the WHO`s HIV/AIDS department.

Apr 30
Bullied 'more prone to self harm'
Children bullied during their early years are up to three times more likely to self harm than their classmates when they reach adolescence, a study suggests.

It found that half of 12-year-olds who harm themselves were frequently bullied.

The researchers are calling for more effective programmes to prevent bullying in schools.

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.

The research, from King's College London, also showed that victimised children with mental health problems were at greater risk of self-harming in later life.

In their paper the authors suggest that efforts should focus on improving the ways in which children cope with emotional distress.

"Bullying by peers is a major problem during the early school years," they said.

"This study found that before 12 years of age a small proportion of children frequently exposed to this form of victimisation already deliberately harmed themselves and in some cases attempted to take their own lives.

"Frequent victimisation by peers increased the risk of self harm."
Persisting problems

The researchers also raised fears over the long-term implications of bullying which, they said, could result in psychological issues, serious injury or death.

"This study adds to the growing literature showing that bullying during the early years of school can have extremely detrimental consequences for some children by the time they reach adolescence," they wrote.

"This finding is even more concerning given that studies have suggested that early patterns of self harm can persist through adolescence into adulthood and increase the risk of later psychological problems."

The authors looked at more than 1,000 pairs of twins - born between 1994-1995 in England and Wales - at five, seven, 10 and 12 years old.

The children were assessed on the risks of self-harming in the six months prior to their twelfth birthdays.

Data from 2,141 participants showed that 237 children were victims of frequent bullying and, of that number, 18 (around 8%) self harmed.

This involved cutting or biting arms, pulling out clumps of hair, a child banging its head against walls or attempting suicide.

Of 1,904 children who were not bullied, 44 (2%) self harmed.

It also showed bullied children who had family members who had either attempted or committed suicide were more likely to self harm than others.

"Although only a small proportion of bullied children in this sample engaged in self harm, this is clearly too many and victims need to be provided with alternative coping strategies from a young age," the authors said.

Apr 28
Pistachios help growth of beneficial gut bugs
Eating pistachio nuts may help the growth of potentially beneficial gut bugs and promote digestive health, says a new study.

Pistachios are also an excellent source of vitamin B6, copper and manganese and a good source of phosphorus and thiamin. Gut bugs help in digestion of food in the stomach.

They may play a role in "modifying microbiota (microbial environment in the gastrointestinal tract) ... for supporting intestinal health," said Volker Mai, assistant professor at the University of Florida`s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

To examine this link between prebiotics in pistachios and the gut, researchers conducted a study at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland. Prebiotics are a functional food that stimulates the growth of healthy bugs, helping produce digestive enzymes.

A group of healthy individuals were randomly assigned to eat an American-style, pre-planned diet that included either 0 ounces, 1.5 ounces or 3 ounces of pistachios or almonds per day, according to a Florida statement.

Each participant`s diet was calorie-controlled to ensure they neither gained nor lost weight during the intervention. Multiple stool samples were collected throughout the study and analyzed for bacterial community composition.

After controlling for age, dietary factors and other relevant variables, the researchers observed that after 19 days, people who ate up to three ounces of pistachios (about 147 nuts or 2 servings) per day had increased changes in levels of various gut bacteria.

The difference in gut microbes was stronger in people who ate pistachios rather than almonds. The researchers used "modern high throughput sequencing" to quantify specific gut bacterial DNA signatures before and after nut consumption.

According to the researchers, this is the first study using this method to observe that pistachios and almonds may have the ability to help change the amounts of bacteria thriving in the gut.

Apr 28
'Achilles' heel in fungus that causes dandruff identified
Research on the fungus that ranks as one cause of dandruff is directing scientists towards a much required new treatment for the condition's flaking and itching.

Claudiu T. Supuran and colleagues explain that dandruff involves an excessive shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp.

In people without dandruff, it takes about 30 days for a crop of new skin cells to mature, die and shed. In people with dandruff, it may take only 2-7 days.

Irritation by the scalp-dwelling fungus Malassezia globosa (M. globosa) is one cause of dandruff.
Shampoos and other dandruff treatments contain anti-fungal agents, but researchers say that new medicines are badly needed since the two existing compounds are not very effective at preventing and treating dandruff.

In the quest for a better treatment, Supuran's group identified an enzyme in M. globosa that is essential for the fungus's growth.

Tests showed that sulfonamides, a family of existing antibiotic medicines, were more effective in preventing the fungus's growth than ketoconazole, a widely used anti-fungal medicine that is an ingredient in certain dandruff treatments.

As a result of the study, the scientists believe that the enzyme is a prime target for developing better anti-dandruff medicines.

Apr 27
Early Weaning Risky for Babies, HIV+ Moms
Weaning before a baby is 6 months old is a bad idea for HIV-positive mothers in circumstances where breastfeeding has no safe alternative, researchers reported.

And treatment with anti-retroviral drugs should continue as long as breastfeeding is required, according to Charles van der Horst, MD, of the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, N.C., and colleagues.

The finding comes from 48-week follow-up of a large randomized trial that compared different treatment strategies for six months, and then encouraged weaning without further therapy, van der Horst and colleagues reported online in The Lancet.

The researchers reported in 2010 that treatment of either the mother or infant during the first six months of breastfeeding reduced the risk of HIV transmission, compared with no therapy.

In the current analysis, they looked at what happened when the babies were weaned at 6 months and treatment was stopped.

The bottom line, van der Horst told MedPage Today, is that "weaning puts the baby at risk for ... other infections," such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

At the same time, he added, it's important to continue therapy as long as the baby is being breastfed in order to continue to prevent HIV transmission.

In the so-called BAN study -- for Breastfeeding, Antiretrovirals, and Nutrition -- 2,369 mother-and-infant pairs in which the mother was HIV-positive got the now-standard perinatal prophylaxis of a single dose of nevirapine (Viramune) and a week of nevirapine and lamivudine (3TC).

All of the mothers had a CD4-positive lymphocyte count of at least 250 cells per cubic millimeter and thus, by then-current standards, did not require anti-retroviral therapy for their own health.

After the first week, they were randomly assigned to no further treatment (the control group), to maternal therapy with a triple-drug regimen, or to infant treatment with nevirapine.

Between 24 and 28 weeks, van der Horst said, the mothers were asked to stop breastfeeding, but were supported with additional care to ensure the infants had adequate nutrition.

Despite that, the researchers found, the rate of serious adverse events in infants was markedly higher during weeks 29 through 48 than during the intervention phase.

Specifically, during the intervention phase, the overall rate of adverse events among the babies was 0.7 per 100 person weeks, which jumped significantly (at P<0.0001) to 1.1 per 100 person weeks after therapy was stopped.

Stopping therapy also increased the risk of HIV transmission, they reported.

The cumulative risk of transmission by 48 weeks was 7% in the control group, which was significantly higher (at P=0.027 and P=0.002, respectively) than the 4% seen in each of the treatment groups.

In contrast, the rates at the end of the intervention period had been 5.7% in the control group, 2.9% in the maternal-treatment group, and 1.7% in the infant-treatment group.

Van der Horst said the data suggest that many mothers did not immediately cease breastfeeding even though they said they had.

He added that the study also found a worrisome trend among the mothers -- nine women died during the study, but only one of them was in the maternal-treatment arm. The differences did not reach statistical significance, he told MedPage Today, but they hint that, even for women with relatively robust immune systems, continued therapy may have a health benefit.

Indeed, largely as a result of the study, Malawi has changed its criteria for HIV treatment eligibility. Now, regardless of CD4 count, HIV-positive mothers are placed on triple-drug therapy for life.

The study is one of several investigating similar questions and arriving at similar answers. Combined with other studies suggesting transmission can be prevented by treatment, the findings have important implications for health policy in the developing world, van der Horst said.

Among other things, the findings suggest the "Malawians were correct" in deciding to opt for lifelong therapy for pregnant women, rather than cutting treatment off until medically required.

Nevertheless, the data are "sobering," commented Louise Kuhn, PhD, of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, and Hoosen Coovadia, MD, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa.

In an accompanying commentary, they noted that early weaning is accompanied by increases in infant death and illness, as well as by faltering growth.

"Early weaning is neither effective nor safe as an HIV prevention strategy," they concluded.

On the other hand, they added, continued anti-retroviral therapy does prevent transmission, and there are hints that even in women who don't need treatment for their own health the drugs reduce the risk of maternal death.

Apr 27
Eating pizza really could be good for you: Oregano seasoning could be a powerful weapon against pros
It may not be the most obvious of health foods, but pizza could be good for you, research suggests.

Scientists have found that oregano, a seasoning commonly used in pizza and other Italian food, has the potential to become a powerful weapon against prostate cancer.

A medicine inspired by it could have fewer side-effects than existing treatments, which can cause problems from incontinence to impotence.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in British men, affecting 37,000 a year and killing more than 10,000.

Researchers from Long Island University, New York, studied carvacrol, a chemical in oregano. Added to prostate cancer cells in the lab, it rapidly wiped them out.

Left for four days, almost all the cells were killed, the Experimental Biology conference in San Diego heard.

Tests showed it triggered the cells to kill themselves.

The oregano chemical could now be used itself as a treatment against cancer, or as the blueprint for an even more powerful drug.

Experts warned, though, that when oregano is eaten, it could be that carvacrol is digested before it can do any good.

Researcher Supriya Bavadekar, a pharmacologist, said: 'Some researchers have previously shown that eating pizza may cut down cancer risk.

'This effect has been mostly attributed to lycopene, a substance found in tomato sauce, but we now feel that even the oregano seasoning may play role.'

Lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their read colour is credited with a host of health benefits, including warding off cancer and cutting the risk of heart disease.

Dr Bavadekar said: 'If the study continues to yield positive results, this super-spice may present a very promising therapy for patients with prostate cancer.

'A significant advantage is that oregano is commonly used in food. We expect this to translate into a decreased risk of severe toxic effects.

'But this study is at a very preliminary stage and further experiments need to be conducted to get a better idea of uses in the clinic.'

Possibilities include using carvacrol itself or using it as the blueprint for an even more powerful treatment.

Others stressed that it is too early for men to start stocking up on pizza.
Margaret Rayman, a Surrey University professor of nutritional medicine who has compiled a cookbook of recipes designed to keep prostate cancer at bay said that much more work needs to be done.

For instance, any oregano-inspired treatment would have to be much less harmful to healthy cells than cancerous ones.

Apr 26
Bowel cancer death risks slashed by taking an aspirin a day
TAKING aspirin after being diagnosed with bowel cancer can reduce the chance of dying from the disease by 30%, research shows today.

Bowel cancer patients who took a daily dose of aspirin for at least nine months after their diagnosis cut their chance of dying from the disease by 30%, a study shows.

It adds to the growing evidence of aspirin as a potential cancer treatment although more research is needed.

Researchers added that bowel cancer patients who took aspirin for any length of time post-diagnosis had a 23% less chance of dying from bowel cancer compared with patients who took no aspirin at all.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK - with around 41,000 new cases of the disease a year.

But bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK after lung cancer - around 16,000 people died of the disease in 2010 in the UK.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at 4,500 bowel cancer patients from the Eindhoven Cancer Registry in the Netherlands diagnosed between 1998 and 2007.

A quarter of patients were not aspirin users, a further quarter only took aspirin after being diagnosed with bowel cancer and the remaining group took aspirin both before and after diagnosis.

Dr Gerrit-Jan Liefers, study author based at the Leiden University Medical Centre, The Netherlands, said: "Our findings could have profound clinical implications.

"In this study, we showed the therapeutic effect of a widely-available, familiar drug that costs mere pennies per day.

"It's possible that some older people may have other health problems which mean that they are not well enough to have chemotherapy.

"Bowel cancer is more common in older people so these results could be a big advance in treatment of the disease, particularly in this group. But we need further research to confirm this."

The research team are planning to start a randomised controlled trial across the Netherlands later this year, specifically targeting the over-70s population.

The study also found that taking aspirin only after bowel cancer had been detected had a bigger impact on reducing death compared with when aspirin was taken before and after diagnosis.

Researchers said it may be that those who took aspirin and still got bowel cancer could have had a particularly aggressive form of tumour that did not respond as well to aspirin.

This research just looked at bowel cancer patients - focusing on the impact of aspirin in treatment of cancer rather than the drug's preventative benefits.

Previous studies have shown that taking a daily dose of aspirin for several years can help to lower the risk of a number of cancers including bowel and oesophageal cancers.

Cancer Research UK is already investigating the anti-cancer properties of aspirin.

Sarah Lyness, executive director policy and information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This latest study adds to the growing evidence about the benefits of aspirin.

"The latest evidence suggests that the drug not only reduces the risk of dying from cancer, but can also help prevent the disease from developing in the first place.

"But we are not yet at the point where we would recommend people start taking aspirin to reduce their chances of developing cancer.

"There are still questions we need to answer about the side effects, such as internal bleeding, who might benefit most from taking aspirin, who might be harmed, what dose and how long people some people might want to take it for."

Apr 26
WHO expands steps to fight non-communicable diseases
Aiming to tackle the high occurrence of non-communicable diseases in Southeast Asia, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said here Wednesday that it would expand technical competence and resources in its action plan for the region.


"WHO is exercising a coordination role within the United Nations system in addressing NCDs (non-communicable diseases) and to be more effective in supporting countries. It is expanding technical competence and resources in its action plan on NCDs," Samlee Plianbangchang, regional director for southeast Asia, said at a regional meeting on non-communicable diseases.

The three-day meet that began Wednesday took up the issue of mental health and neurological disorders among non-communicable diseases that contribute to eight million deaths annually in the region.

Non-communicable diseases include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer among others.

"The great concern is that one third of these deaths are premature and and these deaths occur before the age of 60 years in the economically productive groups," Plianbangchang added.
According to experts, the high occurrence of non-communicable diseases is accelerated by factors such as a rapidly ageing population, unplanned urbanisation and unhealthy lifestyle.

The regional meeting will be attended by over 100 stakeholders from health and non-health sectors, including officials from 11 member states such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

"This is also an opportunity to share countries` past experiences in the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases," Plianbangchang said.

Apr 25
If your job's a pain in the neck, it could also be a pain in the back
Being stuck in a job you dislike can manifest itself in physical pain, say scientists.

They believe that many sufferers of back pain may simply be unhappy at work.

Researchers claim the phenomenon is unique because in no other circumstances do a person's feelings lead to physical pain.

Sufferers may be able to 'think themselves better', as those with a positive attitude to work are less likely to have lower back problems, they say.

In a study, only 33 per cent of people with niggling non-specific backache developed persistent pain that severely affected their career and social lives.

Although some workers required extended sick leave, only a few had suffered a physical change such as a slipped disc.

Anatomical tests of the other patients involved in the study showed no physical reasons for ongoing daily problems with pain.

Study leader Professor Markus Melloh, said: 'Attitude and positivity in the workplace has a huge impact on lower back pain.

'Positive thinking would make people better. If they get occasional back pain and say, "that's life" there is more chance it will go away by itself.

'If an employee has the option to alter their workplace or job design, the condition may correct itself due to the person regaining positivity.

'Having somebody to listen and show emotional support at work is a strong protective factor.'

There are no similar processes that occur in the human body where feelings result in physical pain.

Furthermore, the reason people have varying attitudes towards work and life in general could be connected to the way they were brought up.

A total of 315 patients who went to their GP with their first episode of non-specific back pain were interviewed and followed up at three, six and 12 weeks. The assessment included questions about their attitude.

By the end of the study, 169 people were still participating in the research and about a third of them - 64 patients - were classed as having a persistent condition.

Some reported worse pain after six months, which could be due to getting into a negativity spiral.

'Once people stay at home on sick leave, it gets harder to go back to work and the pain gets worse,' Dr Melloh said.

'It's a vicious circle that needs to be broken. The research shows that if patients feel helpless and are convinced that any movement will land them in a wheelchair, they are making their condition worse.'

The research also suggested there were very few ways to provide medical proof that back pain exists.

Dr Melloh added: 'Back pain is just people telling you they have pain in the back.

'I do not want to encourage people to quit their jobs, but to see if they can make any alterations to their current role.

'If people learn to cope with things and not to ruminate over things, they may be more positive towards life and their work.'

Apr 25
Why Families Who Eat Together Are Healthier
A new review of data adds to the evidence that families who eat together most often are healthier.

Problem is, many families aren't sitting down together at home very often at all. According to the research team from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, about 40% of the average family's budget is spent eating out, typically not together. This is particularly concerning because eating out is linked with poorer food choices restaurant and prepared foods tend to be much fattier, saltier and higher in calories than meals made at home.

Increasingly, obesity and public health experts believe that such eating behavior fuels Americans' risk of obesity and nutrition deficiencies. To find out more, Rutgers researchers reviewed 68 studies on the issue. They looked specifically at studies that measured the frequency and atmosphere of family meals and compared that to the quality of children's food consumption and risk of weight gain.

The data suggested that family mealtime has a wealth of health benefits, especially for children. Kids who ate more meals together with their families tended to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods, and vitamins, and ate less junk food.

Social improvements were also linked to frequency of family meals. Teens who ate at the family table more often were more likely to show fewer signs of depression and feel that their family was more supportive, compared with teens who dined less often at home.

"It is very interesting that something as simple as frequently eating meals together may contribute to so many different types of benefits to all family members," says study author Jennifer Martin-Biggers, a doctoral student in the department of nutritional sciences at Rutgers.

Children in families who frequently shared meals also tended to have a lower body mass index than those who didn't, although the research did not find a conclusive between family meals and obesity.

Researchers found also that it's not just the time spent together or the act of consuming food simultaneously that matters. The quality of the interactions are important too. The data showed that families who spent time watching TV together or ate fast food out together did not have the same improved dietary intakes as families who ate meals together at home.

"We believe that spending that family time together may provide a platform allowing parents and children to interact and for parents to teach children healthy habits," says Martin-Biggers. "The increased focus on food and eating may be a mechanism behind the improved diets families tend to show when they eat together."

The authors note that there's no shortage of nutritional information out there for parents who want to make better choices for their families. But what busy parent has the time to sift through the research? To help, the Rutgers team says it is creating at-a-glance graphics based on their findings that will visually synthesize key nutritional and healthy-eating info in an appealing way for the public.

The new research was presented on Monday at the American Society for Nutrition's Scientific Sessions in San Diego, Calif.