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Health Highlights: April 17,  2009

Last Updated: April 17, 2009.

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

Greenhouse Gases a Human Health Threat: EPA

Carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded in what's considered a first step to regulating industrial, power plant and vehicle pollutants that cause climate change.

The EPA's so-called "endangerment" finding, which marks the first formal action by the U.S. government toward restricting greenhouse gas emissions, won't become final until after a public review, Bloomberg news reported.

The EPA was forced to examine the issue after a Supreme Court ruling two years ago. The nation's top court concluded that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act and must be regulated if they're found to pose a threat to human health. The Bush administration declined to act on the ruling and left the issue to be dealt with by the Obama White House, Bloomberg reported.

Reaction on both sides of the EPA's decision was sharp.

David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel for the environmental group The Sierra Club, told Bloomberg the EPA decision could spur regulation of General Motors Corp. and other car makers, as well as utilities and chemical and steel makers. "There is no longer a question of if, or even when, the U.S. will act on global warming: We are doing so now," Bookbinder said in a statement.

But Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, called the EPA's ruling "the beginning of a regulatory barrage that will destroy jobs, raise energy prices for consumers, and undermine America's global competitiveness," Bloomberg reported.

U.S. power plants account for about 40 percent of the nation's carbon-dioxide emissions, while vehicles make up about 30 percent, according to government figures reported by Bloomberg. The U.S. produces about 20 percent of the world's man-made carbon-dioxide emissions, according to Energy Department figures cited by the news service.


Suicide Claims One Million Lives a Year: Study

Each year, about one million people commit suicide, which accounts for 1.5 percent of all deaths worldwide, according to researchers who also found that suicide rates vary greatly between countries and regions of the world.

The world average is 15 suicides per 100,000 people, but some countries are well above that level. For example, Lithuania's suicide rate is almost 40 per 100,000 people, according to the study by Keith Hawton of Oxford University and Kees van Heeringen of University Hospital in Gent, Belgium, Agence France Presse reported.

Other countries with suicide rates of 20 per 100,000 or higher include Finland, Latvia, Hungary, China, Japan and Kazakhstan. Suicide causes 3.6 percent of all deaths in China, which accounts for 30 percent of suicides worldwide. That's far above China's proportion of the global population.

The United States, Canada and Australia are just below the global average of 15 suicides per 100,000, while rates in Greece, Mexico, Brazil, Iran and Egypt are below five per 100,000, AFP reported.

The study was published in the medical journal The Lancet.


Surgical Gel May Mimic Signs of Early Breast Cancer: Study

A gel sometimes used to stop bleeding during surgery can be mistaken for signs of early breast cancer on mammograms, say U.S. researchers.

Their study looked at seven women whose follow-up mammograms revealed suspicious white specks within one to six months after they'd had surgery for breast cancer, United Press International reported.

The specks looked liked microcalcifications that sometimes indicate early breast cancer, said Dr. Kathleen Ward, a radiologist at Loyola University Health System, and colleagues. But the specks were actually caused by FloSeal, a gel sometimes used to stop bleeding when sutures or staples aren't sufficient or are impractical.

The findings suggest that FloSeal should not be used during breast surgery, said study co-author Dr. Richard Cooper, UPI reported.

The study was published in the American Journal of Roentgenology.


People Who Smile in Photos Less Likely to Divorce: Study

Looking at your loved one's old photos may help you determine your risk of ending up divorced, suggest researchers who that found people who smile in pictures are more likely to stay married.

Matthew Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, and colleagues evaluated the smiles in the school yearbook photos of 225 women and 124 men, ages 21 to 81, who were asked to provide details about their personal life, United Press International reported.

The researchers also examined youthful photos of people age 65 and older, who were asked if they'd ever been in a committed relationship or divorced.

The results showed that 11 percent of those with the biggest smiles in their photos were divorced, compared with 31 percent of people who frowned in photographs, UPI reported.

The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, demonstrates that extremely small behavior clues can reveal how people will fare in marriage, Hertenstein said.


Drug Prices Increase Well Above Inflation Rate: AARP

Prices for the most widely used brand-name drugs in the United States rose an average of 8.7 percent in 2008, well above the general inflation rate of 3.8 percent, according to the AARP's annual report released this week.

The drugs that had the biggest increases included: the acid reflux drug Prevacid (30 percent), the depression drug Wellbutrin (21 percent), and the sleep drug Lunesta (20 percent), the Associated Press reported. The AARP looked at the prices of the 219 most popular brand-name drugs.

"Just about everybody in today's economy is feeling some economic pressures, and it does not help that the drugs you take to keep healthy are much more expensive than last year," John Rother, public policy director of the senior citizens' lobby group, told the AP. "I think this makes the case for health reform."

However, the AARP also found that prices of generic drugs fell an average of 10.6 percent in 2008, and that increasing numbers of seniors are switching to generic drugs.

The AARP report is "one-sided" and focuses too much on certain brand-name medicines, said the drug lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the AP reported.

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