Health Highlights: March 8, 2010

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

New Technique Reduces Brain Damage Risk in Premies

"Washing out" the brains of premature babies who suffer fluid build-up because of bleeding in the brain may help reduce the risk of brain damage and improve their chances of survival, say British researchers.

The University of Bristol team tested their new technique, which involves draining the brain while introducing new fluid, on 39 premature infants, BBC News reported.

The procedure, called Drift, takes a few days and the babies must be closely monitored to guard against a dangerous increase in brain pressure.

Of the 39 infants who received the treatment, 54 percent had died or were severely disabled by age 2. That's compared with 71 percent of infants who received standard treatment, which involves months of repeated insertions of needles into the head or spine to remove excess fluid. Eventually, a shunt is inserted to drain fluid from the head into the abdomen, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.


Abortion Fight Threatens Health-Care Reform

A fight over abortion funding is dividing House Democrats and threatening President Barack Obama's push for health care overhaul.

Both supporters and opponents of abortion want changes to rules governing abortion funding.

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters she won't allow a battle over abortion to drag down health-care reform legislation, the Associated Press reported.

"This is not about abortion. This is a bill about providing quality affordable health care for all Americans," Pelosi said.

Obama has asked Democrats to move beyond their differences over abortion and other issues in order to pass health-care reform legislation. On Thursday, he held a meeting with more than a dozen House rank-and-file liberals and moderates, the AP reported.


End Ban on Gay Blood Donors: U.S. Senators

The U.S. government should no longer impose a lifetime ban on blood donations from any man who has had gay sex since 1977, 18 senators said in a letter sent Thursday to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

"Not a single piece of scientific evidence supports the ban," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Associated Press reported. The other senators include 16 Democrats and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

In their letter, the lawmakers said there have been major scientific changes since the ban was established in 1983 at the start of the AIDS epidemic. For example, donated blood is now subjected to two different, highly accurate tests that virtually eliminate the risk of tainted blood making it into the nation's blood supply.

Hospitals and emergency rooms urgently need blood products, but "healthy blood donors are turned away every day due to an antiquated policy and our blood supply is not necessarily any safer for it," said the senators' letter, the AP reported.

However, an FDA statement said that while the agency "appreciates concerns about perceived discrimination, our decision to maintain the deferral policy is based on current science and data and does not give weight to a donor's sexual orientation."


Massive Polio Vaccination Campaign Planned in Africa

Polio vaccinations will be given to more than 85 million children under age 5 in 19 west and central African nations as part of a campaign by U.N. agencies and the Red Cross.

The World Health Organization said the program, largely funded by Rotary International, will begin March 6 and involve more than 400,000 volunteers and health workers, the Associated Press reported.

The vaccination effort is an attempt to halt a polio outbreak that began in Nigeria in 2008 and spread to a number of other nations. Previous vaccination campaigns failed to control the outbreak.

Unvaccinated people contract polio when they come into contact with the feces of infected people. This exposure often occurs through water, the AP reported. Polio, which usually causes paralysis, muscular atrophy and deformation, can sometimes be fatal.

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