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This week in the medical journals

By Peggy Peck
MedPage Today Managing Editor

Editor's note: CNN.com has a business partnership with MedPageToday.com, which provides custom health content. A medical journal roundup from MedPage Today appears each Thursday.

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Duke University
Northwestern University
The American College

Good news

A bit of comforting news on avian flu was reported in the major medical journals this week, suggesting that while the virus may be more commonly spread to people from fowl than previously believed it is less likely to be lethal.

More flu, fewer deaths?

A team of researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine said that contact with sick or dead birds may result in a large number of people infected with a mild form the virus.

If these researchers are correct in their conclusion, more people would be sick from bird flu but predictions about widespread deaths could be off the mark.

Mild avian flu transmission may be commonexternal link

Fat today, heart attack tomorrow

Bird flu may not be killer than many fear, but fat is as lethal as ever.

People who are obese during middle age are likely to die of diabetes or heart disease in old age, reported researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago. The researchers followed more than 17,000 men and women for several decades and reported that otherwise healthy people who are obese in middle age were 11 times more likely to die of diabetes complications than people who were normal weight during midlife.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Obesity today means fatal heart disease tomorrowexternal link

Obesity blocks prostate diagnosis

And that's not all. Obesity makes prostate cancer detection difficult, according a study in February issue of the Journal of Urology.

One reason, said Duke University researchers, who studied medical records from 1,400 men who underwent prostate cancer surgery, is that obese men have larger prostates so a biopsy may miss the cancer.

A second difficulty is that obese men often have lower levels of prostate specific antigen, or PSA, which is the substance in the blood than is tracked to screen for prostate cancer.

Obesity may shroud prostate cancerexternal link

PSA screening doesn't save lives

But fat or thin, men who undergo regularly undergo prostate cancer screening using that PSA test should know that PSA screening does not reduce prostate cancer mortality, according to Yale researchers.

They analyzed data from roughly 72,000 veterans living in Connecticut and reported that 14 percent of the men who died from prostate cancer underwent regular screening, and 13 percent of the men who died from prostate cancer ignored screening recommendations.

They reported the results in Archives of Internal Medicine.

PSA screening has no effect on mortalityexternal link

Avoiding unnecessary colonoscopy

On a more positive note, researchers from Dundee, Scotland, reported that there may be a way to cut down on the use of colonoscopy for diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

A report in Lancet Oncology suggested that following up a "weakly positive" fecal occult blood test-a low-cost test that analyzes blood in stool-with a more sensitive immunochemical screen might rule out the need for colonoscopy in many patients.

More sensitive fecal blood test can reduce needless colonoscopiesexternal link

Early signs of meningitis

Even more encouraging was a report from Oxford, England, that identified a number of early symptoms that can rapidly identify meningitis in its earliest and most-treatable stage.

Writing in The Lancet, the researchers reported that leg pains, cold hands and feet and abnormal skin color, all considered signs of blood infection, show up within 12 hours of infection with meningococcal disease. That is more than 10 hours before classic meningitis symptoms like stiff neck, wooziness and hemorrhagic rash appear.

Early treatment, the doctors said, could save lives.

Early septic signs could speed meningococcal diagnosisexternal link

This extra piggy...

For women who need one more reason to quit smoking, a report in the January issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery by University of Pennsylvania plastic surgeons offered this compelling argument: pregnant women who smoke are more likely to deliver babies with extra fingers or toes or with webbed fingers and toes.

Maternal smoking linked to congenital digit anomaliesexternal link

Take that, Smith Brothers

The fact that smoking is still bad is not really news, but a report that cough drops and cough syrups are next to useless was headline news.

The American College of Chest Physicians issued guidelines on treatment of cough that recommend a just say no approach to over-the-counter cough remedies.

The guidelines, published as a supplement to the January issue of Chest put it this way: "there is not clinical evidence that over-the-counter cough expectorants or suppressants actually relieve cough."

Most over-the-counter cough remedies have no valueexternal link

Animals and medical news

Taking a page from Lassie or at least from Benji, researchers in San Anselmo, California, trained three Labrador retrievers and two Portuguese water dogs to sniff out cancer.

According to the report in the March issue of Integrative Cancer Therapies, the dogs could sniff out 99 percent of the lung cancer cases and 88 percent of breast cancer cases.

Cancer detection goes to the dogsexternal link

Mickey, meanwhile, should just say no to veggie burgers-at least veggie burgers that are mainly soy protein.

The problem, according to scientists at the University of Colorado, is that male mice who are genetically predisposed to a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy-meaning a large, inefficient heart will rapidly progress to heart failure if they eat a diet rich in soy.

Soy does not, however, have the same effect on female mice with the same genetic predisposition.

Endnote: Has anyone told Mighty Mouse?

Mice predisposed to heart disease should shun soyexternal link

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