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Parents have been advised not to use high street allergy tests to help manage children's eczema under new guidelines published by the government's health watchdog.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) claims that there is 'no evidence' that they are a valuable tool for the management of eczema.

In addition, the guidance recommends that doctors offer children a range of un-perfumed emollients for use while bathing and moisturising and suggests that schools and nurseries should be provided with leave-on emollients.

The guidance states: 'Healthcare professionals should inform children with atopic eczema and their parents or carers that they should use emollients in larger amounts and more often than other treatments.

'Emollients should be used on the whole body, both when the atopic eczema is clear and while using all other treatments.'

The recommendations have been welcomed by the British Association of Dermatologists, which claims emollients are 'a tried and tested part of the treatment of eczema'.

Spokeswoman Nina Goad said: 'Their use is recommended in all guidelines for the treatment of eczema to date, and it is reassuring that their benefit has been recognised in the new guidance.'

Dermatitis (eczema) is the second most common health problem and causes half a million working days to be lost each year, experts have claimed.

According to the British Association of Dermatologists (Bad), only musculo-skeletal problems are more common than dermatitis, which is often triggered by conditions in the workplace.

Spokeswoman Nina Goad revealed: 'Occupational skin disease is very common. In fact, approximately 29 per cent of industrial health problems are contact dermatitis, while many more cases go unreported.'

Ms Goad said that prevention is 'extremely important' and urged employers to take measures to protect their staff.

She also noted that women tend to be less tolerant of the visible symptoms of dermatitis and have therefore traditionally been more likely to seek help.

'However, occupational skin disease affects both men and women, and should not be tolerated as a side effect of a specific job,' the expert concluded.

Research has revealed that a healthy, balanced diet can help to promote good skin, but foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) should be avoided by people suffering from acne.

Acne is a very common skin condition during puberty, but some people find that the problem persists through their late 20s and even into their 30s.

According to Nina Goad, a spokeswoman for the British Association of Dermatologists, certain lifestyle factors can contribute to the problem.

'Recent research suggests that foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) may aggravate acne. A balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and limited processed foods will help to support the body in general, including the skin,' she revealed.

Another lifestyle factor that triggers acne is smoking, according to Ms Goad, who noted that scientists have recently identified a new skin disorder known as 'smoker's acne'.

Commenting on the recent research, she revealed: 'Smokers who had suffered acne in their teens were found to be four times more likely to suffer acne as an adult than non-smokers who also had experienced teenage acne.'

Doctors have highlighted the dangers of using illegal skin lightening creams after a woman using one experienced a number of health problems.

The 28-year-old was treated by medics at Hammersmith hospital, London, after she gained 12.7kg in three years and had difficulty conceiving for 18 months despite having regular periods.

She also had recurrent thrush, bruised easily and had stripes on her arms, back, legs and abdomen.

When doctors examined her they discovered a fat pad between her shoulders and a round face, as well as mild hair growth on her back and face.

After she denied taking illicit drugs the doctors originally diagnosed Cushing's syndrome - a condition that results from excess levels of steroid hormones in the blood.

However the results of blood tests were inconsistent with this and the patient then admitted using black market skin creams.

The cream, which she used 60g (two tubes) a week of, contained the potent steroid clobetasol.

'Patients are often reluctant to admit that they have used skin-lightening creams - especially if these are supplied illegally,' the doctors write in the Lancet medical journal.

'Similarly, doctors can be unaware of the need to inquire. But the market is worth millions of pounds a year in the UK alone. Creams can contain toxic substances, such as steroids and hydroxyquinone - and patients are typically unaware of the risks.'

A new report has claimed that the NHS is failing patients with psoriasis, an uncomfortable skin condition that causes itchy, flaky red patches.

A survey of 100 dermatology units found that one in five did not have a single nurse who had specialised in dermatology.

One in three units did not have suitable bathing and showering facilities for patients, despite the fact that creams used to treat psoriasis must be washed off if it comes into contact with healthy skin.

In addition, the survey found that treatments in 41 per cent of units were applied by nurses with no specialist training, or even by patients themselves.

The survey was conducted by the Royal College of Physicians and the British Association of Dermatologists and the latter's president, Dr Colin Holden, voiced concerns over the findings.

He commented: 'This audit has produced data clearly showing that on a national level, the NHS is failing to provide patients with the level of care they deserve.

'Basic elements such as bathing facilities, appropriately trained staff and access to treatments are lacking to a worrying degree.'

The report also revealed that 40 per cent of units do not always offer new psoriasis treatments because of their cost, and 60 per cent offer no clinical psychology services to help distressed patients.

A traditional Chinese remedy made from five herbs could help to ease the symptoms of eczema, a new study has found.

Eczema, which is also known as dermatitis, is a group of skin conditions characterised by dry, itchy skin that can become raw and bleed in severe cases.

Up to one fifth of school-age children and one in 12 adults are affected by eczema, according to the National Eczema Society.

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have now found that the 'pentaherbs formulation', which contains five herbs including Japanese honeysuckle and peppermint, improved quality of life by a third among five to 21-year-olds and reduced the need for topical steroids.

Nina Goad, a spokeswoman for the British Association of Dermatologists, said: 'These early studies show that children with atopic eczema may benefit from a specific concoction of traditional Chinese herbs, which could eventually pave the way for this remedy to find its way into mainstream medicine.'

However, the association warned consumers that some retailers of Chinese herbs 'may not be reputable'.

Children as young as eight are using sunbeds in Britain, the consumer watchdog Which? has revealed today.

Its survey of over 1,000 eight to 15-year-olds found that three per cent had used a sunbed – equivalent to around 170,000 children in Britain.

Further interviews with 47 16- to 17-year-olds found that 13 per cent had used a sunbed.

Young people using sunbeds increase their risk of a life-threatening form of skin cancer.

A recent report from the International Agency for Research into Cancer found that people who use sunbeds before the age of 35 increase their risk of malignant melanoma by over seven times.

The Sunbed Association (TSA) instructs its members to ban under 16s and to advise people with type one skin to avoid sunbeds, but its membership covers only a quarter of the UK's 6,000 salons, and other salons are not regulated at all.

The World Health Organisation advises that under 18s, fair-skinned people and people with a lot of freckles or moles should never use sunbeds.

Despite these guidelines Which? found that many staff are failing to warn potential sunbed users about the associated health risks.

The watchdog sent undercover researchers to ten salons. All ten said someone with very pale skin could use a sunbed and just three gave a verbal warning about the risks.

A government review is currently underway on possible regulation of the sunbed industry and a proposed public health bill in Scotland includes measures to improve staff training.

Which? editor Neil Fowler described the number of children using sunbeds as "shocking".

"Without regulation, the industry needs to be responsible about protecting those most at risk, but staff at the salons we visited failed to give adequate health warnings," he added.

"We're pleased to see that the government is looking at this issue. And in the meantime if you can't live without a tan, consider faking it with a bottle rather than putting your health at risk."

Commenting on the research, Rebecca Russell, Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign manager, said it is "extremely shocking" to learn that eight-year-olds are using sunbeds.

"This example of poor industry practice is exactly why Cancer Research UK is calling on the government to introduce legislation to regulate the industry," she added.

"Tighter control of the industry will help to ensure that children are protected from putting themselves at an increased risk of skin cancer and that adults who choose to use sunbeds themselves are made fully aware of the risks."

Researchers claim to have found a genetic variant that is associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The team at Manchester University made the discovery after studying nine genetic regions identified earlier this year as potentially holding DNA variants determining susceptibility to RA.

Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, they say that the finding has brought scientists one step closer to understanding the genetic risk factors for RA.

About 387,000 people in the UK have RA, the most common form of inflammatory arthritis that can affect nearly all joints in the body, particularly the hands and the feet.

The researchers 'unequivocally' found an RA-linked variant on chromosome six.

Although this variant is not on a gene, Professor Jane Worthington from the Arthritis Research Campaign at Manchester University said it may influence the behaviour of a nearby gene called TNFAIP3 - a gene known to be involved in inflammatory processes.

Dr Anne Barton, a clinician on the team, commented: 'We believe the genetic marker we have found may determine who develops RA or how severe the disease becomes.'

Work is now underway to understand how the variation within the chromosome six region influences the development of RA, the course of the disease and the response to treatment.

'This is a very exciting result; the validation of this association takes us one step closer to understanding the genetic risk factors behind what is a debilitating disease for sufferers and an expensive disease for the NHS,' said Professor Worthington.

People could protect their skin against sun-induced ageing by eating plenty of tomatoes, a new study suggests.

Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that neutralises harmful molecules called reactive oxygen species, which can damage the skin and cause wrinkling.

Researchers at the University of Manchester studied 20 people and found that those who ate five tablespoons of tomato paste per day were more able to withstand exposure to UV light than those who did not.

Tomato eaters were found to have 33 per cent more protection against sunburn, thereby reducing the risk of premature skin ageing and skin cancer.

Dr Muneeza Rizwan, who presented the findings at the British Society for Investigative Dermatology in Oxford, commented: 'These weren't huge amounts of tomato we were feeding the group.

'People should not think that tomatoes in any way can replace sun creams, but they may be a good additive. If you can improve your protection through your diet then over several years, this may have a significant effect.'

Dr Colin Holden of the British Association of Dermatologists added: 'While the protection offered by lycopene is low, this research suggests that a diet containing high levels of antioxidant-rich tomatoes could provide an extra tool in sun protection.'

The number of Britons who are actually suffering from repetitive strain injury (RSI) is far smaller than estimates suggest, experts have said.

Just one in three people who claim to suffer from RSI actually have genuine symptoms, a study by researchers at the University of Southampton's epidemiology research centre has found.

Scientists questioned 5,000 workplace injury patients about their health and jobs, including the physical nature of their job, the state of their mental and physical health, and whether they believed they were suffering from RSI.

Their analysis revealed that 46 per cent had suffered from arm pain during the previous 12 months, while 54 per cent blamed their job for either causing or aggravating their symptoms.

However, researchers claim that just 14 per cent of arm pain is due to arm-straining activities, suggesting that the contribution of RSI towards workplace injuries has been greatly exaggerated.

Writing in the British Medical Journal publication Occupational and Environmental Medicine, they note: 'Statistics from Labour Force Surveys are widely quoted as evidence for the scale of occupational illness.

'However, their validity as a measure of the burden of disease caused by work is questionable.'

People are turning to ethical and natural products as they become increasingly concerned about their health, an expert has claimed.

Phillip Swinford, a spokesman for the British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (Babtac), believes that there is a 'growing awareness of the holistic treatment of the body'.

'That leads to a growing awareness among people of their health, and how it is reflected in beauty,' he claimed.

'Whereas, 40 or 50 years ago people were not eating correctly, they were not drinking the right things, now diet is coming more and more into it,' he added.

According to research by Mintel, over 2,260 ethical cosmetic and skincare products were launched in Europe in 2007, representing a fivefold increase over 2006.

The trend is already continuing this year, with 43 per cent of British women saying that seeking all-natural products is their number one consideration when choosing cosmetic and skincare items.

A drug commonly used to treat osteoporosis could benefit women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, research presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium has shown.

Patients taking the breast cancer drug anastrozole often experience loss of bone mineral density, placing them at risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

A trial involving the osteoporosis drug bisphosphonate has now revealed that breast cancer patients taking the drug had increased bone mineral density after one year, despite having low density at the start of the trial.

The results are only preliminary, but the researchers hope that the three-year data from the IBIS-2 trial will confirm the drug's effectiveness.

Professor Jack Cuzick, co-chairman of the trial, said: 'Although these are still very early results, they are reassuring for women participating in the IBIS-2 trial and also for those who may be taking anastrozole as part of their treatment for breast cancer.'

Bio detergents should not always be blamed for skin reactions in people with eczema, skin experts have claimed.

The advice follows research that found bio washing detergents are no more harmful to people with eczema than their non-bio counterparts.

It has been suggested that bio detergents, which contain enzymes to assist stain removal, can trigger skin reactions and that they should be avoided by people with eczema.

But after researchers from London and Nottingham conducted a review of evidence on the issue, they discovered that the possible irritant and allergic reactions that could be caused by enzyme raw materials do not translate into a risk of skin reactions when used in washing powders.

'What we have found is that ultimately the balance of all the evidence is that enzymes in laundry detergents are not a cause of either skin irritation or skin allergy,' said researcher Dr Sarah Wakelin from St Mary's hospital in London.

'Investigations of numerous individuals with skin complaints attributed to laundry products demonstrate convincingly that enzymes were not responsible.

'Indeed, enzyme-containing laundry products have an extensive history of safe use. Thus, the supposed adverse effects of enzymes on skin seem to be a consequence of a mythology.'

Commenting on the research, Dr Colin Holden, president of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: 'This study highlights that flare-ups of eczema should not just be written off as caused by washing powder.

'This serves as a reminder to medical professionals that an expert dermatologist should explore all the other potential causes, as bio detergents may well not be the culprit.'

The research is due to be published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Short and tall people may be at an increased risk of arthritis compared to individuals of an average height, research has suggested.

A new genetic connection between human height and arthritis has been established, American scientists claim, following analysis of tens of thousands of genomes.

According to the University of Michigan school of public health, both extremes of height are associated with osteoarthritis - the most common form of arthritis.

Researchers arrived at their findings by analysing the genomes of more than 35,000 people in the US and Europe.

They found shorter bones with less cartilage made joints most susceptible to damage, while longer and heavier bones produced greater levels of damaging stress to joints.

Study co-author Goncalo Abecasis, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, said many genes were already known to control height, but only a few were associated with osteoarthritis.

'In this case the gene we picked also is important in osteoarthritis and it's actually quite hard to find genes for osteoarthritis,' he explained.

'One of the things we were excited about is you could study [height] in many people, and once you've done that you have a short list of genes that you can then study for what they do in terms of osteoarthritis.'

The study's results were published today in the journal Nature Genetics.

Scientists have found that the epilepsy drug topiramate may help to treat alcoholism by boosting overall health as well as cutting cravings.

Researchers have reported on clinical trials which found that the drug decreased heavy drinking and reduced both the physical and psychosocial harm caused by alcohol dependence.

The drug was used in a 14-week trial involving 371 men and women who had been diagnosed with alcoholism.

The researchers, who are based at the University of Virginia, found that the drug brought about a reduction in obsessive thoughts about alcohol.

It also decreased cholesterol, blood pressure, and levels of liver enzymes which are linked to cirrhosis.

Lead author Professor Bankole Johnson commented: 'What we've found is that topiramate treats the alcohol addiction, not just the 'symptom' of drinking.'

The findings are published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and may lead more doctors to prescribe the drug for alcoholism, despite the fact that it is not currently licensed for the treatment of alcohol addiction in the UK.

Improvements to the safety of elderly people's homes may be more effective than expensive drugs at preventing bone fractures, researchers have claimed.

Finnish experts suggest that drug treatment for osteoporosis can be expensive and that home safety improvements would be cheaper and may have a bigger impact.

The team, which included the University of Tampere's Dr Teppo Jarvinen, call for a 'change of approach' as many GPs do not assess elderly patients' risk of falling and consider how fractures could be prevented by reducing this risk.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, they reveal: 'Numerous studies show that among older people, falling, not osteoporosis, is the strongest risk factor for fracture.'

They conclude: 'It is time to shift the focus in fracture prevention from osteoporosis to falls. Falling is an under-recognised risk factor for fracture, it is preventable, and prevention provides additional health benefits beyond avoiding fractures.'

However, Julia Thompson, a spokeswoman for the National Osteoporosis Society, told the BBC: 'Osteoporosis treatment has to go hand-in-hand with falls prevention to help the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK at risk of breaking a bone.'

New research suggests that women who smoke are no more likely to develop lung cancer than male smokers, despite previous studies suggesting that the risk of the disease differs between men and women.

The latest study, which is published in the Lancet Oncology medical journal, looked at data on nearly half a million men and women in the US, all of whom were aged between 50 and 71.

Analysis revealed that the proportion of people who developed lung cancer was 1.47 per cent in men and 1.21 per cent in women.

Female smokers had almost the same risk of developing lung cancer as male smokers.

However, women who had never smoked were found to be 1.3 times more likely than men who had never smoked to develop the disease.

The researchers, from the US National Cancer Institute, concluded: 'Our findings suggest that women are not more susceptible than men to the carcinogenic effects of cigarette smoking in the lung,' the study's authors conclude.

They added that 'vigorous efforts' should be made to eliminate smoking in both men and women, as smokers of more than two packs per day were around 50 times more likely to develop lung cancer than people who had never smoked.

Scientists believe they could use patients' own stem cells to help mend damaged bones and cartilage.

They say the treatment could have a major impact on conditions such as osteoarthritis and could treat trauma victims whose bones have been shattered beyond repair.

The treatment puts patients' stem cells - cells that can develop into almost any body cell - into a 'bioactive scaffold' that protects them and stimulates their growth into bone or cartilage.

This scaffold consists of a fairly rigid mesh structure that is coated with a drug that affects patients' cells.

The collaborative team behind the study aim to further the research and hope to set up a clinical trial within two years.

Dr Brendon Noble, of the University of Edinburgh's Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine, said: 'This is a novel approach in terms of treating damaged bones and cartilage.

'The aim is to translate the knowledge we have gained from bone biology studies into tangible treatments for patients.'

Dr Anna Krassowska, research manager for the UK Stem Cell Foundation, commented: 'In the UK hip fractures kill 14,000 elderly people every year - more than many cancers.

'The worldwide market for orthopaedic devices alone represents some $17 billion [£8.71 billion]. This research has the potential not only to impact on a significant number of people's lives but to open up one of the largest stem cell markets in the industry.'

High suicide rates in Scotland are being fuelled by alcohol and drug misuse, a new report has claimed.

Experts at the University of Manchester found that Scottish people are nearly twice as likely as those in England and Wales to take their own life, and the problem is being blamed on alcohol and drug consumption.

Scotland was found to have a suicide rate of 18.7 per 100,000. This compares with 10.2 per 100,000 in England and Wales.

Of the 1,373 patient suicides detailed in the Lessons for Mental Health Care in Scotland report, 785 cases were linked to alcohol misuse and 522 cases had a history of drug misuse.

'There has been a welcome recent fall in the suicide rates among the general Scottish population but, despite this, the most striking feature of rates north of the border is how much higher they are than in England and Wales,' said Louis Appleby, professor of psychiatry at the University of Manchester and national director for mental health in England.

Homicide rates, meanwhile, equated to 2.12 per 100,000 people in Scotland compared to 1.23 per 100,000 in England and Wales, and drug and alcohol dependence were diagnosed in many of the perpetrators.

'The findings suggest that alcohol and drugs lie behind Scotland's high rates of suicide and homicide and the frequency with which they occur as antecedents in our report are striking,' Professor Appleby claimed.

Researchers in Scotland have found a particular gene variant that may increase the risk of gout.

Gout is a painful joint condition that tends to affect the big toe, although it can develop in any of the body's joints.

Sufferers tend to experience attacks that last for between three and ten days, in which the affected joints become swollen and inflamed.

There has recently been an increase in the incidence of gout, which has largely been attributed to unhealthy lifestyles.

Researchers at the MRC Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh have now identified a variant of the SLC2A gene, which they believe makes it harder for the body to remove uric acid.

This then builds up in the blood and forms crystals in the joints.

Researcher Harry Campbell told the BBC: 'Some people will have higher or lower risk of gout depending on the form of the gene they inherited.

'This discovery may allow better diagnostic tools for gout to be developed.'

A hard-hitting series of adverts are being released by the Home Office to cut down on the number of 18 to 24-year-olds binge drinking.

The £4 million campaign will include television, radio, print and online adverts. Its tagline is: 'You wouldn't start a night like this, so why end it that way?'

Home secretary Jacqui Smith said: 'I am not prepared to tolerate alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder on our streets and this new campaign will challenge people to think twice about the serious consequences of losing control.'

The advert from a key part of the government's new strategy on alcohol which includes new laws on underage drinking in public, a national police campaign to confiscate drink from young people, a clampdown on 'irresponsible retailers', tougher penalties on those shops which sell alcohol to the underage and independent research into the link between alcohol pricing and harm.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: 'It's vital that we challenge the attitude widespread among young people that socialising must always involve heavy drinking.

'This will take time, but this sizeable campaign is an important contribution to that process.'

The centrepiece of the campaign is two new television adverts which reverse the sequence of a night out gone wrong. The adverts show a man and woman getting ready at home for a night out. They end with the man leaving home bloody and damaged and the woman closing her front door with smeared make-up and vomit in her hair.

Chris Allison, deputy assistant commissioner of the metropolitan police and ACPO lead for licensing, said: 'We cannot simply police our way out of this problem. Any new initiative which grabs attention and stimulates action by parents, local agencies and young people themselves is welcome.'

But the Conservatives are questioning the government's commitment to tackling drinking among young people.

The new shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'While public information is important this will be nothing more than another gimmick if it is not backed up with proper enforcement of the law.

'Prosecutions for drunkenness are down by over a third since 2002 and just a handful of people have been properly punished for selling to underage or drunk customers.

'This is not to mention the fact that it was this government that unleashed 24 hour drinking on our towns and cities.'

There has been an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with repetitive strain injury (RSI) and an expert has claimed that this could be linked to working conditions and poor preventative care.

RSIs, which are musculskeletal disorders of the upper and lower limbs, cost British industry up to £20 billion a year, according to RSI Awareness, making them a major workplace problem.

Bronwyn Clifford, a chartered occupational therapist and director of Physio at Work, said that the rising incidence of RSI is concerning because the condition is almost entirely avoidable given the correct preventative measures.

Commenting on the increase, she said: "It could be due to greater awareness of RSI among the population or it could be that people are working longer hours and are not taking sufficient breaks, or that employers are not providing the right preventative advice for their staff or the right sort of help for those who develop RSI.

"The most important thing is that employers should ensure that their staff have regular training and [understand] the potential risks that may be associated with the tasks that they are doing, such as using a computer all day,' she advised.

People aged under 21 in Scotland may not be able to buy alcohol in supermarkets and off licences from next year under new proposals announced today.

The Scottish government has suggested the ban as part of its attempt to reduce the country's alcohol misuse, the cost of which health secretary Nicola Sturgeon described as 'enormous and growing'.

Other proposals include setting a minimum price at which a unit of alcohol can be sold and ending 'three for the price of two' type promotions.

The government has also proposed that some alcohol retailers pay a 'social responsibility' fee to help pay for the consequences of alcohol misuse and that supermarkets have alcohol-only checkouts so that alcohol is not seen as just another product.

The consultation on the proposals will run until September 9th and if they are given backing it is likely they will become law from September 2009.

Ministers launched the consultation this morning following a six-week pilot trial in Armadale, West Lothian, which they say resulted in a big drop in calls about antisocial behaviour, youth drinking and vandalism.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government is 'determined to tackle alcohol misuse'.

'I believe this country has so much potential, but we need a healthier relationship with alcohol if we are to maximise it. We all have a personal responsibility to drink sensibly but government also has a responsibility to show leadership,' she added.

'We are not anti-alcohol - but we are concerned about alcohol misuse.'

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill added: 'We can no longer sit back and let alcohol misuse continue to take its shocking toll on our criminal justice system, health service and economy.

'I'd encourage everyone to take the time to get involved, look at these proposals and think about your own alcohol consumption. Together we can help get Scotland's relationship with alcohol back on the level.'

A gluten-free vegan diet could be beneficial for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers have said.

Sufferers tend to be at a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes than the general population, as the disease causes inflammation in their arteries.

However, a study at Sweden's Karolinska Institute has found that the risk of heart attack and stroke can be reduced by following a vegan diet.

Research involving 66 patients - 38 of whom ate a gluten-free vegan diet - found that those on the regime had lower levels of 'bad' low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and tended to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those on a non-vegan diet.

The Arthritis Research Campaign welcomed the study but told the BBC that it is 'difficult to get enough of some important nutrients on a vegan diet'.

However, a spokeswoman revealed: 'We do know that, for example, eating oily fish can reduce inflammation, and risk factors for developing the condition include high consumption of red meat and low consumption of fruit and vegetables, so diet does play a role - however limited.'

Children who experience a positive environment at high school are less likely to take up smoking, new research suggests.

A study at Glasgow's Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit looked at 5,092 pupils from 24 schools in Scotland.

The findings, which are published in the journal BMC Public Health, suggest that teachers can help to reduce uptake of smoking by creating a positive environment in which pupils feel included.

Lead researcher Marion Henderson revealed that teacher-pupil relationships, pupils' attitudes to school and the school's attention to inclusiveness all have an effect on young people's smoking habits.

She commented: 'Our research has shown that this environment acts to either encourage or discourage smoking.

'Our results suggest that investing in the social environment of schools and endeavouring to make school a positive experience, even for less academically able pupils, may have the potential to reduce smoking rates, particularly for boys,' she concluded.

A spokeswoman for the charity Arthritis Care has claimed there is a lack of awareness of the condition considering the impact it has in the UK.

The charity says that despite there being nine million people in the UK with arthritis there is 'nothing like enough awareness of the breadth of the condition and the toll it takes upon individuals, the community and the economy'.

'It accounts for one in four visits to the GP and yet arthritis isn't even one of the conditions on which GPs' performance is assessed and their pay awarded,' the spokeswoman noted.

The expert suggested that employers should think 'more creatively' about how to support people with arthritis at work, with 72 per cent of sufferers meeting the legal definition for disability.

'The Health and Safety Executive estimates that arthritis costs the economy £5.7 billion a year - and arthritis and related conditions are the second most common cause of days off work in both men and women,' she revealed.

The spokeswoman also highlighted the inaccuracy of the assumption that arthritis is just part of the ageing process, pointing out that 12,000 children are currently living with the condition in the UK.

A joint scheme between the Scottish government and local authorities in Dundee is set to pay smokers in poor communities to help them kick the habit.

The Scotsman newspaper reports that the £500,000 scheme will offer 900 people in the city an electronic card with a credit balance of £12.50 every week.

The funds on the card can be exchanged for groceries at local supermarkets but cannot be used to purchase alcohol or cigarettes.

Participants on the 12-week programme will be subject to weekly tests to ensure they haven't resumed smoking and will also receive Nicotine Replacement Therapy during the course of the treatment.

According to the paper, those enrolled on the programme will also be able to access local counselling, support groups and exercise facilities.

Speaking about the programme, deputy director of public health at NHS Tayside Paul Ballard said: 'Currently there are 36,000 smokers in Dundee, half of whom live in poverty.

'Although current smoking cessation services are working well, because of the complexities of poverty and health we know we need to do more to tackle this.'

Pain around the joint area may be a sign that things are 'not as they should be', an expert has warned.

According to Trisha Hamilton, deputising chief nurse at NHS Direct, joints that are painful to touch may indicate arthritis, which affects around one fifth of people in the UK.

She advised that anyone experiencing joint pain should visit a GP for an assessment.

The expert also recommended a number of lifestyle changes that can help to ease symptoms.

'With arthritis it tends to be the case that the joint becomes painful when it is inflamed,' she revealed.

'You should take regular pain relief for that pain and gentle exercise. You shouldn't stop all exercise but you shouldn't be overly strenuous with it while it is inflamed.

'Weight is also an issue,' Ms Hamilton added. 'If you are carrying excessive weight, that can make a painful joint worse. A healthy, well balanced diet is recommended.'

A study conducted by a children's charity has shown that the majority of primary school children are aware of at least four illegal drugs.

The research conducted by Life Education consisted of surveys of 1,500 children between the ages of nine and 11 in schools in England and Northern Ireland.

Students were asked about the names of illicit drugs they were aware of as well as the reasons for taking the illegal substances.

The poll revealed that cocaine was the most well-known drug with over 71 per cent of children knowing of it. The next most well-known drug was cannabis with 64 per cent of primary school students having heard of it.

Other findings of the poll showed that 20 per cent of respondents felt that the Class A drug cocaine was legal while 38 per cent cited the pressure to look cool as the main reason for using drugs.

A spokesman for the charity, Stephen Burgess, said: 'It is no use pretending that children under 11 don't know about drugs.

'These results show that they do and in order for them to approach the potentially challenging period of adolescence knowing the full facts rather than responding to hearsay and peer pressure, we need to reach children early - at primary school,' he added.

Physical activity can help to relieve the painful symptoms of arthritis, experts have found.

A study published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research found that regular exercise can significantly improve arthritis pain by helping to strengthen muscles and keep the joints flexible.

The study found that patients who took part in an eight-week exercise programme benefited from a decrease in pain and fatigue, an improvement in upper and lower limb function, and an increase in strength.

Study author Dr Leigh Callahan, a researcher at the University of North Carolina's Thurston Arthritis Research centre, revealed that the exercise programme proved suitable for patients of all fitness levels, including inactive, elderly people.

'Many people believe the myth that exercise exacerbates their symptoms. The truth revealed in the study is that symptoms improved with exercise,' he said.

The programme involved a series of low-impact routines with gentle movements designed to work out the joints without building up a sweat.

Children as young as eight are using sunbeds in Britain, the consumer watchdog Which? has revealed today.

Its survey of over 1,000 eight to 15-year-olds found that three per cent had used a sunbed – equivalent to around 170,000 children in Britain.

Further interviews with 47 16- to 17-year-olds found that 13 per cent had used a sunbed.

Young people using sunbeds increase their risk of a life-threatening form of skin cancer.

A recent report from the International Agency for Research into Cancer found that people who use sunbeds before the age of 35 increase their risk of malignant melanoma by over seven times.

The Sunbed Association (TSA) instructs its members to ban under 16s and to advise people with type one skin to avoid sunbeds, but its membership covers only a quarter of the UK's 6,000 salons, and other salons are not regulated at all.

The World Health Organisation advises that under 18s, fair-skinned people and people with a lot of freckles or moles should never use sunbeds.

Despite these guidelines Which? found that many staff are failing to warn potential sunbed users about the associated health risks.

The watchdog sent undercover researchers to ten salons. All ten said someone with very pale skin could use a sunbed and just three gave a verbal warning about the risks.

A government review is currently underway on possible regulation of the sunbed industry and a proposed public health bill in Scotland includes measures to improve staff training.

Which? editor Neil Fowler described the number of children using sunbeds as "shocking".

"Without regulation, the industry needs to be responsible about protecting those most at risk, but staff at the salons we visited failed to give adequate health warnings," he added.

"We're pleased to see that the government is looking at this issue. And in the meantime if you can't live without a tan, consider faking it with a bottle rather than putting your health at risk."

Commenting on the research, Rebecca Russell, Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign manager, said it is "extremely shocking" to learn that eight-year-olds are using sunbeds.

"This example of poor industry practice is exactly why Cancer Research UK is calling on the government to introduce legislation to regulate the industry," she added.

"Tighter control of the industry will help to ensure that children are protected from putting themselves at an increased risk of skin cancer and that adults who choose to use sunbeds themselves are made fully aware of the risks."

Women who smoke are being told they must give up before receiving IVF on the NHS, it has emerged.

Figures from a Department of Health survey show that many clinics are denying treatment to female smokers.

The restriction is the latest in a number of criteria imposed by some primary health trusts, with some using narrow age restrictions and others telling obese women they must lose weight before being considered for infertility treatment.

However, Labour MP Sally Keeble said that smoking is 'not a good idea' if you are trying to conceive as it is linked to higher rates of miscarriage.

'I think there's no point in putting people through expensive and traumatic treatment if they are doing something which is likely to make it unsuccessful,' she claimed.

'It's really important that the people doing it should give it the best possible chance of success.'

A report published in 2004 by the British Medical Association's Board of Science and Education found that a woman's chance of conception falls by around 40 per cent if she smokes.

Typhoid cases have increased by 69 per cent in recent years, fuelled by more people travelling to exotic locations, doctors have warned.

The figures, issued by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), show that 248 typhoid cases were reported in England and Wales in 2006, up from just 147 in 2002.

Caused by the bacterium Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi, the disease can be life-threatening unless patients receive prompt treatment with antibiotics.

The new figures have raised concerns about the number of people obtaining travel vaccinations and health experts are now attempting to raise the profile of immunisation through the Valuing Vaccines campaign.

Dr Jane Zuckerman, director of the Centre for Travel Medicine at London's Royal Free Hospital, told the BBC that the level of public ignorance was 'extremely worrying'.

'We have seen vaccine-preventable diseases like typhoid on the increase because people travel abroad to endemic areas without being vaccinated and return sick to the UK,' she explained.

A campaign has been launched today to raise awareness of the 'hidden disability' aphasia.

The disability affects communication and occurs when the communication centres of the brain are damaged.

It is usually caused by stroke, but can also be caused by brain haemorrhage, head injury or illness such as meningitis or tumours.

About 250,000 people - the size of the population of Nottingham - are estimated to be living with aphasia in the UK and about 130 people a day develop the condition.

But just ten per cent of people have heard of aphasia, according to a survey released today.

The poll also revealed widespread ignorance and public misconception about what counts as a disability.

Physical indicators such as 'using a wheelchair' and 'using a walking stick' are widely recognised but 72 per cent of people did not mention those affecting communication, such as aphasia, as something that would suggest a disability.

Aphasia Alliance spokesperson Carole Pound said: "This survey shows that people fail to consider disabilities that are not visibly identifiable and indicates a general lack of awareness about communication disability.

"In the last few years we have seen enormous advances made to help people with physical impairments, such as ramp access and lifts in buildings.

"However, communication access and communication support has not been high on the agenda and this needs to change."

An increasing number of young people are being diagnosed with emphysema, a type of lung disease often associated with smoking, an expert has revealed.

In patients with emphysema, the walls of the air sacs in the lungs are damaged, causing them to break apart and reducing the amount of oxygen absorbed into the blood.

According to Dr Keith Prowse, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, the condition is most commonly found in people in their 40s or older.

However, he revealed: 'We are seeing more and more…people [with emphysema] below the age of 30 who smoke cigarettes heavily and are into recreational drugs. And that is increasing.'

Dr Prowse noted that while smoking is a major risk factor, there are a number of genetic conditions that increase a person's risk of emphysema, including a condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, in which the lungs' defence against emphysema is 'almost obliterated'.

People with this genetic condition are more likely to develop emphysema in their 30s or 40s if they are non-smokers, but smoking means they may well develop the disease in their 20s.

The expert's comments follow the revelation that singer Amy Winehouse has been diagnosed with emphysema.

Travellers heading to developing countries should research disease outbreaks in their chosen destination and take appropriate travel medicine, a senior nurse has warned.

Ideally, she commented, medical advice should be sought at least six to eight weeks prior to travel, but if people have less time a visit to a clinic is still advised.

According to Lynda Bramham, senior nurse advisor at the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (Masta), people intending to live or work with local populations in developing countries for three months or more should have a TB vaccine.

'The BCG vaccine for TB can take around eight weeks to be effective and it has to be planned in carefully around other travel vaccines,' she said.

'No other vaccines should be given in the same arm for the following three months, for example.'

She also advised people to take a first aid pack with them containing such things as painkillers, antiseptic sprays, plasters, insect repellent and travel sickness medication.

Masta provides travel health advice to the public through its online Health Brief and via its network of UK travel clinics.

A drug used to prevent bone fractures in women with osteoporosis could increase the risk of irregular heartbeat, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Washington found that women who have used the drug Fosamax - also known as alendronate - are nearly twice as likely to develop the most common kind of chronically irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) than those who have never used it.

Atrial fibrillation is not usually life-threatening but it can increase the risk of stroke and cause palpitations, fainting, fatigue, or congestive heart failure.

The researchers studied 700 women whose irregular heartbeat was first detected during a three-year period.

These women were compared to over 900 randomly selected females matched on age and high blood pressure.

The results, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, say that having ever used Fosamax was associated with an 86 per cent higher risk of irregular heartbeat.

'Careful judgment is required to weigh the risks and benefits of any medication for any individual patient,' said lead researcher Dr Susan Heckbert.

'For most women at high risk of fracture, alendronate's benefit of reducing fractures will outweigh the risk of atrial fibrillation.'

However, said added: 'Women who are at high risk of fractures but also have risk factors for atrial fibrillation - such as heart failure, diabetes, or coronary diseases - might want to discuss alternatives to alendronate with their health care providers.'

A consultant plastic surgeon has warned of the dangers associated with seeking surgery overseas, including the heightened risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

According to Rajiv Grover, a council member of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps), seeking cosmetic surgery abroad is 'never recommended', partly because the inherent risk of DVT is increased by the subsequent flight home.

Mr Grover explained: 'The risks you would incur…with a lot of operations is the increased risk factor afterwards by developing deep vein thrombosis.'

The surgeon revealed that breast reductions, breast uplifts and tummy tucks are all operations that carry a significant risk of DVT, even if there is no travel involved.

'After surgery you could be coming back on a long aeroplane flight and you would increase your risk of getting [DVT] many times over,' he revealed.

The expert also pointed out that the last thing you will feel like after having surgery is a foreign holiday.

'[Companies] are trying to make cosmetic surgery holidays sound far more seductive than they are,' he concluded.

Women who breastfeed their infants for an extended period of time appear to gain protection against rheumatoid arthritis in the future, a new study suggests.

Research published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases indicates that breastfeeding for more than a year halves the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers analysed breastfeeding histories in 136 women with rheumatoid arthritis and a further 544 women without the disease.

They found that women who had breastfed for between one and 12 months were 25 per cent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those who had never breastfed.

Meanwhile those who had breastfed for 13 months or more were half as likely to develop the disease.

According to the researchers, their findings provide an additional reason for women to choose to breastfeed.

Meanwhile, a survey by premature baby charity Bliss has found that some mothers of premature and sick babies do not breastfeed because of a lack of advice and support.

Over a third of respondents (38 per cent) revealed that they did not breastfeed, even though the majority knew about the benefits, and 17 per cent blamed this on a lack of support from staff.

Students planning on taking a gap year have been warned not to forget about budgeting for vaccinations when financing their trip.

Travel expert Jane Owen wrote in the Times that many gap year students, or gappers, are wrong in not wanting to 'waste' the money they've raised on getting injections, when there are other things to buy.

However Ms Owen states: 'Virtually all gappers will visit areas where malaria and dengue fever is endemic and diseases like Yellow fever, cholera and hepatitis lurk. Almost all are potential killers.'

She goes on to say that the health of gappers must be the most important thing throughout their travels and they must have knowledge of the local healthcare system.

According to the Guardian, figures from 2005 show that almost 200,000 18 to 25-year-olds take time out to work and study abroad each year.

Consumer watchdog Which? has warned of the possible dangers of undergoing medical treatment abroad after finding that nearly one fifth of medical tourists have experienced problems.

A Which? survey revealed that just 57 per cent were satisfied with their treatment and the watchdog is urging consumers to check doctors' qualifications before travelling.

Eighteen per cent of respondents had experienced problems and researchers found that medical tourism companies were not providing sound advice to potential patients.

For example, one company told a researcher posing as a patient that knee replacement surgery was not risky and that he would not require any follow-up treatment back in the UK, despite the fact that half of patients need physiotherapy.

'Medical tourists must do their homework before jumping on the plane - and avoid rushing back too quickly - if they want to avoid potential problems,' said Neil Fowler, editor of Which?

'Ask the right questions beforehand, speak to UK health professionals, and don't assume you'll have a safety net if things don't go according to plan,' he advised.

The correct diet and proper exercise routine should be adequate for managing arthritis, according to the UK's largest organisation supporting arthritis sufferers.

Arthritis Care has therefore suggested that supplements only be used to enhance a diet where there are elements lacking and with the blessing of your healthcare team.

'A lot of supplements are expensive and their effectiveness unproven,' said an Arthritis Care spokesperson.

'They can react with your medication so always check with your doctor or pharmacist for potential interaction with prescription drugs.

'A fresh, healthy diet generally contains of all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed by the body.'

Arthritis Care suggests that omega-3 rich foods such as oily fish can help manage the disease and also recommends foods such as fruit, vegetables, pasta, brown rice and white meat.

As many as one in five of the UK's adult population suffer from arthritis although it can affect people of any age with 27,000 people under 25 believed to be living with the disease.

The risks for Alzheimer's disease differ between men and women, scientists claim today.

A study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry says that stroke is a critical factor for men while depression is for women.

French researchers studied 7,000 people over the age of 65 living in three French cities.

At the start of the study none had dementia but about 40 per cent were deemed to have mildly impaired mental agility (mild cognitive impairment).

Participants were assessed two and four years later.

Nearly seven in ten of those deemed to be cognitively impaired developed dementia over the next four years.

Risk factors differed between the sexes, according to the study.

Men with mild cognitive impairment were more likely to be overweight, diabetic and to have had a stroke.

The research also found that cognitive impairment in men who had had a stroke was almost three times as likely to progress to dementia.

Women with mild cognitive impairment were more likely to be in poorer general health, disabled, suffering from insomnia and to have a poor support network.

Cognitive impairment in females unable to perform routine daily tasks was 3.5 times as likely to progress to dementia, while it was twice as likely to do so in those who were depressed.

The researchers conclude that their findings 'should be taken into account in the development of gender-specific clinical intervention programmes for mild cognitive impairment'.

Five glasses of wine a week could reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by 50 per cent, new research suggests.

A team at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that people who drank alcohol regularly were significantly less likely to develop the joint disease than those who rarely drank.

The findings are based on a study of 2,750 people who were asked to provide information on their lifestyle and a blood sample to test for genetic risk factors for RA.

The scientists found that people who smoked and had antibodies to a specific group of proteins involved in the development of RA were most likely to benefit from the protective effect of alcohol.

Publishing their findings in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, the researchers claimed that the findings were of significant interest for public health.

'The main message remains that cessation of smoking is the most effective way to diminish the risk of RA, irrespective of genetic constitution, but that this recommendation should not necessarily be combined with a recommendation to stop moderate alcohol consumption,' they claimed.

Football fans travelling to Switzerland and Austria this summer for Euro 2008 could be at risk of measles, health experts have warned.

Officials from the vaccine surveillance network say there have been significant outbreaks of the viral illness in the two countries.

Last year week the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said there has been an upsurge in measles cases across Europe.

More than 1,300 cases were reported in Europe in January to March this year, compared to less than 800 in the same period last year.

A risk assessment of the situation in Austria in light of the upcoming football tournament is now being carried out by experts from ECDC and

They say the importance of being vaccinated against measles must be conveyed to all people.

"Measles is one of the most contagious viruses in existence, causing serious illness and even death," said ECDC director Zsuzsanna Jakab.

"If unvaccinated people are exposed to it they have a high chance of being infected. Significant outbreaks have occurred recently in several European countries, so the risk to the millions of unvaccinated Europeans is real.

"The public health community needs to speak out about the benefits of vaccination – and the dangers of being unvaccinated."

Death rates from heart disease in women appear to be levelling out and could rise in the future following a decline in recent years, a new study shows.

Researchers analysed deaths in England and Wales between 1931 and 2005 and found that the fall in death rates among women under the age of 50 seem to be slowing.

Peter Scarborough, who authored the study in the journal BMC Public Health, told the BBC: 'What we may be seeing with the figures for women is a plateauing and in the future it may even rise.

'It seems to me that the increased rates of obesity and diabetes are playing a role in this, and if this pattern is emerging in women then it is quite likely we will see the same in men in the future,' he warned.

According to the British Heart Foundation, obesity has increased by 50 per cent in adults over the past decade, and diabetes has doubled in men and increased by 80 per cent in women since 1991.

Adults should drink milk to reduce their risk of broken bones, new research has found.

Researchers at University Hospital Zurich and Dartmouth Medical School analysed 930 men and women between the ages of 27 and 80 over a four-year period.

Half were given a daily calcium supplement which provided them with the recommended amount for adults over the age of 51, while the remainder took a placebo (dummy) pill.

The researchers found that those who took the calcium supplements were significantly less likely to have any kind of bone fracture during the four-year study.

No individual from that group experienced a fracture as a result of everyday activities.

However, the benefits derived from taking the extra calcium were lost after the study had ended, indicating that people should maintain a high intake of the mineral to protect their bones.

Publishing their findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers recommended that adults should adopt a lifelong habit of drinking milk in order to prevent bone loss.

This becomes particularly important after the bones have stopped growing - around the age of 35 - as it is then essential to prevent further bone loss, they noted.

Women should be educated about tampons so they can make an informed choice about their use, a charity has claimed.

Speaking ahead of National Tampon Awareness Week, Peter Kilvert, a spokesman for Alive Kilvert Tampon Alert (AKTA), said that women should have a free choice with regard to sanitary protection, but that they should be aware of the potential risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

According to Mr Kilvert, TSS occurs when the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus produces a toxin that spreads through the bloodstream, overpowering the immune system and attacking the body's organs.

Half of all known cases of TSS occur in women using tampons as rayon in the tampon reacts with the bacteria, prompting the toxin's release.

'We get women contacting us when they've suffered TSS saying that they had never heard of it,' Mr Kilvert revealed.

'It's essential that women know what the symptoms are, and if they get any of the symptoms they are to remove the tampon straight away and monitor themselves or get someone else to monitor them to see that the symptoms don't increase.'

The early symptoms of TSS include a headache and sore throat, muscle ache, high temperature, vomiting and diarrhoea, dizziness, a sunburn-like rash or very low blood pressure.

Nearly three-quarters of hay fever sufferers are risking their health by not bothering to seek advice about treatment, a survey suggests.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain says research carried out by pollsters YouGov suggests 73 per cent of those experiencing hay fever symptoms do not seek medical advice before selecting a treatment.

Sneezing, runny nose and itching eyes are all common symptoms of hay fever, properly called allergic rhinitis.

But too few are bothering to seek advice on what sort of product is best for them. The research suggests five million out of Britain's 13 million hay fever sufferers could be risking their health by taking inappropriate medicines.

"Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals and experts in medicines – they can play a significant role in the management of allergies including hay fever," RPSBG director of practice and quality development David Pruce commented.

Sufferers could benefit from having the type of allergy identified and the right treatment – many of which are tailored to individual symptoms – identified for them, Mr Pruce believes.

Given the damage hay fever can cause to sufferers' lifestyles the importance of getting the right treatment is especially important, he adds.

The RPSBG's research suggested two in five become irritable when they have hay fever, while 29 per cent have difficulty concentrating.

Five per cent of respondents even said they avoided leaving the home because of the condition.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis appear to have a higher prevalence of gum disease than healthy people, according to new research.

Scientists examined the oral health of 57 people with rheumatoid arthritis and 52 healthy volunteers and found that arthritis patients were nearly eight times more likely to have periodontal (gum) disease.

While some patients' poor oral health may be due to a lack of manual dexterity, the German researchers believe that other factors may also be involved.

The findings are published in the Journal of Periodontology and editor Dr Kenneth Kornman suggested that inflammation may be the key.

'Inflammation is already thought to link periodontal disease with other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes,' Dr Kornman revealed.

'We look forward to future research that may reveal the biological mechanisms that link these two important diseases.'

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis are advised to visit a dentist twice a year to help maintain good oral health.

Drug company Novartis has announced a 20 per cent average reduction in the price of its malaria drug Coartem to help access to treatment in the world's poorest regions.

Malaria is the biggest killer of children in Africa and affects 300 to 500 million people every year.

The reduced price of Coartem, which produces cure rates up to 95 per cent, will come into effect this Friday during World Malaria Day.

Novartis says the reduction will increase access to the drug for millions of malaria patients, especially children in low income regions of Africa.

"We are pleased that Novartis is able to significantly reduce the price of Coartem which will further improve access to Coartem for patients in developing countries, helping to save even more lives," said Novartis chairman Dr Daniel Vasella.

"To date our ability to reliably supply significant quantities of our medicines has helped us save approximately 450,000 lives."

Novartis provides Coartem to the public sector without profit.

Since 2001, the company has supplied more than 160 million treatments to malaria-endemic countries.

Despite a fall in the number of cases of UK travellers contracting malaria last year health experts are warning that risk of the disease is still high.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is today advising people planning on visiting exotic destinations this year to ensure they seek medical advice before they travel.

Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disease and affects 300 to 500 million people every year.

Figures released by the HPA today show that there were 1,548 cases of malaria reported among UK travellers in 2007. Five of these cases were fatal.

This represents a 12 per cent fall in the number of cases reported for 2006 by this time year (1,758).

Over seven in ten of last year's cases were in travellers from the UK who were visiting friends and relatives abroad.

Professor Peter Chiodini, head of the HPA's Malaria Reference Laboratory, said: "It seems likely that travellers visiting friends and relatives are either not seeking or unable to access good medical advice on preventing malaria before they travel, or they don't perceive their risk to be as great as the holidaying public.

"The common misconception that people born in malaria-affected countries but now living in the UK continue to have a natural immunity to malaria is very dangerous."

He added that "really important that anyone travelling to an area where malaria is a risk seeks medical advice before their trip".

With only 51 per cent of young mothers deciding to breastfeed, the Department of Health has underlined the benefits of the practise for both mothers and their infants as part of National Breastfeeding Awareness Week.

The government body advises that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives, and that this diet should be subsequently supplemented with solid foods.

This is because all of the nutrients required by babies in their first six months can be obtained from breastmilk, which also helps to protect against infection.

'The recent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition review highlighted the fact that younger mothers, mothers from lower socio-economic groups and mothers with lower educational levels appear least likely to initiate and continue breastfeeding,' commented public health minister Dawn Primarolo.

'It is imperative that we support our most vulnerable families to make breastfeeding the norm and improve health outcomes for all.'

Breastfeeding also helps to reduce the risk of mothers developing ovarian and breast cancer.

Scientists have discovered that children who live in areas with lots of trees appear to be less likely to develop asthma.

According to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, trees may play a role in preventing asthma as areas with a large number of trees were found to have lower rates of childhood asthma.

US researchers studied four and five-year-olds in 42 health service districts of New York City, as well as asthma-related hospital admissions among under-15s.

When asthma rates were compared to the number of trees in each area, the researchers found that for every additional 343 trees per square-kilometre, asthma rates among children fell by nearly a quarter.

The researchers suggested: 'Trees may help prevent asthma, either by encouraging outdoor play or through an effect on local air quality.'

Approximately 1.1 million children in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma, according to Asthma UK.

Home secretary Jacqui Smith has, in a widely anticipated move, confirmed that cannabis is to be reclassified as a class B drug.

The drug was downgraded to class C in January 2004 but Ms Smith claimed that a stronger form of cannabis called skunk is now far more widely available, making up around 80 per cent of street cannabis seized.

The government's decision goes against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which was asked to review the drug's status in July 2007.

The council called for cannabis to remain a class C drug, but ministers insist the reclassification will go ahead later this year.

The Conservatives have said that cannabis should never have been downgraded in the first place and labelled the latest move a 'long-awaited U-turn'.

However, the charitable thinktank Transform Drug Policy Foundation accused the government of flying in the face of scientific advice.

'It's a way of showing how tough and hard they are and has been in no way about the developments that have affected public policy… Cameron and Brown have been spurring each other on to ever more facile prohibitionist nonsense and this is the result,' claimed spokesman Danny Kushlick.

Overseas travellers may be able to reduce the risk of diarrhoea by taking a vaccine in the form of a patch, scientists have revealed.

The patch can be worn on the skin, enabling the vaccine to penetrate the skin and combat travellers' diarrhoea.

Researchers at the University of Texas School of Public Health found that it greatly reduced the severity of diarrhoea, with only one out of 59 volunteers reporting severe diarrhoea compared with 12 out of 111 who received a placebo.

Diarrhoea also lasted for only half a day on average in vaccinated patients, in contrast to those in the placebo group, who typically experienced diarrhoea for two days.

The study appears in the latest issue of the Lancet medical journal and principal investigator Professor Herbert DuPont said that the patch could 'fundamentally change the way we approach prevention of this disease'.

The expert, who is professor and director of the Centre for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health, added that the vaccine may have the potential 'to not only mitigate a disease that sickens millions each year but also keep some patients from going on to develop the chronic symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome'.

The number of women seeking treatment for alcoholism will soon be equal to the number of male alcoholics, experts have claimed.

According to alcohol treatment organisation the Linwood Group, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of females from all age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds seeking help.

Around one in 13 adults in the UK abuses alcohol, yet there are only around 1,000 beds designated for alcohol treatment, revealed Sue Allchurch, director of the Linwood Group.

'More women are coming into treatment, year on year - by 2010 we predict the patient balance will be equal,' Ms Allchurch claimed.

The director said that, as women compete for equality with men, their alcohol consumption also tends to increase.

However, she warned that women are 50 to 100 per cent more likely than men to suffer an alcohol-related death, for example from heart disease, stroke, liver cirrhosis, alcohol-related accident or suicide.

There are 'shocking' differences in the numbers of emergency hospital admissions for children with asthma across the UK, a new report reveals.

Figures published by the charity Asthma UK show an eight-fold difference in admissions between different primary care trusts (PCTs).

According to the charity, governments and health services need to take asthma more seriously and ensure consistent standards.

The charity claims that 75 per cent of emergency hospital admissions for asthma could be prevented through effective asthma management and routine care, potentially saving the NHS nearly £46 million per year.

Neil Churchill, chief executive of Asthma UK, said that the figures paint a 'disturbing' picture of the impact of asthma and that not all children are getting the same access to vital asthma services.

'These divisions are unacceptable, particularly the staggering eight-fold difference in admissions in England,' he remarked.

'If asthma is not controlled effectively, the effects can be devastating and in some cases fatal, which is why reducing the hospital admissions of people with asthma is a key aim for Asthma UK.'

The government has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of alcohol after a survey found that the majority do not understand how many units are in typical alcoholic drinks.

A YouGov poll found that while 82 per cent of people believe they know what a unit of alcohol is, 77 per cent did not know how many units were in a typical large glass of wine.

Fifty-five per cent assumed that a large glass of wine with 12 per cent ABV contained two units, when it actually contains three.

In addition, 35 per cent did not know that the average pint of beer contains two units, and 58 per cent did not know that a double gin and tonic contains two units.

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said that the lack of awareness is 'no wonder' as glass sizes have grown larger and the strength of many wines and beers has increased.

'Excessive alcohol consumption is proven to play a significant role in the development of numerous diseases, including several cancers, heart disease and stroke. That's why this campaign is so important to the public's health,' she explained.

Scientists have identified a protein that explains how smoking triggers genetic changes that lead to cancer.

Production of a protein called FANCD2 slows down when lung cells are exposed to cigarette smoke, and low levels of the protein lead to DNA damage as it is normally involved in DNA repair.

The finding, which is detailed in the British Journal of Cancer, could eventually lead to new treatments for lung cancer.

Senior author Dr Grover Bagby, founding director of the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute and a professor at the Northwest Cancer VA Research Centre at the Portland VA Medical Centre, explained that cigarette smoke 'knocks out' the production of FANCD2.

'Although there are probably other proteins involved in this process, we know this is a key one because cells with very high levels of FANCD2 were resistant to the toxic effects of the smoke,' he revealed.

Dr Lesley Walker, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said that smoking causes nine out of ten cases of lung cancer.

'But the good news is that quitting works,' he noted. 'After five years without smoking, your risk of a heart attack will have fallen to half that of a smoker. And after ten years your risk of lung cancer will have halved too.'

A new study suggests that menopausal women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the form of skin patches may be significantly less likely to develop blood clots than those who take it in tablet form.

Researchers found that HRT given orally more than doubles the risk of blood clots, according to a report in the British Medical Journal.

Data from eight observational studies and nine randomised controlled trials found that women taking the oral form of the therapy were between two and three times more likely to develop a blood clot.

The study also revealed that the risk is much higher during the first year of treatment, and in women who are overweight or genetically prone to blood clots.

In contrast, HRT patches did not appear to increase the risk of blood clots, perhaps because of the different way in which oestrogen is absorbed into the bloodstream.

In an accompanying editorial, Helen Roberts from the University of Auckland calls for more research to confirm the apparent safety of oestrogen patches.

'In the meantime, we can advise healthy menopausal women, aged 50 to 59, that the risk of [blood clots] with oral preparations is 11 additional cases per 10,000 women per year for combined therapy and two additional cases per 10,000 women per year for oestrogen only,' she said.

The first four months of the year have experienced the lowest level of bee and wasp stings in recent years, according to experts.

Insect sting monitoring website WaspWatch has monitored the nation's sting activity over the last six years and believes that the decline in sting activity is likely to be due to falling numbers of wasps and bees.

David Glaser, chief of WaspWatch, commented: 'The early months of our calendar year are usually dominated by bee stings rather than wasp stings and this year has undoubtedly seen a real drop in activity compared to previous years.

'Whilst there has been some unfriendly weather this year, it has been no worse than in previous years,' he noted.

The majority of people experience redness and minor swelling when stung by an insect; however, some may experience a severe allergic reaction characterised by swelling or itching elsewhere on the body, wheezing, headache or nausea, a rapid heart rate, difficulty swallowing, or a swollen face or mouth.

Patients experiencing any of these symptoms are advised to seek emergency medical treatment.

Mothers who are stressed during pregnancy appear to be more likely to have children with allergies and asthma, new research suggests.

Experts at Harvard Medical School found that the cord blood of infants whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy contained higher levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE), a protein linked to allergies, even when exposed to relatively low levels of dust mite.

The researchers say that the mother's stress may magnify the effect of dust exposure on the child's immune system.

Dr Rosalind Wright, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, commented: 'Certain substances in the environment that cause allergies, such as dust mites, can increase a child's chance of developing asthma and the effects may begin before birth.

'This research adds to a growing body of evidence that links maternal stress such as that precipitated by financial problems or relationship issues, to changes in children's developing immune systems, even during pregnancy.'

The findings were presented at the American Thoracic Society's international conference in Toronto.

Women are so reluctant to admit they have reached the menopause that they ignore the signs and put off seeking medical advice, researchers have found.

A survey commissioned by Novo Nordisk found that more than a quarter of women would be too embarrassed to discuss their symptoms with their doctor or partner and would rather cope alone instead.

Over three fifths also admitted that they were afraid of the effect menopause would have on their self-confidence. Over half were concerned by the health implications, and more than a third were scared about the effect on their sex life.

Relate counsellor and sex therapist Denise Knowles commented: 'It is time for women to make sure they understand the changes that their body will go through and be open and honest to themselves and their families.

'The menopause is nothing to be ashamed about. Women of menopausal age can be extremely sexy, confident and liberated - just look at Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall!'

One of the most worrying findings of the research is that one in ten women do not even realise that all females are affected by the menopause as they enter midlife, with some believing it to be a sign of ill health.

Mothers who live on farms and consume farm milk during pregnancy appear to provide their offspring with protection against allergies, scientists have found.

Researchers at University Children's Hospital in Munich, Germany, analysed 18 farming mothers and 59 non-farming mothers.

They found that exposure to farms during pregnancy affects the unborn baby's T regulatory cells, which are thought to suppress immune responses and contribute to the development of a healthy immune system.

Lead researcher Dr Bianca Schaub commented: 'We found that the babies of mothers exposed to farms have more and better functioning regulatory T cells.

'The effect was strongest among those mothers who entered barns or drank farm milk.'

The findings were presented at the American Thoracic Society's international conference in Toronto and Dr Schaub concluded that they may help scientists to develop an 'effective preventive strategy, perhaps even a vaccine, against allergic diseases'.