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PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 October, 2008, 12:00am

Sick days raise death risk

People who take more sick days, even for common ailments such as the flu, are at greater risk of premature death, say researchers who examined the records of almost 6,500 British civil servants during three years, and then checked how many died during the next six. The risk was significantly greater for employees who went off sick more than seven days in a row, says team leader Jenny Head, of University College London. They also found that psychiatric problems such as depression increased the risk of a cancer-related death by 2.5 times. Being off sick for back pain or arthritis also increased the risk of premature death, Reuters reports.

Cannabis 'less harmful than booze'

Cannabis is significantly less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, according to a report by a British charity that has called for a rethink of the country's drugs policy. The Beckley Foundation report said only two deaths worldwide had been attributed to cannabis poisoning, whereas alcohol and tobacco have killed hundreds of thousands in Britain alone. It said most of the problems associated with cannabis use 'are the result of prohibition itself'. Britain is considering upgrading cannabis to a more serious drug classification, in part because of the increasing prevalence of a more potent strain called skunk, AFP reports.

HIV may date from 1880s

The human immune-deficiency virus probably made its first appearance as early as 1884 - about 50 years earlier than assumed. It's still thought to have come from a chimpanzee virus that jumped to humans in Africa, probably when people butchered and ate chimps. The new theory, put forward by Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona, is based on mutation calculations using a newly discovered HIV sample from a woman in 1960. This dates the original virus to 1884-1924, AP reports.

Breakfast cereals full of sugar

Many breakfast cereals aimed at children contain so much sugar they're worse than the nutritional equivalent of a doughnut in a bowl, according to tests by the Consumer Reports website. Two of the worst rated - Golden Crisps and Honey Smacks - are more than 50 per cent sugar, with almost no fibre. A serving of Honey Smacks contains 15g of sugar - 3 grams more than a Dunkin' Donuts glazed doughnut. In all, 11 of the 27 cereals tested had more sugar per serving than a doughnut. Only four were rated 'very good' (low in sugar and sodium; had some fibre; high in iron and calcium): Cheerios, Kix, Life and Honey Nut Cheerios.

Honey kills bacteria

Particular types of honey appear to be remarkably effective at killing two strains of the staph bacteria and one called Pseudomonas aeriginosa, say Canadian researchers who found that New Zealand manuka honey and Yemeni sidr honey are more effective than an antibiotic against methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The results suggest new treatments for the millions of people affected by chronic sinusitis each year. Sinusitis may be triggered by allergies but also by bacteria, says WebMD.

Ig Nobel awards honour duff science

Researchers who discovered that Coke makes sperm explode; that people will happily eat stale chips if they sound crunchy; that dog fleas jump higher than cat fleas; and that expensive placebos work better than cheap ones are among the winners of this year's Ig Nobel prizes, awarded by the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research magazine. The economics Ig Nobel went to a University of New Mexico team who found that professional lap dancers earn bigger tips when they're most fertile. And the literature prize went to David Sims of Cass Business School 'for his lovingly written study, You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organisations.'