Medical notes

Women are far more likely to suffer from seasonal affective disorder than men, and people who live in a different country to which they were born are also at heightened risk of SAD, which can leave the sufferer with low energy, poor concentration and problems sleeping. The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, also found that people with little support from family, friends or partners were most vulnerable to the illness. The only real cure is longer sunnier days, which are, luckily, just around the corner.

A study of traffic attendants on Italian motorways has shown that prolonged exposure to traffic fumes can decrease the quality of a man's sperm. Sperm count was not affected but sperm mobility was, which can hamper a man's ability to conceive. High levels of nitrogen oxides are thought to be behind the problem. Researchers from the University of Naples reported their findings in the journal Human Reproduction.

Employers estimated last week that "pulling sickies" costs business £1.75bn a year. Many firms estimate that 15% of absence, amounting to 166m days off in 2002, is not genuine. You are more likely to pull a sickie if you work in the public sector, 8.9 days a year as opposed to 6.5 in the commercial sector, and larger companies report higher absence levels than smaller ones. Last year, absence was lowest in Greater London (5.4 days) and highest in Yorkshire and Humberside, and the West Midlands (7.8 days in each).

The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast is building seven smoking rooms for patients and staff at a cost of £500,000. It hasn't gone down well. This week, the British Medical Journal argued that the resources would have been better used to implement a smoking ban. Some studies have shown that banning smoking in the workplace has the same deterrent effect as doubling the price of a packet of cigarettes, says the BMJ.

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