Health Highlights: April 3, 2003

Global Illness Tolls Jump; Warnings Increase Traffic Noise Boosts Blood Pressure Smoked Salmon and Trout Recalled Student's Research Sheds Light on Brain Injury

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

Global Illness Tolls Jump; Warnings Increase

Health officials and governments across the globe moved into heightened alert mode Thursday as the toll from the deadly respiratory illness known as SARS continued its dramatic rise.

With at least 80 people dead and almost 2,300 people in 18 countries now infected by the severe acute respiratory syndrome, there were these new developments, according to various newspaper and wire reports:

Overnight, the U.S. toll of suspected cases rose to 100 in 28 states. In a new profile of victims, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most are adults, most are white or Asian, most traveled to Asia 10 days before symptoms showed, and the cases are split almost equally by gender.

There was another fatality reported in Canada, the third worst-affected country, which now has 160 suspect cases and seven deaths. More than 200 hospitals in the province of Ontario, which has the bulk of the cases, are now limiting patients as well as visitors.

Hong Kong, which appears to be the Asian epicenter, also had one new fatality and an additional 26 cases overnight, bringing its total to 734, with 17 deaths. The number of SARS patients in intensive care rose to 84. Officials said that more children and school staff had been diagnosed with the illness and that schools would remain shut.

The surge of more than 240 cases in a single Hong Kong apartment complex, whose residents have been taken to a rural quarantine camp, has raised the spectre that the illness may be transmitted through water or sewage, not just by people sneezing or coughing.

Mainland China revised its victim count as World Health Organization officials on Thursday finally entered Guangdong province, the site of the earliest outbreaks. China says it now has 1,190 suspect cases and 46 deaths.

However, China's minister of health on Thursday rejected a World Health Organization travel warning that people not visit Guangdong province or Hong Kong and said the outbreak was under control. But Canada, Australia, Ireland, France, Britain and Germany posted similar travel warnings on their government Web sites or urged their citizens to avoid the two places.

In news from other countries:

  • Singapore, with 98 cases, recorded its fifth fatality.
  • Vietnam, which had contained its own outbreak, reported one new case, a man who caught the infection in hospital. France also added a new case.
  • Japan reported its first cases: 14 people may now be infected. Brazil also reported its first suspected case.
  • Indonesia declared SARS an infectious disease on Thursday to allow toughened regulations.
  • Thailand warned visitors flying in from high-risk countries that they face a 14-day quarantine if anyone on the plane has SARS symptoms.

In addition, a cancer research conference expected to draw 15,000 to Toronto this weekend was canceled. Intel has canceled two major conferences in Tapei and Beijing. International banks and other businesses are curtailing employees' travel to southeast Asia. And KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has warned that SARS is now hurting international air travel more than the war in Iraq.


Traffic Noise Boosts Blood Pressure

We all know that driving in heavy traffic can increase our stress levels. Now, a German study says loud traffic noise alone can raise our blood pressure to unhealthy levels.

Researchers at the Robert Koch Institute found that people who live in areas where there is heavy traffic noise receive more medical treatment for high blood pressure than people who live on quieter streets.

The study of 1,700 people in Berlin found that the risk for high blood pressure problems was greatest for people who slept with their windows open and lived in areas with heavy traffic noise, says a news release from the German Federal Environmental Agency.

People who experienced average nighttime sound levels of 55 decibels or more by their bedroom windows were nearly twice as likely to be treated for high blood pressure, compared to people exposed to sound levels less than 50 decibels.

Previous German research found that people exposed to high levels of noise had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.


Smoked Salmon and Trout Recalled

MacKnight Smoked Foods is recalling 854 pounds of Long Slice Smoked Salmon and 144 pounds of Long Sliced Smoked Trout that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria can cause serious and potentially deadly infections in young children, elderly or frail people, and others with weakened immune systems. It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women, says a U.S. Food and Drug Administration news release.

In healthy people, listeria can cause short-term symptoms such as high fever, headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The trout was distributed to stores in New Jersey, while the salmon was distributed in New Jersey, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, and Texas.

The salmon is contained in 4, 8, and 16 oz. vacuum packages under the brand names "MacKight Traditional, Rice Epicurean, and Cromarty's." The batch codes, located just above the UPC symbol, are: 1248, 1249, 1258, 1259, 1266, 1269, 1270, and 1271.

The trout is in 4 oz. vacuum packages under the brand name "Cromarty's." The batch codes for the trout are 1263 and 1265.

Consumers should return the product to the place of purchase for a full refund. For more information, contact the company at 215-230-8650.


Student's Research Sheds Light on Brain Injury

A model built by a Dayton, Ohio, high school student has apparently provided important answers about how the brain is damaged when a person suffers a head injury.

Laura Drew's skull/brain model shows how the brain is injured on the opposite side of the head to where the impact takes place, as well as at the site of the actual impact, BBC News Online reports.

She made a skull with a tough transparent container. She filled this with liquid that has the same density as the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) inside the skull that helps cushion the brain.

A balloon filled with a saline solution slightly less dense than the other fluid was her model's brain. A hook was used to attach the mock brain to the base of the model skull.

The model was banged forehead first into a wall. Videotape showed that the impact caused the denser CSF fluid to move forward, while the brain was forced backward, hitting the back of the skull.

The brain then rebounded and struck the skull in the area of the actual impact with the wall, BBC News Online reports.

It was previously believed that the brain first hits the skull in the area of impact and then rebounds to the opposite side of the skull. But that theory never explained why the second injury is often more severe.

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