Health Highlights: April 4, 2003

Mosquito Spray No Threat to Humans Soldiers Risk Hearing Damage Excess Lead in Paint Leads to Toy Recall SARS Patients May Be Quarantined Ban Ephedra, Heart Association Urges ACLU Knocks Tone of Florida AIDS Brochure

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

Mosquito Spray No Threat to Humans

The airborne mosquito spray used to fight West Nile virus doesn't lead to increased pesticide levels in humans, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC officials studied the possible human health dangers posed by the use of the mosquito spray in fogger trucks. Their investigation was in response to a request from Mississippi state health officials, the Associated Press reports.

CDC investigators collected urine samples from 192 people in four Mississippi cities. Two of the cities used fogger trucks in their mosquito control programs.

After an analysis of the urine samples, the CDC concluded that the mosquito spray fogging didn't result in higher pesticide levels in people.

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Soldiers Risk Hearing Damage

Based on the results of the first Gulf War, hearing loss could be among the most common type of disability suffered by soldiers returning from the war in Iraq.

Experts say that the thundering artillery blasts that many soldiers are exposed to can lead to significant and long-term hearing damage, United Press International reports.

Among Gulf War-era veterans, hearing problems are the fifth most common disability, a Department of Veterans Affairs told UPI.

Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) accounts for 3.7 percent of total disabilities among Gulf War veterans while impaired auditory acuity (reduction of hearing clarity) accounts for 3 percent.

The rates for Vietnam vets were 2.8 percent with tinnitus and 2.9 percent for acuity impairment.

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Excess Lead in Paint Leads to Toy Recall

Two kinds of baby activity toys are being recalled because they contain excess levels of lead.

The recall affects about 3,800 toys made by Racing Champions Ertl/Learning Curve International, Inc., of Chicago. The paint on the metal wire of the toys contains too much lead, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Lead poisoning poses a serious health hazard to children. It's associated with behavioral problems, learning disabilities, hearing problems, and growth retardation.

One toy, the Lamaze Flower Stroller Wrap (SKU #97222) is a flower-shaped toy that attaches to a stroller. The toy has green painted metal wire on which plastic beads slide back and forth.

The other toy is the Lamaze Soft Bead Buddies (SKU #97325). It's a floor-based toy with a foam-stuffed base and a blue painted metal wire on which plastic beads and stuffed animal heads slide back and forth.

The toys were sold nationwide in March 2003 at specialty and toy stores. They cost about $19.99.

Consumers should immediately take these toys away from their children. For return and replacement information, phone the company at 1-800-704-8697 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday.

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SARS Patients May Be Quarantined

President Bush signed an executive order Friday giving health officials the right to quarantine Americans sick with a mysterious new lung illness.

The Associated Press reports that the order adds severe acute respiratory illness (SARS) to a list of communicable diseases that allow officials to quarantine people against their will. It's the first time in two decades a new disease was added to the list, the AP reports. Other diseases include cholera, smallpox, and TB.

"If spread in the population," the disease "would have severe public health consequences," the order is quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, in an extraordinary admission, China apologized Friday for not revealing that SARS had enveloped one of its provinces for four months before breaking out across the globe.

"Today, we apologize to everyone," Li Liming, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, told the Associated Press.

The Chinese government, which has now created a SARS task force, waited until mid-March to reveal the first details of an outbreak in Guangdong province, which has caused 46 deaths and 1,190 infections there.

On Friday, China announced additional cases and deaths, which pushed the global toll from severe acute respiratory syndrome to 84 deaths and 2,353 people infected in 18 countries.

The Chinese admission came as investigators from the World Health Organization zeroed in on what may well be the world's first known SARS victim. A WHO health team, allowed for the first time into Guangdong province Thursday, is focusing on one man in the southwestern city of Foshan who visited a doctor Nov. 16, according to a Toronto Globe and Mail report. The man, who was not identified, is suspected of having passed the virus to four people -- but not to his four children. He was released from the hospital in January.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the hardest-hit area outside of mainland China, health officials investigating the voracious spread of SARS through a single apartment complex suspect that the troubling outbreak there came from one sick person and a burst sewage pipe.

Authorities have now learned that one of the first Hong Kong patients to develop SARS, days before the disease was recognized, had visited his brother at the apartment complex and stayed overnight, the Globe and Mail reports. A few days later, the sewage pipe in one apartment block burst. Within the space of a few days, more than 240 infections were reported among apartment residents.

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Ban Ephedra, Heart Association Urges

The dangers posed by the herbal diet supplement ephedra far outweigh any benefits as a weight loss aid, the American Heart Association says in urging that the U.S. government ban the substance.

In a formal letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the association cites "growing literature" linking use of the amphetamine-like herb to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, seizures, heart attack, and stroke, reports the Washington Post.

"The potential health hazards associated with [ephedra-based products] are too serious to permit them to be sold on the open market," the association's letter says.

Criticism of ephedra has mounted since the February death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who collapsed from heatstroke during a spring training workout in Florida. Bechler had an ephedra supplement in his locker, and the medical examiner who performed his autopsy said the product played a role in Bechler's death.

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ACLU Knocks Religious Tone of Florida AIDS Brochure

An AIDS education brochure released by the state of Florida is coming under criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for its strong religious tones.

The brochure, titled "A Christian Response to AIDS," contains images of Jesus healing the sick, and cites many quotes from the Bible in urging compassion for AIDS victims, the Miami Herald reports. "How would Jesus respond to a person with HIV or AIDS?" the pamphlet asks.

State ACLU chairman Howard Simon, saying the brochure should concentrate on proven methods to prevent the spread of HIV, is urging the Florida Department of Health to withdraw the pamphlet. He says the publication conveys a "single religious perspective, which is inappropriate for endorsement by any agency of the state government."

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