Health Highlights: April 5, 2003

Scientists Scour Chinese Province for SARS Clues U.S. Military: No Smallpox Shots for Those With Heart Risks Soldiers Risk Hearing Damage Mosquito Spray No Threat to Humans Excess Lead in Paint Leads to Toy Recall

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

Scientists Scour Chinese Province for SARS Clues

An international team of scientists is working with Chinese officials to zero in on possible causes of the mysterious new lung infection called severe acute respiratory illness, or SARS.

Chinese health officials have told the scientists that SARS patients in hard-hit Guangdong province showed signs of a rare airborne version of chlamydia, a virus that is typically spread through sexual contact. This suggests that more than one germ might be behind the disease, according to the Associated Press.

Additional signs suggest that SARS may be linked to a new form of coronavirus, other types of which are usually found in animals.

Guangdong province is the source of many of the world's flu strains because people are thought to contract diseases from pigs and ducks. Forty of China's 46 SARS deaths have occurred in the province.

One theory being pursued by the World Health Organization team in China is that so-called "super spreaders" -- people who are extremely infectious -- may inadvertently infect large numbers of individuals. That could account for the swift but seemingly erratic spread of the disease, which is characterized by high fever, aches, coughing and shortness of breathe, the AP reports.

These developments follow an extraordinary admission and apology by Chinese leaders Friday for not revealing that SARS had enveloped Guangdong province 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 AP.

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.

On Saturday, China announced additional cases and deaths, which pushed the global toll from SARS to 89 deaths and approximately 2,300 people infected in 18 countries.

The Chinese admission came as investigators from the World Health Organization zeroed in on what may 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 businessman, 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.

Also on Friday, President Bush signed an executive order giving health officials the right to quarantine Americans stricken with SARS.

The AP reports that the order adds 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 says. 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 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.


U.S. Military: No Smallpox Shots for Those With Heart Risks

American military personnel at risk for heart problems will no longer get the vaccine for smallpox, a potential bioterror weapon, after three heart attack deaths that might be linked to the inoculation.

Risk factors include smoking or using tobacco, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, or a heart condition in a close relative before the age of 50, the Associated Press reports.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously established similar guidelines for civilians.

So far, approximately 350,000 military personnel have gotten the smallpox shot. Fourteen recipients have come down with cases of heart inflammation, but all are expected to recover, according to the AP.

Military health officials say there's no proof the vaccine caused the three deaths.


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.


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.


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.

Consumer News