Health Highlights: April 6, 2003

Experts Believe SARS is Type of Coronavirus Journalist Dies of Embolism While Covering War in Iraq U.S. Military: No Smallpox Shots for Those With Heart Risks Soldiers Risk Hearing Damage Mosquito Spray No Threat to Humans

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

Experts Believe SARS is Type of Coronavirus

Health experts say signs suggest that the mysterious new lung infection called severe acute respiratory illness is a variation of the coronavirus family -- germs that are typically found in animals.

Among the reasons: It originated in China's Guangdong province, the birthplace of many of the world's flu strains because people are thought to contract the diseases from pigs and ducks. At least 40 of China's 52 SARS deaths have occurred in the province.

Also, the death rate versus total SARS infections is relatively low, The New York Times reports.

"I see no reason to believe this is anything other than the emergence of a natural disease," Dr. Peter B. Jahrling, a virologist with the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, tells the Times.

On Sunday, Canada reported its ninth SARS-related death, and health officials warned hospitals to treat anyone with respiratory problems as a potential carrier of the disease, the Associated Press reports. Other than several Asian nations, Canada has had more probable or suspected SARS cases -- 200 -- than any other country, with most of them centered in the Toronto area.

Meanwhile, an international team of scientists continues to work with Chinese officials to zero in on possible causes of 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.

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 sicken large numbers of people. 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 followed 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.

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 day before, 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.


Journalist Dies of Embolism While Covering War in Iraq

David Bloom, an NBC News correspondent who was covering the war in Iraq, died Sunday of an apparent pulmonary embolism -- a blocked lung artery that is typically caused by a blood clot.

He was attached with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division outside Baghdad.

Bloom also served as NBC's White House correspondent, and "Weekend Today" anchor and field reporter, the network said.

The 39-year-old husband and father of three was the second American journalist to die in Iraq since the start of the war.

Michael Kelly, 46, editor-at-large for The Atlantic Monthly who also was embedded with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, was killed Thursday with a U.S. soldier when their Humvee went into a canal, according to news reports.


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.


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.


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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