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Health Highlights: August 11, 2002

Cloud of Pollution Spreads Death In South Asia2 More West Nile Deaths Reported; CDC Head Predicts Coast-to-Coast SpreadSize Does Matter: The Bigger the Baby, the Smarter the Child Pork Italian Loaf Recalled for Listeria Flesh-Eating Bacterium Kills Fisherman Bush Administration Issues Patient Privacy Standards

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

Cloud of Pollution Spreads Death In South Asia

It's called the "Asian Brown Cloud." It's two miles thick, and scientists believe it has brought catastrophe to south Asia in the last decade, causing at least a half million premature deaths.

More than 200 international scientists particpated in a massive study for the U.N. Environment Program to be presented at a summit later this month. They concluded that pollution -- especially in India -- had created a "grimy cocktail of of ash, soot, acids and other damaging airborne particles," according to the Associated Press.

But that pollution was caused as much by people just going about their daily lives in a low tech society -- using dung-burning stoves or clearing forests by burning them out -- as it was by major industry.

"When you think about air pollution, many people think of industry and fossil fuels as the only causes," the A.P. quotes report co-author Paul Crutzen, a scientist at the Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, as saying.

Biomass burning like forest fires and the burning of vegetation to clear land or to warm the homes of poor people, are big factors in causing major pollution, Crutzen maintains.

The research covers a five year period in south Asia, from 1995 to 2000.

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2 More West Nile Deaths Reported; CDC Head Predicts Coast-to-Coast Spread

The sometime-fatal West Nile Virus probably will spread all the way to the West Coast, according to the director of the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control and Pullution.

Appearing on CBS News' "Face The Nation" Sunday, Dr. Julie Gerberding said birds and mosquitoes infected with West Nile are now in most states east of the Mississippi River and some to the west of it. And, she predicted, the birds and mosquitoes, through their migration, will carry the virus all the way to the the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, another two people were reported to have died in Louisiana, bringing the death toll to seven, and Mississippi officials are investigating a death they say appears to be linked to the virus. The virus has been detected in 35 states and Washington, D.C.

Another 14 cases have been confirmed in Louisiana, bringing to 85 the total number of cases of the mosquito-borne disease now reported, making the outbreak the largest since West Nile first appeared in the United States in 1999, reports the Associated Press.

Officials in neighboring Mississippi suspect a death there may be the eighth West Nile death in the U.S. this year. As a result, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove yesterday declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to seek federal funding to fight a potential outbreak.

All seven confirmed deaths from the disease this year have been in Louisiana, with the latest two being a 76-year-old man and a 94-year-old woman, both from areas across Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, where many of the other cases have occurred.

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Size Does Matter: The Bigger the Baby, the Smarter the Child

Apparently, it's not enough to have been just a beautiful baby; you also had to have been a big baby. And being born into upper class surroundings doesn't hurt either.

A Study of 10,8450 44-year-olds from England, Scotland and Wales, determined that there appeared to be a link between how big a person was when he or she was born and well the child did in school.

According to the BBC, researchers found the people who did the best on test scores not only were big babies, but also were primarily from the upper classes of British society.

Scientists from the Institute of Child Health found that social class had even more of an effect on mental agility than childbirth size.

But don't think that birthweight didn't play an important factor. For example, men who weighed just a little under five pounds at birth scored eight percent below those who weighed about nine pounds when they were born.

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Pork Italian Loaf Recalled for Listeria

Russer Foods of Buffalo, N.Y., is recalling 1,300 pounds of ready-to-eat Italian Loaf that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service says.

Each package of Russer Italian Brand Loaf bears a sell-by date of Oct. 30, 2002 and the establishment code "EST. 5222" inside the USDA seal of inspection. Each case bears the date code "2142BNY0102."

The product was produced Aug. 1, and distributed to retail stores in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. No illnesses have been reported.

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis, which can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. The illness can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections in those with weak immune systems -- such as infants, the frail and elderly.

For questions or additional information, contact Bruce Neumann, director of quality assurance/food safety at Russer Foods, at 877-427-6328.

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Flesh-Eating Bacterium Kills Fisherman

A rare flesh-eating bacterium has killed a Massachusetts fisherman, state health officials tell the Associated Press.

Al Holt, 69, died Aug. 1 after being infected by Photobacterium damsela, which normally affects only fish. Health officials say they've only found 17 human cases of the illness in U.S. medical history.

The only known way to contract the disease is to have an open wound come in contact with an infected fish or to be cut by a hook that had been in an infected fish, state officials say. Family members believe Holt had a cut on his hand before he went fishing July 15.

The infection destroyed tissue in Holt's left arm by July 16, then spread to his major organs, reports the AP.

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Bush Administration Issues Patient Privacy Standards

After a decade of debate, the United States finally has its first set of comprehensive federal standards governing the privacy of people's computerized medical records.

Under the rules issued by the Bush administration, physicians and hospitals can share information about patients without their permission with managed-care and insurance companies. But they can do so only for the treatment of patients, the payment of bills, or to carry out a "broad, undefined category labeled health care operations,' " the Washington Post reports.

People gain the right to inspect their medical records, correct mistakes, learn who has looked at their records, and "seek penalties against anyone who misuses the information," the newspaper says.

The administration says it struck the right balance between privacy concerns and the need for timely medical care.

Advocates for privacy, however, say the new rules, which take effect next April, don't do enough to protect people's privacy. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D.-Mass., says he plans to introduce a bill to overturn the regulations.

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