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Health Highlights: August 3, 2002

Study Blasts Anti-Drug Programs, Says More Money, Training Needed Research Probes Mad Cow Transmission Through Blood Transfusion One Dead, Dozens Sickened, More Deaths Expected in UK Legionnaires' Outbreak Fla. Won't Charge Mom For Refusal To Give Son Blindness-Preventing Drug Louisiana West Nile Deaths Prompt Emergency Declaration Deal Keeps Mass. Drugstore Chains Carrying Medicaid -- For Now

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

Study Blasts Anti-Drug Programs, Says More Money, Training Needed

The three leading anti-drug programs used by schools to deter students from drug use are either ineffective or inadequately researched and are a poor use of taxpayer money, say researchers.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say that in polling 104 school districts in 11 states and the District of Columbia, they found that many schools continue to use research-based programs, but only one-in-three uses the programs effectively. The study says few properly train teachers to use the programs adequately or to use all of the materials available, reports the Associated Press.

Despite being popular for years, programs such as D.A.R.E., Here's Looking at You 2000 and McGruff's Drug Prevention and Child Protection, haven't shown the kind of results that schools should expect, say the researchers.

School districts need to hire full-time coordinators for such programs, but the federal funding of about $5 per child annually isn't enough to pay for such staff, says the study.

Responding to criticism over its apparent ineffectiveness, the D.A.R.E. America program is conducting a five-year study to evaluate a new curriculum.

The research is published in the latest issue of Health Education Research.


Research Probes Mad Cow Transmission Through Blood Transfusion

New research on animals in England suggests that there may be a risk of people catching the human form of mad cow disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), through blood transfusions.

The research, conducted at the Institute of Animal Health, showed that one-in-six animals given blood from sheep infected with mad cow disease appeared to develop the illness, according to London's Guardian newspaper.

Scientists say the red cells and plasma may indeed have infectivity for the human form of vCJD, and that the risk of contracting the disease through blood transmission may be described as "appreciable," as opposed to the British government's description as "theoretical."

According to figures released in January, the human form of mad cow disease has claimed the lives of 114 people in the UK, and experts expect an increase of about 20 percent per year.

There is no test for detecting vCJD in human blood, and those donating blood in England aren't asked to test for the disease, although they may be in the future if a test becomes available, reports the BBC.

British health officials are stressing that the risk of catching vCJD through a blood transfusion was "very, very small" and that the research should not prevent people from donating blood.


One Dead, Dozens Sickened, More Deaths Expected in UK Legionnaires' Outbreak

Health officials say an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in northern England that has so far claimed the life of one man and made nine others seriously ill could become one of the world's worst outbreaks of the disease.

Nineteen others have confirmed cases of Legionnaires' in the town of Barrow and 35 people were showing the symptoms of fever, chills and cough, reports the BBC.

British health officials say they anticipate as many as 130 cases to appear over the next few days as the known incubation period for the illness unfolds.

Patterns in previous outbreaks indicate that about 20 of those infected could be expected to die, including people in high-risk categories, such as the elderly.

All of those infected have reported being in a Barrow civic center in the last month and officials are tracing the source of the outbreak to a faulty air conditioning system in the building.

Legionnaires' disease is a form of pneumonia that was so-named in 1976 when an outbreak of the illness claimed the lives of 29 Legionnaires attending an American Legion Convention in Philadelphia. In that case, the illnesses were also traced to bacteria from water in a faulty air conditioning system.


Fla. Won't Charge Mom For Refusal To Give Son Blindness-Preventing Drug

Police in Broward County, Fla., say charges will not be filed against a woman who has refused to give her 11-year-old son medication that could save his eyesight.

The boy's doctor, Dr. Barry Waters, filed a complaint last month with the state's Department of Children and Families, hoping the agency would persuade the mother, Margie Lacre, to allow her son to take the medication methotrexate, which is commonly prescribed to relieve the inflammation and pain of arthritis.

In the boy's case, the arthritis is attacking collagen in his eyes and is damaging his eyesight. But doctors say methotrexate could treat the damage, reports the Associated Press.

Lacre says she fears the drug's potential side effects of lung and liver damage, but doctors say those side effects are rare and the boy could meanwhile go blind within several months without treatment.

While the state found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing on Lacre's part, another investigation can be requested if the boy's condition worsens.


Louisiana West Nile Deaths Prompt Emergency Declaration

The confirmed deaths of four Louisiana residents from West Nile virus and the infections of 58 others with the mosquito-borne disease have prompted Gov. Mike Foster to declare a statewide emergency.

Health officials say the virus has been detected in nearly all corners of Louisiana and, in addition to the deaths, has caused the hospitalization of at least a dozen people.

The first confirmed death was that of an 83-year-old Baton Rouge woman, and the latest deaths included a 53-year-old man from Folsom, a 75-year-old man from Baton Rouge and a 72-year-old man from the town of Iowa in Calcasieu Parish, reports the Associated Press.

The deaths are the first in the nation to be reported from West Nile this year. There have been a total of 185 confirmed cases and 22 deaths, including the Louisiana deaths, from West Nile since the virus first appeared in the country in 1999, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Foster says he hopes the declaration of a state of emergency will bring in federal money to help counties step up spraying for mosquitoes.


Deal Keeps Mass. Drugstore Chains Carrying Medicaid -- For Now

Three leading drugstore chains say they will temporarily continue to fill Medicaid prescriptions in Massachusetts on the condition that the state reconsiders plans to slash reimbursements for such prescriptions by 11 percent.

Drugstore chains CVS Corp., Walgreen Co. and Brooks Pharmacy, which fill about 60 percent of the state's Medicaid prescriptions, threatened to withdraw from the Medicaid program following last week's announcement of the planned cut in reimbursements.

Under an agreement with the state, the pharmacies will continue to receive the current rate for Medicaid prescriptions through Oct. 2, while the state holds a public hearing to set an appropriate reimbursement rate, reports the Associated Press.

The state also is now requiring that pharmacies must give a 30-day notice prior to withdrawing from the Medicaid program. Previously, no advance notice was required.

About 900,000 Massachusetts residents belong to the health program for the poor, which is jointly operated with state and federal funds.

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