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Health Highlights: Dec. 5, 2002

Druggist Jailed for Diluting Chemotherapy Meds More Sickness at Sea Modified MRI Pinpoints Aggressive Prostate Tumors Survey: Health Premiums For Retirees to Rise New York Student Dies from Meningitis Sex Offender Laws Creating Enclaves

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

Druggist Jailed for Diluting Chemotherapy Meds

A Kansas City, Mo., pharmacist who watered down chemotherapy medications for cancer patients has been sentenced to 30 years in jail.

Robert Courtney, 50, had pleaded guilty to 20 counts of adulterating, misbranding and tampering with chemotherapy drugs, The Kansas City Star reports. The charges carried a sentence of 17 1/2 years to 30 years in a federal prison.

In issuing the sentence, U.S. District Judge Otrie Smith told Courtney that his "crimes are a shock to the civilized consciousness. They are beyond understanding. I don't think any human could understand or comprehend why you did what you did."

Prosecutors had requested the maximum sentence, charging that the diluted drugs had hastened the death of one cancer patient, an allegation the defense dismissed as "speculation."

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More Sickness at Sea

Another 117 cruise ship passengers have apparently contracted the Norwalk-like virus, this time aboard a vessel operated by P&O Cruises of Great Britain.

The Oceania, which made its inaugural trip from Port Everglades, Fla., on Nov. 1, is the latest cruise ship to be plagued by an extremely contagious gastrointestinal infection. It's currently on its third voyage -- a 15-night Caribbean passage -- and has 1,859 passengers aboard, the Associated Press reports.

A spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the majority of sick passengers flew from Manchester, England, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on the same charter flight. American health officials are planning to board the Oceania to investigate the viral outbreak.

In the last month, more than 1,000 passengers on at least three other ships, including Holland America's Amsterdam, Carnival Cruise Line's Fascination and Disney Cruise Line's Magic, have been stricken by a similar virus.

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Modified MRI Pinpoints Aggressive Prostate Tumors

A new type of magnetic resonance imaging can pinpoint aggressive prostate tumors as accurately as a biopsy and is a superior treatment guide, researchers say.

The new technology, called photon resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI), works by scanning two substances in the prostate: choline and citrate. Researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City compared pre-surgery MRSI images of 127 patients with post-surgery pathology reports on excised glands and discovered that as tumors grow more aggressive, choline levels increase and citrate disappears.

Until now, surgical biopsy has been the standard tool for assessing tumor grade based on a system called Gleason scores, with 10 indicating the most aggressive type of tumor. Researcher Hedvig Hricak said the MRSI images of the 127 patients were accurate in identifying 72 percent of tumors with Gleason scores of 7.5 or higher.

"That may not sound like much but it is actually more accurate than biopsy," Hricak told United Press International.

She predicts the new technology will likely be used in conjunction with biopsies and standard PSA prostate screening testing to better steer therapy.

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Survey: Health Premiums For Retirees to Rise

More than 80 percent of employers surveyed say they plan to raise premiums and drug co-payments for their retirees over the next three years, HealthDay reports.

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll, conducted online between July and September, also found that nearly one-quarter of businesses surveyed say they may be forced to eliminate health coverage for future retirees altogether.

The survey involved 435 private companies with at least 1,000 workers each. As a group, those polled have 7.4 million current employees and 3.3 million retirees. Between 2001 and 2002, the firms say, their health care costs for retirees rose an average of 16 percent. They note that retirees are likely to have higher costs for medical care than younger people.

Thirteen percent of the companies surveyed say they've already eliminated insurance benefits for retirees in just the last two years.

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New York Student Dies from Meningitis

A 17-year-old student in Amsterdam, N.Y., has died of bacterial meningitis, and another has been hospitalized with symptoms of the brain disease, reports The New York Times.

Matthew Martuscello, a junior at Amsterdam High School, died yesterday after returning from a school trip to California. Another unidentified student at the same school has been hospitalized with similar symptoms, school officials told the newspaper. Results from tests to confirm the illness in the second student, who roomed with Martuscello during the trip, are pending.

Another 143 students -- all members of the school's band -- and 20 chaperones have been given antibiotics as a precaution.

Martuscello died of meningococcal meningitis, which is fatal in up to 15 percent of cases, the Times reports. Symptoms can include fever, headache, stiff neck, rash and vomiting. The illness is commonly spread through close contract, such as kissing, coughing, or sharing the same eating utensils.

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Sex Offender Laws Creating Enclaves

Laws that limit where convicted sex offenders can live are creating unintended consequences: clusters of them living near each other -- often at cheap motels and apartment complexes, reports the St. Petersburg Times newspaper in Florida.

Though the laws vary from place to place, sex offenders of children, for instance, are often barred from living near a school or day-care center, a playground or park. At the time of its report, the newspaper says, 15 sex offenders were living within a five-block radius in St. Petersburg. And 13 of the 15 had been convicted of sex offenses against children.

The newspaper cites officials who watch and manage sex offenders across the country, who say they've noticed clusters forming in other states, as well. Studies estimate that only 60 percent of convicted sex offenders are supervised by probation officials, the newspaper reports.

And some experts are worried that the clusters of sex offenders may encourage many to strike again. "It's like with any group," a Pinellas County mental health counselor who treats sex offenders tells the newspaper. "If you put five overeaters in an all-you-can-eat buffet with no therapy, that's not a good thing."

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