Health Highlights: Feb. 18, 2002
Five in India Reported Dead From Pneumonic Plague Fewer Women Than Men Survive Bypass Surgery 90 Percent of Nursing Homes Understaffed, Says Report MMR, Other Vaccines In Short Supply Acid Reflux Afflicts Those at Ground Zero High Fiber Diet Can Help Mental Health, Study Finds
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of The HealthDay Service:
Five in India Reported Dead From Pneumonic Plague
The deadly pneumonic plague appears to have made a return to India, killing five people in the past week in a remote northern region of the country, the Associated Press reports.
Officials at a hospital in Chandighar, the capitol of Punjab state, said a fifth person died from the disease today and six other patients were being treated.
No new cases have been reported in four days.
While plague is commonly found in rabbits, rodents and various meat-eating animals, the disease has emerged occasionally in isolated parts of India over the past century. The most recent outbreak was reported in Himachal Pradesh in the 1980s.
Unlike the Bubonic plague, which is fatal only about 60 percent of the time in humans, the pneumonic and septicemic forms of plague cause rapid death in almost all cases.
Fewer Women Than Men Survive Bypass Surgery
Women who have bypass surgeries to repair damaged blood flow to their hearts don't survive the operation as often as men, HealthDay reports.
According to the research, women of all ages died more often than their male counterparts; 5.3 percent of women died before leaving the hospital after bypass surgery, compared to 2.9 percent of men.
Breaking those numbers down even further, the decade-by-decade results showed the biggest gap in the small but significant group that had the operation before age 50. Here, 3.4 percent of women died, compared to just 1.1 percent of men. "It was by far the most dramatic difference between the genders," says lead study author Dr. Viola Vaccarino, associate professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, where the research took place.
The new findings appear in today's electronic edition of Circulation.
90 Percent of Nursing Homes Understaffed, Says Report
A new federal report indicates that more than 90 percent of the nation's nursing homes are woefully understaffed, reports the New York Times.
Yet at an estimated cost of $7.6 billion a year, an 8 percent increase over current spending, the Bush administration says implementing requirements to achieve acceptable staffing levels are not possible.
Instead, the government wants to publish information on the numbers of workers each nursing home staffs with the hope that pressure from the public will force nursing homes to take action on their own.
The report, prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services, reportedly found strong evidence that homes with low ratios of staff to patients were more likely to provide substandard care.
MMR, Other Vaccines In Short Supply
Supplies of the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, known as MMR, have become so low that federal officials have had to dip into an emergency stockpile, and other essential vaccines are not far behind, CNN reports.
The nation's sole provider of the MMR vaccine, Merck, says two voluntary interruptions in its production line are to blame for the shortages, but the company says it expects normal supply levels to be restored within a few months.
Other vaccines that are reportedly in short supply include Prevnar, which protects against potentially deadly pneumococcal bacteria; DTaP, for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough; and the chicken pox vaccine.
Children typically receive their initial MMR vaccine between their 12th and 15th months, and a booster shot is given at age five. Some doctors have expressed concern that some children may not be able to receive their booster shot before entering school, which is usually required.
Acid Reflux Afflicts Those at Ground Zero
Scores of rescue workers and residents living near the World Trade Center site have been stricken with acid reflux disease, MSNBC reports. The condition, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, is caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus.
Symptoms include a burning sensation in the chest that could be mistaken for a heart attack or an extreme bout of heartburn. The serious condition is one that affects about a third of the U.S. population at some time in their lives, MSNBC says, quoting statistics from the American College of Gastroenterology.
Other symptoms may include a feeling that food is stuck in the throat, morning hoarseness, a dry cough and bad breath. Not everyone experiences the burning sensation in the chest.
Once diagnosed, the condition can be relieved with changes in lifestyle and diet and by taking over-the-counter medications. Left untreated, GERD can cause serious chest pain and worsen upper respiratory ailments like asthma, which has affected hundreds of workers and residents living near Ground Zero.
Recent samples taken near the site found the most polluted air ever recorded.
High Fiber Diet Can Help Mental Health: Study
People on a high fiber diet are happier and more alert, and have more energy, a British study concludes.
Research by Professor Andrew Smith at Cardiff University also finds that people who eat breakfast cereals rich in fiber are less stressed, less depressed and think more quickly, reports BBC News Online.
Volunteers between the ages of 30 and 80, monitored for four weeks, ate 40 grams of the cereal each day. The improvements were noticed within a week, say the researchers, who concede that more studies are needed.
High fiber diets also have been shown to hinder bowel disorders, including colon cancer. Health officials in both Britain and the United States acknowledge that most people don't eat enough fiber, which is found naturally in breads, fruits, cereals, vegetables and grains.