Health Highlights: Feb. 19, 2003

Lack of Vitamin D Linked to Heart Failure Experimental Metal Plug Seals Hole in Kids' Hearts Organ Groups Blame Duke for Transplant Error Cipro Becoming Ineffective Due to Overuse: Study Learner's Permits Reduce Accidents Among Teen Drivers Weight-Loss Drug May Have Doomed Pitcher Officials Warn of Ebola Spread in Congo

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

Lack of Vitamin D Linked to Heart Failure

There may be a link between chronic heart failure (CHF) and low levels of vitamin D, German scientists say.

They found that levels of vitamin D are much lower in the blood of people with CHF than in healthy people, BBC News reports.

The German researchers compared 54 people with CHF and 34 healthy people. They found that the people with CHF had as much as 50 per cent less vitamin D in their blood.

The more severe the vitamin D deficiency, the worse the apparent symptoms of heart failure.

The scientists plan to study whether giving vitamin D to people with CHF helps improve their condition.

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Metal Plug Seals Hole in Kids' Hearts

Canadian surgeons have used an experimental metal plug to repair holes in two children's hearts.

The procedure, which didn't require open-heart surgery, involved positioning the plug using a catheter that was guided up through a leg artery.

The two children who had the catheter treatment were both discharged from the hospital the day after surgery, and both have made a full recovery, CBC News reports.

This method isn't entirely risk-free. There's a 2 per cent chance the metal plug could dislodge or cause other heart problems.

The metal plug is not approved for general use in Canada or the United States. The Montreal doctors received special Health Canada permission to try the procedure.

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Organ Groups Blame Duke for Transplant Error

Two organ procurement organizations involved in the transplant case of a 17-year-old girl at Duke University say Duke surgeons actually helped remove the organs from the incompatible donor, reports the Raleigh News & Observer.

Mexican immigrant Jesica Santillan lies in a coma in critical condition today, as doctors and her family hope that a compatible donor of a new heart and lungs can be found before she dies. Jesica, with Type O blood, was given new organs from an incompatible type A donor during a botched transplant last week.

While Duke University Medical Center acknowledged what it called a "tragic error," the hospital also said it would take steps to "[improve] communications between Duke and the organ-procurement organization." For its part, Carolina Donor Services issued a written statement Tuesday that said two Duke surgeons originally declined the organs that were eventually transplanted into Jesica, but that a third unidentified Duke surgeon approved them for her, reports the Associated Press.

The organ donor was originally found by the Carolina Donor Services' sister organization, The New England Organ Bank. The News & Observer quotes officials from the organization as saying, "The correct donor blood type was provided at the time of the organ recovery to the surgical team from Duke Hospital that came to New England to perform the recovery surgery."

Duke officials are still at a loss to explain why the mismatch in blood types occurred, the newspaper says. Meanwhile, Jessica -- who since the surgery reportedly has suffered a near-fatal heart attack -- remains on life support as her family continues to pray for a miracle.

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Cipro Becoming Ineffective Due to Overuse: Study

The antibiotic whose name became a household word during the Fall 2001 anthrax-by-mail scare is being overprescribed and is quickly becoming resistant to many germs, a new study finds.

Cipro, medically known as ciprofloxacin, was effective in killing 86 percent of bacteria samples analyzed in 1994, University of Houston researchers say. Among the most recent samples tested, it proved effective against only 76 percent of the germs, the researchers report in the Feb. 19 Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers note that anthrax was not among the bacteria sampled, because it rarely affects humans naturally, reports the Associated Press. Bacteria strains that are becoming resistant to the drug include E. coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Klebsiella pneumoniae.

The researchers call for "more judicious use" of the drug and similar medications, noting that they are often prescribed for respiratory infections caused by viruses, which are unaffected by antibiotics.

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Learner's Permits Reduce Accidents Among Teens

Requiring teens to get learner's permits or other forms of "graduated driver licensing" (GDL) is effective in reducing auto accidents among young drivers, the National Safety Council says.

Most GDL systems include intermediate licensing that places restrictions on young drivers, such as their ability to drive at night or alone without an adult passenger. A series of 12 new studies shows "that GDL has resulted in substantial reductions in crashes, injuries, and fatalities for novice teenage drivers," says council President Alan C. McMillan.

One in five 16-year-old drivers has a crash in the first year of driving, most coming during the first month, the council says. The crash rate among 16-year-olds is almost three times as high as among drivers who are 18 and 19.

One-third of fatal crashes among teens occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., though only 15 percent of miles driven by teen drivers occur during those hours, the non-profit council says.

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Weight-Loss Drug May Have Doomed Pitcher

A weight-loss drug containing ephedra probably contributed to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, according to a medical examiner.

The Associated Press reports that Belcher, who collapsed Sunday at the team's spring training camp in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and died Monday, was taking Xenadrine, an over-the-counter drug that has ephedra. Ephedra has been tied to heatstroke and heart problems, according to the examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper.

A preliminary autopsy indicates that the 23-year-old prospect died of heatstroke and multiple organ failure, the AP reports. Perper said other factors leading to his death include his being overweight, hypertension, and liver abnormalities. He also hadn't eaten enough solid food before falling ill.

Perper urged Major League Baseball to join other sporting organizations, like the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to ban ephedra, according to the AP.

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Officials Warn of Ebola Spread in Congo

Ebola is the cause of a lethal disease outbreak in the Republic of Congo, U.N. officials confirmed Wednesday, and they warned that it could still be spreading.

World Health Organization investigators say that 59 of the 73 people infected have died. Republic of Congo officials say that there have been a total of 67 deaths resulting from 80 cases of Ebola.

The outbreak is in the Cuvette West region, which has been under government quarantine since last week, the Associated Press reports.

There are about 30,000 people living in the region. Reported cases of Ebola are centered in the villages of Kelle and Mbomo.

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