Health Highlights: June 14, 2003

Officials Now Doubt Human Transmission of Monkeypox Researcher Resigns Amid Fraud Allegations Can Good N' Plenty Fight SARS? WHO Drops SARS Travel Warning in Parts of China Giving Birth Just as Safe on Weekends as on Weekdays Survey Finds Anti-Drug Ads for Teens Are Effective

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

Officials Now Doubt Human Transmission of Monkeypox

Two health-care workers and a third person in Wisconsin who initially were suspected of catching monkeypox from an infected patient probably don't have the virus, health officials said Friday.

The announcement quelled fears that these would be the first person-to-person transmissions of the virus in the Americas. However, officials also warned that monkeypox could still be an airborne virus, since one person was sickened by sleeping in the same room as an infected prairie dog.

"Those cases are highly unlikely to be monkeypox," the Wisconsin State Journal quotes state epidemiologist Jeff Davis as saying. "Human-to-human transmission is not a prominent feature in this outbreak. Animal-to-human transmission certainly dominates the transmission." Davis cautioned, however, that the results weren't final.

The Journal reports that the symptoms and the incubation period of the two workers and a boyfriend of one of them were inconsistent with monkeypox.

Meanwhile Friday, Wisconsin health officials who were initially dubious about administering smallpox shots to people who have come in contact with prairie dogs said they would make the inoculations available.

Davis also said that a single prairie dog may have been the equivalent of Typhoid Mary. Nearly half of the suspected or confirmed cases in Wisconsin could be traced to that exotic pet, the Journal reported.

"The prairie dog was a super-shedder if there ever was one," the paper quotes Davis as saying.

As of Friday, U.S. health officials had confirmed a total of 12 human cases of the disease: four each in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Also, 71 possible cases had been reported -- 22 in Indiana, 30 in Wisconsin, 15 in Illinois, two in Ohio, and one each in Kentucky and Arizona, according to the Journal.

No one has died from the disease, but at least 14 patients with symptoms have been hospitalized, including an Indiana child with encephalitis, or brain inflammation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. No details about the child's condition were released.


Researcher Resigns Amid Fraud Allegations

A top cancer researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has resigned amid allegations that he falsified data showing that one gene can protect women against breast cancer.

The researcher, Steven A. Leadon, is disputing the charges, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. The data may be incorrect, but he didn't make anything up, he told the newspaper.

In 1998, Leadon made international headlines when a team he led published a study in the journal Science. It described how a gene called BRC repairs damage to other genes and thus could prevent breast cancer. The article has been cited many times since.

But on Friday, the journal published a rare retraction of the article. It said that Leadon was "found guilty of fabricating his results," but added that he "is disputing those findings."

The best way to phrase this is that it is a misunderstanding," Leadon told the News and Observer. "I think some of this has kind of gotten blown out of proportion."


Can Good N' Plenty Fight SARS?

A leading ingredient in licorice has shown to be successful in fighting severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), at least in the lab.

German researchers, reporting their results in the latest issue of The Lancet, say that the compound, glycyrrhizin, was effective in stopping the SARS virus from reproducing, according to an Agence France Presse account.

Glycyrrhizin, which is extracted from licorice roots, has been previously explored in antiviral research, AFP reports.

In this case, glycyrrhizin easily beat out four standard compounds used to block virus or tumorous cell replication -- ribavirin, 6-azauridine, pyrazofurin, and mycophenolic acid, according to the AFP report.

The researchers said that much more work is needed and they're nowhere near calling it a cure, but it looks promising.


WHO Drops SARS Travel Warning in Parts of China

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday dropped its SARS travel warning for some parts of China, including Guangdong province, where the deadly respiratory disease first started late last year.

But the U.N. agency left Beijing and Taiwan on the list. And, while it continued to leave Toronto off the travel warning list, it put the Canadian city in a more severe category of disease transmission because of the export of one case to the United States, according to the Associated Press.

The WHO has been saying for the last few days that the worldwide SARS outbreak may be nearing its end.

But even with that good news, authorities in Taiwan on Friday began investigating whether the island underreported SARS deaths.

As of Friday, there have been more than 8,300 reported SARS cases around the world and 794 people have died. China and Hong Kong have had the most infections and deaths.


Giving Birth Just as Safe on Weekends as on Weekdays

Don't fret about having your baby on a weekend - it's perfectly safe.

Contrary to what some previous studies suggested, it's just as safe to have a baby on the weekend as it is on a weekday, says a study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Those previous studies seemed to support long-held beliefs that it was riskier to give birth on a weekend because hospitals were often short-staffed and had less experienced staff on duty on the weekends, CBC News Online reports.

This new study followed more than 1.5 million birth in California between 1995 and 1997. They did find that the death rate among newborns was higher on the weekends: 3.12 per 1,000 compared to 2.80 per 1,000 on weekdays.

But the percentage of very low-birth weight babies was 1.11 per cent on weekends and 0.95 per cent during the week. When the researchers adjusted for birth weight, they concluded the increased odds of newborns dying on the weekends were no longer significant.


Survey Finds Anti-Drug Ads for Teens Are Effective

Anti-drug ads do help keep teenagers away from drugs, says a survey conducted for the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

The survey of more than 7,000 teenagers in grades 7 through 12 across the United States found that teens who see anti-drug ads at least once a day are less likely to do drugs than teens who don't see the ads.

Teens exposed to the ads daily were nearly 40 per cent less likely to try speed, 30 per cent less likely to use Ecstasy and 15 per cent less likely to smoke marijuana, CBC News Online reports.

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