Health Highlights: June 15, 2003

CDC: 1 in 3 Young Children at Diabetes Risk U.S. Warns AIDS Group on Explicit Language Desperate Families Seek Unapproved Alzheimer's Drug Officials Now Doubt Human Transmission of Monkeypox Researcher Resigns Amid Fraud Allegations Can Good N' Plenty Fight SARS?

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

CDC: 1 in 3 Young Children at Diabetes Risk

One out of every three children born in 2000 are on the road to getting diabetes unless they start changing their eating and exercise habits, a government scientist warned Saturday.

The Associated Press reports that the stark warning is nearly three times higher than the estimates issued by the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Dr. K.M. Venkat Narayan, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made what he called his "conservative" prediction Saturday at an ADA meeting in New Orleans.

The number of diagnosed cases of diabetes rose by half in the last 10 years, and is expected to go up even more, according to the AP.

"I think the fact that the diabetes epidemic has been raging has been well known to us for several years," the AP quotes Narayan as saying. "But looking at the risk in these terms was very shocking to us."

Diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, can be prevented by exercising more and eating less. "I think the 39-cent hamburger is the real weapon of mass destruction," Dr. Bill Releford of the Diabetes Amputation Prevention Foundation told CBS News.


U.S. Warns AIDS Group on Explicit Language

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is threatening to cut off funding to an AIDS prevention program in San Francisco because the group uses explicit street language to get out its safe-sex message.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the warning to the group, called the Stop AIDS Project, is an about-face for the CDC.

The letter, which threatens to revoke as much as $500,000 a year, says that the programs "appear to encourage or promote sexual activity," according to the Washington Post.

The CDC mentioned several programs -- one on oral sex, one on "safe and friendly relations" with male prostitutes, and another, called "Bootylicious," offered information on anal sex, the Chronicle reported.

AIDS advocates say the language doesn't promote sexual activity. They add that the CDC found the activities in compliance last year.


Desperate Families Seek Unapproved Alzheimer's Drug

Families of Alzheimer's disease patients are desperately turning to a promising drug even though it has yet to win approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The New York Times reports that the drug, memantine, has become so popular that small companies that handle orders are overwhelmed.

Doctors find themselves stuck between trying to help -- and, more importantly, not harm -- the patients and complying with FDA regulations, the Times reports. While some doctors are helping, others refuse to help. Since memantine is available overseas, doctors can legally make it available.

Doctors are further concerned because it is often not the patients, who at this point are incapable of making decisions, but their families who are seeking the drug on their behalf, according to the Times article.

Demand for the drug surged since a recent study found that patients taking it scored higher on mental agility tests.


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.

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