Health Highlights: March 14, 2002

CDC Report Details Organ, Tissue Transplant Infections Pink Eye Strikes Ivy Leagues Polio Cases Documented in Haiti Folic Acid Fights Off Colon Cancer Blood Pressure Drugs Double as Bodybuilders FDA OKs Faster Drug Approvals Heavy Metal With Your Foot on the Pedal

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

CDC Report Details Organ, Tissue Transplant Infections

Findings from two reports released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raise serious concerns about the safety of transplanted organs and tissue.

In one report, the CDC said three transplant patients had contracted a deadly parasitic disease after receiving organs from the cadaver of a Central American immigrant who was apparently infected with the parasite T. cruzi.

The parasite, which causes Chagas disease, was, until now, only seen in Latin America.

Two unidentified people, ages 37 and 32, who had received the organs cadaver died last year, and a 69-year-old who received a kidney from the immigrant is recovering with antibiotics, reports the Associated Press.

In the second report, the CDC said that it had found 26 bacterial infections traced to tissue grafts and that 14 of the patients had received tissue that was processed by the same supplier.

While they say the infections show an urgent need to improve federal standards and regulations designed to prevent contamination, the CDC emphasized that 650,000 tissue graft surgeries were performed in 1999 and the procedure is still safe.


Pink Eye Strikes Ivy Leagues

A campus-wide health alert has been issued on the New Jersey campus of Princeton University following reports of more than 200 students coming down with cases of pink eye in recent weeks.

The university says 111 cases of the condition, known as conjunctivitis, were reported in February and another 111 cases turned up between March 1 and March 11, reports the Associated Press.

A similar outbreak occurred at Princeton's ivy-league rival, Dartmouth College, in January, when 400 to 500 cases of pink eye were reported.

The two schools have competed against each other in sports over the past few months, but officials say they know of no links in the outbreaks.

Princeton students and staff were meanwhile sent emails from the school this week with preventive measures and advice to seek treatment if pink eye is suspected.


Polio Cases Documented in Haiti

Low vaccination rates and use of the oral polio vaccine likely played important roles in the polio infections of 21 people and deaths of two children from polio in Haiti, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control.

Writing in this week's issue of the journal Science, CDC researchers say the fact that Haiti and the Dominican Republic have the lowest rates of polio vaccinations in the Americas causes a low immunity for the crippling virus in the general population, while polio is virtually eradicated in many other parts of the world.

In addition, the use of the oral vaccine may have played a role in the infections because it uses a live, albeit weakened strain of the virus that can make its way into the water supply and cause people to get polio from infected water, according to wire reports.

The two deaths from the disease were a 12-year-old and a 35-month-old, both boys.

The cases underscore the need for more widespread polio vaccinations, the researchers conclude.


Folic Acid Fights Off Colon Cancer

A daily multivitamin containing just 400 micrograms of folic acid may be all that's needed for women with a family history of colorectal cancer to dramatically cut their chances of developing the disease, reports HealthDay.

That's the key finding of a new study of 88,000 women, which appears in today's issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

"The preventive effects were also seen in women who did not have a family history of colorectal cancer, but for those who did have a first-degree relative with this disease, the effects were truly dramatic," says lead author Dr. Charles S. Fuchs, a medical oncologist at Harvard's Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where some of the research took place.

Studies show the risk of colorectal cancer in men and women is about 6 percent. However, add in a close relative with the disease -- a parent or sibling -- and that risk doubles at minimum.


Blood Pressure Drugs Double as Bodybuilders

The ACE inhibitor drugs prescribed for high blood pressure and congestive heart failure have muscle-building powers that could help prevent disability in older people, reports HealthDay.

That's according to new research, which looked at 641 women whose average age was 79. Those who took ACE inhibitors during the three-year study had a significantly lower loss of muscle mass and physical function than those who didn't, says a report in the March 16 issue of The Lancet.

"This is one of the first studies to suggest that a drug treatment could delay a decline in physical function," says Dr. Graziano Onder, lead author and a research associate in the Sticht Center on Aging of Wake Forest University.

That effect could have both physical and financial benefits. Age-related decreases in walking ability and muscle strength are known to contribute to the need for nursing home or hospital care and to increase the risk of death.


FDA OKs Faster Drug Approvals

The Food and Drug Administration says it's reached agreement with the nation's drug companies to speed up review of new medications, in exchange for millions of dollars in new pharmaceutical industry fees.

Since 1992, industry fees have financed much of the FDA's drug review work. And while the just-concluded agreement earmarks some of the new fees to improved drug safety monitoring, some critics say the agency is already approving drugs too quickly, the Associated Press reports.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, representing the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, says the FDA has been lax in keeping drugs off the market until they're proven safe. He and other critics cite a dozen drugs that recently have been pulled off the market for safety reasons, in many cases years after initial FDA approval.

The agency, for its part, says the new agreement will allow it to eventually double the number of people assigned to monitor the health risks of newly approved medications.


Heavy Metal With Your Foot on the Pedal

The faster the beat of the music, the more likely you are to drive too quickly and end up in an accident, a new Israeli study finds.

Drivers who listen to faster tunes are twice as likely to end up in a wreck than those who drive to slower music, say scientists at Ben-Gurion University.

The researchers studied 28 students -- all of whom had been driving for about seven years -- on driving simulators as they cruised around the virtual streets of Chicago. Those listening to music as fast as 120 beats per minute were twice as likely to go through a red light as those who listened to George Benson-speed music of 60 beats per minute or less, the researchers say.

A person who listens to faster music also tends to crank up the volume, the study finds, though its authors concede that results on a driving simulator do not necessarily indicate a person's responses during actual driving.


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