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Health Highlights: March 28, 2003

Flight Attendant Illness Heightens SARS Concern Lice Shampoo and Lotion Health Advisory University's Internet System Tracks Medical Errors World's Largest Virus Discovered Study Suggests Adult Version of SIDS

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

Flight Attendant Illness Heightens SARS Concern

Concern that the deadly global respiratory illness spreads via air travel increased Friday with word that a Singapore Airlines flight attendant on a flight out of New York is now ill.

At the same time, hard-hit Hong Kong updated its victim toll by more than 50 people for the second day in a row, the Associated Press reports.

Singapore Airline said that the flight attendant had been on an unidentified New York-to-Frankfurt flight that also had an infected doctor on board.

The flight attendant "has a fever and has been classed as a probable case" of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), airline spokesman Innes Willox said.

While the airline gave no further details, the affected flight appears to be the one that took off from New York on March 14. On board was a Singapore surgeon who had treated SARS patients in Singapore before his trip. In New York City, he briefly attended a medical conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and reportedly was feeling sick when he left. He, his wife and his mother-in-law were quarantined in Frankfurt on arrival March 15, and he was confirmed as a SARS case on March 18.

Hong Kong Friday reported another 58 cases, for a total of 425. Health officials said that 34 of the new cases were from one housing complex in Kowloon Bay that now has more than 100 people ill, according to the AP report.

The illness, as of Friday, has now sickened 1,485 and caused 54 deaths in at least 13 countries.

Its virulent spread prompted world health officials on Thursday to urge that airlines screen their passengers at check-in for SARS symptoms -- high fever, dry cough, sore throat and joint pain -- and keep the sick ones from flying.

The World Health Organization advice is directed at flights leaving cities where the infection rate is spreading locally: Toronto; Singapore; Hanoi, Vietnam; Hong Kong; Taiwan; Beijing, Shanghai and the Chinese province of Guangdong, which had the earliest cases of SARS. Hong Kong's two passenger airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways and Dragonair, have been screening passengers who appear ill for some days now, AP reports.

Meanwhile, Singapore on Friday almost doubled the number of people ordered quarantined. The quarantine count rose to 1,514 from 861 as authorities put up a "ring fence" to stop SARS from spreading. The victim count in Singapore rose to 86.

More than 1,000 people have also been quarantined in Hong Kong, and most schools are closed in both Hong Kong and Singapore. Officials in Canada, which now has 29 infected and three deaths, are also advising hundreds of people in Ontario to quarantine themselves as part of a health emergency that was declared Wednesday.


Lice Shampoo and Lotion Health Advisory

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a health advisory about labeling changes for Lindane lotion and shampoo, used to treat scabies and lice.

The advisory announces major updates to the labeling of these products, including more health warnings for doctors and patients and the addition of a "medication guide" meant to be given directly to patients.

The labeling has been changed to include a boxed warning that says, because of the potential for neurotoxicity, Lindane products should be used only if other treatments are not tolerable to the patient or other approved therapies have failed.

The warning also states that Lindane products should be used with caution in patients who weigh less than about 110 pounds. The products are not recommended for infants.


University's Internet System Tracks Medical Errors

The University of California has a new Internet-based system that will help track medical errors at five of the university's campus medical centers.

It's believed this is the first project in the United States that uses the Internet to connect academic medical centers on a system-wide basis, the Associated Press reports.

This new system enables medical centers to monitor medication error trends, including incorrect dosage or the wrong kind of drug. The system also features a "harm score system" that evaluates each error and compares it with other errors.

Patients will not be able to access the UC system.

Some major private health-care systems have already installed similar Internet-based systems to improve efficiency and quality.


World's Largest Virus Discovered

The world's largest virus may never become a tourist attraction, but scientists are quite fascinated by this micro monster.

The "mimivirus", which is found in amoebas and may cause pneumonia in humans, was discovered in a sample taken from a water cooling tower in Bradford, England, in 1992, BBC News Online reports.

A report about the virus appears in the March 27 issue of the journal Science.

The virus is the biggest ever identified by scientists, about one-fifth larger than the virus previously considered to be the largest in the world. It has at least 900 genes -- a huge amount for a virus -- and is closer to the size of a bacterium than a virus.

While an electron microscope is needed to see most viruses, the "mimivirus" can be seen through a good optical microscope.


Study Suggests Adult Version of SIDS

An adult version of sudden infant death syndrome may be the cause of many unexplained deaths, says a study by British Heart Foundation researchers.

The study estimates that about 3,500 seemingly healthy adults in England die suddenly each year. In about 150 of those deaths, no cause can be pinpointed, BBC News Online reports.

The researchers say some of the deaths may be caused by genetic electrical abnormalities in the heart that can only be detected when a person is alive.

Giving these unexplained adult deaths an official label, such as sudden adult death syndrome, would mean the deaths could be certified and investigated, the researchers say.

That could make it easier to study these deaths, identify their causes and find ways to prevent them.

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