Health Highlights: May 20, 2003

Mad Cow Disease Reported in Canada New Colon Cancer Drug on the Horizon SARS May Strike Again During Flu Season 20 Percent of U.S. Teens Have Sex Before Age 15 Pool Dive Sticks Recalled

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

Mad Cow Disease Reported in Canada

A ban on exporting beef from Canada has taken effect after a cow from a farm in Alberta has been diagnosed with mad cow disease.

Discovery of the disease -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE -- came several months after the cow was slaughtered Jan. 31, reports the Associated Press.

Canadian health officials say that meat from the cow did not enter the food chain and that the farm and herd the cow came from have been quarantined. They contend it's an isolated case.>

The only other known instance of mad cow disease in North America occurred in Canada in 1993.

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New Colon Cancer Drug on the Horizon

A new drug that combats colon cancer by starving the tumor could be on the market within the next year. Cancer experts term the news "huge" and "historical."

Colon cancer patients given the drug along with chemotherapy lived at least several months longer than patients treated only with chemotherapy, reports The New York Times. The drug -- Avastin, being developed by Genentech -- prevents the formation of blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to tumors. The tumors, then, don't grow.

Similar tumor-starving drugs have been tested before, but none successfully.

Health authorities caution that Avastin doesn't "cure" cancer and, in fact, may allow people with colon cancer to live only a few months longer. But, they say, with each advance, the months add up.

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SARS May Strike Again During Flu Season

Parts of the world spared from the worst outbreaks of SARS may not be out of the woods quite yet.

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, says the virus could very easily strike again during flu season next fall and winter in the United States and Europe, the Associated Press reports. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it's not clear yet whether SARS has any seasonal patterns.

To date, Europe has reported 36 SARS cases and the United States has reported 67, none of them deaths.

In other developments, since airports in SARS-affected areas started screening passengers and air crew members in late March, there have been no cases of the potentially fatal respiratory ailment transmitted on airline flights, WHO officials say.

Before airports started screening for the disease, the WHO says, only about 16 passengers and crew members contracted SARS from infected people on aircraft, The New York Times reports.

The WHO says it knows of 35 flights with a SARS-infected passenger on board. On four of those flights, about 16 crew members and passengers were infected with the disease. SARS transmission was limited to people sitting two rows in front or behind the infected passenger.

A WHO official says airport screening has reduced the risk of airline transmission of SARS to "infinitesimally low levels," the Associated Press reports.

While there's good news for the airline industry and travelers, the situation remains grim on Taiwan. There were 12 more deaths reported there Tuesday and a health official says there's worse to come, BBC News Online reports.

Taiwan also reported 39 new cases Tuesday, the most in a single day. Nearly one-quarter of the island's SARS cases have been reported since Sunday. There have been 383 probable cases of SARS on Taiwan and 52 people have died.

So far, SARS has infected more than 7,800 people worldwide and killed at least 655 people. Asia has been hardest hit by the outbreak.

China reported five more SARS deaths, bringing that country's death toll to 294 people, the AP says. There have been 5,248 people infected in China so far.

The number of reported SARS cases has been declining in China in recent days. But WHO officials say that's because doctors there are misdiagnosing mild cases of the disease, BBC News Online reports.

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20 Percent of U.S. Teens Have Sex Before Age 15

About one-in-five American teenagers has sex before the age 15, says a newly released report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

The report also says that one-in-seven of sexually experienced 14-year-old girls has been pregnant, The New York Times reports.

The report analyzed seven studies done in the late 1990s, and provides an overview of the sexual activities of 12-to-14 year-olds. That age group is often ignored during discussions about teenage sexual behavior.

Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, described the report as a wake-up call.

"These are no new data sets, but I think this is the first time we've put together all these numbers in a way that tells the story about young people this age. Remember, a lot of researchers, as well as a lot of people who fund research, are reluctant to ask questions about sexual behavior to very young people, so there's not an enormous amount of information about this age group," Brown told the Times.

The report says that only about one-third of parents of sexually experienced 14-year-olds knew their children were having sex. The report also says that sexually experienced young adolescents were far more likely than virgins to smoke, drink or use drugs.

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Pool Dive Sticks Recalled

About 25,000 packages of swimming pool dive sticks made by Swimways Corp. of Virginia Beach, Va., are being voluntarily recalled due to safety concerns.

Children who fall or land on the dive sticks in shallow water are at risk of suffering impalement injuries, says a news release from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. There have been no reports of injuries.

These Swim Ways Deluxe Dive Buddies weighted dive sticks are soft plastic tubes that have character heads and feet. The characters are a yellow seahorse, green and purple walrus, red and blue underwater diver, and a blue shark.

The sticks are about 7.5 inches long and an inch in diameter. They sink to the bottom of the pool and stand upright so that children can dive or swim down and retrieve them.

There is no writing on the dive sticks, except for numbers on the backs that represent the dive stick's point value. The dive sticks' cardboard-backed packaging has a photo of a fish and coral in an underwater scene. Writing on the packaging includes "Swim Ways," "Deluxe Dive Buddies," and "Made In China."

The pool sticks were sold (retail about $6) nationwide at specialty pool stores from December 2002 through May 2003.

The dive sticks should be taken away from children immediately. For information about receiving a refund or free replacement product, contact Swimways at 1-800-889-7946 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Linda SearingRobert Preidt

Linda SearingRobert Preidt

Published on May 20, 2003

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