Health Highlights: May 25, 2003

Toronto Asks Health-Care Workers to Agree to Quarantine More Canadian Ranches Quarantined in Mad Cow Probe Review Turns Up More Problems at Duke Hospital Counterfeit Lipitor Bottles Recalled

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

Toronto Asks Health-Care Workers to Agree to Quarantine

Canadian health officials are asking hundreds of health-care workers in Toronto to agree to a voluntary 10-day quarantine due to a possible new wave of SARS infections.

The deaths of two people on Friday are now being linked to SARS, and 33 other people with symptoms similar to the sometimes-fatal respiratory illness are being monitored, BBC News reports.

Toronto health officials, who last month thought they'd all but eliminated the SARS threat, said the cluster of possible new cases could number in the 40s, CBC News Online reports. The officials said the new cases involved health-care workers and hospital patients, as well as some family members, according to The New York Times.

Health officials said an apparently undiagnosed SARS case at a Toronto hospital may have infected 33 health-care workers, other patients and their family members in late April, the Associated Press reports.

As a result of these cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reinstated a travel alert for Toronto that it had lifted only on Tuesday.

The alert doesn't say people should avoid Toronto, but that they should take precautions to safeguard their health -- for instance, avoid hospitals that might harbor the virus.

The last reported case of SARS in Toronto was April 19.

In more encouraging news, the World Health Organization has declared the SARS situation under control in Hong Kong and China's Guangdong province, and has lifted travel advisories against those areas.

The WHO issued the advisories for the two areas in early April because they were considered hotspots for SARS, BBC News reports.

The agency still advises against travel to Beijing and four other regions of China, as well as Taiwan, the Associated Press reports.

The current SARS hot zone is Taiwan, where health officials Sunday reported another 12 fatalities, raising the total death toll to 72. Officials also reported three new cases and added 19 others to its list of SARS infections. That brought the total number of infections to 570, the AP says.

Still, Taiwan health officials insisted the "the illness has been gradually brought under control," the AP reports.

Except for China and Hong Kong, Taiwan has had more SARS cases than any other area in the world.

China announced Sunday seven new SARS deaths and 16 new cases on its mainland. Beijing, the hard-hit capital city, had four of the deaths and 13 of the infections. Hong Kong reported four more fatalities Sunday, raising its death toll to 266, according to the AP.

Also in Hong Kong, scientists continue to pursue their theory that the source of the SARS virus may be civet cats, considered a delicacy food by some Chinese.

Hong Kong plans to collect feces from civet cats to test them for SARS following the scientists' announcement, officials said Sunday, the AP says.

The civet cat is a nocturnal animal that isn't actually a true cat. It's in the same family as the mongoose and resembles a small raccoon or weasel. Civet cats are hunted in Asia for food and to make perfume.

University of Hong Kong scientists say they suspected the SARS virus jumped from animals to humans, but they weren't certain which animal was the source of the disease. They say civet cats should be raised, slaughtered and sold under careful monitoring to prevent disease outbreaks.

Worldwide, SARS has infected more than 8,100 people and killed at least 710. The majority of infections and deaths have been in China and Hong Kong.

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More Canadian Ranches Quarantined in Mad Cow Probe

Thirteen Canadian ranches -- eight in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan and three in British Columbia -- have now been quarantined by officials investigating a case of mad cow disease, CBC News Online reports.

Despite the extension of the original quarantine, which covered three ranches, Canadian officials say the move is just a precaution and there's no cause for alarm. They say there's no evidence that more than one cow had mad cow disease, also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Canadian inspectors attempting to track the history of the infected 8-year-old cow now believe it may have been born on one of two Saskatchewan farms and then sold to an Alberta rancher.

Cattle feed from animal sources contaminated with BSE is considered the most likely source of infection, according to news reports.

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Review Turns Up More Problems at Duke Hospital

Duke University Hospital, the site of a botched heart-lung transplant in February that left a 17-year-old girl dead, has been using outdated water-processing equipment for its dialysis unit, the hospital's chief executive says, according to the Associated Press.

Chief Executive Officer William Fulkerson issued a memo to hospital managers Friday to discuss "the most significant deficiencies" identified in a weeklong probe of the hospital in March.

State inspectors, acting on behalf of federal Medicaid and Medicare programs, first inspected the hospital's transplant programs after Jesica Santillan died of complications from the heart/lung transplant at the Durham, N.C., hospital. Santillan died Feb. 22 after receiving a second heart-lung transplant; the hospital initially transplanted organs of the wrong blood type.

A second inspection was done in late March to review the hospital's overall care. That's when the state inspectors found problems with the dialysis equipment.

The hospital used an older water-processing system that had not resulted in any problems with patient care. Fulkerson said hospital officials weren't aware during the March inspection that a new system was required.

The necessary new equipment was installed in April, Fulkerson said, according to the AP.

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Counterfeit Lipitor Bottles Recalled

Approximately 100,000 bottles of Lipitor, a drug that lowers cholesterol, are being recalled because they contain counterfeit pills, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced.

Agency officials said the phony pills were discovered following some health complaints, but they declined to offer more details because a criminal investigation is under way.

The recall involves bottles repackaged by Med-Pro, Inc., of Lexington, Neb., and the labels say "Repackaged by: MED-PRO, Inc. Lexington, Neb." in the lower left-hand corner.

The following lots are involved in the recall: 20722V - 90-tablet bottles, Expiration 09-2004; 04132V - 90-tablet bottles, Expiration 01-2004; and 16942V - 90-tablet bottles, Expiration 09-2004.

People who have any bottles with these three lot numbers should not take the pills; they should return the product to their pharmacies, the FDA says.

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