Health Highlights: May 26, 2003

Toronto Reports 8 New Probable SARS Cases Canada Finds No More Signs of Mad Cow Disease Illinois 1st State to Ban Ephedra 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 Reports 8 New Probable SARS Cases

Toronto health officials acknowledged Monday eight new probable cases of SARS, a discouraging setback for a city that thought it had brought the biggest outbreak outside of Asia under control.

Officials also confirmed three more deaths between May 1 and May 25, bringing the total number of fatalities there to 27, the Toronto Star reports.

The officials said there could be as many as 33 possible new cases of infection.

They stressed that the eight new cases were all linked to outbreaks at hospitals, and there was no evidence the respiratory illness was spreading in the general population, the newspaper reports.

In response to the new cases, the World Health Organization Monday placed Toronto back on a list of SARS-affected areas. But it did not issue a travel advisory suggesting that travelers avoid the city, as the agency had done last month, The New York Times reports.

The new outbreak also prompted the United States to issue a travel advisory for Canada. The advisory 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.

Elsewhere, the news continued to improve in Asia, the region hit hardest by the SARS virus, as Hong Kong reported just one death Monday and China, three.

That brings the worldwide death toll to 724. More than 8,100 people have been infected since the disease emerged last fall in China's southern Guangdong province, the Associated Press reports.

The majority of infections and deaths have been in China and Hong Kong.

China, which has reported the most cases and deaths of SARS, reported just eight new cases Monday, the lowest reported daily increase in the country to date, the AP says.

Hong Kong reported one new death Monday and just one new infection over the weekend, bringing its death toll from SARS to 267.

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 Taiwan reported 15 new cases of SARS infections. That brought the total number of infections to 585, 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.

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.

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Canada Finds No More Signs of Mad Cow Disease

Canadian health officials say there's no evidence that more than one cow on a ranch in Alberta had mad cow disease, CBC News reports.

Preliminary tests on a herd of 150 cattle found no sign of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the news agency says.

"This news is very encouraging," said Dr. Claude Lavigne, an associate director with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. "It means the incidence of BSE in Canada ... remains in one cow."

Additional tests will be performed on the slaughtered animals; officials must also decide how many other cattle have to be killed and tested, the CBC says.

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

The number of quarantined ranches stands at 17 -- 12 in Alberta, three in British Columbia, two in Saskatchewan.

In response to the discovery of the one case of mad cow disease, the United States last week banned imports of Canadian beef products.

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Illinois 1st State to Ban Ephedra

Illinois has become the first state to ban the controversial diet supplement ephedra.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the ban into law Sunday. He was joined by the parents of a 16-year-old boy whose father said he died last September while taking the supplement to help make the first-string football team, the Associated Press reports.

Ephedra has been blamed for nearly 120 deaths nationwide.

It drew national scrutiny in February after officials investigating the heat-stroke death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler linked ephedra to a diet pill containing ephedrine, ephedra's active ingredient, the AP says.

Ephedra is sometimes marketed as an athletic performance enhancer, the news agency says.

The American Heart Association has called for a ban of ephedra, and the National Football League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Olympic Committee have banned its use by athletes, according to the AP.

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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.

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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