Health Highlights: May 4, 2002

Lady Bird Johnson Suffers Mild Stroke Livestock Diseases Pop Up in Poland, S. Korea Calif. Medical Marijuana Co-op Dealt Another Legal Blow Ethanol Plants Polluting, Says EPA Why Cancer Patients Can't Quit Smoking Birth Control Patch Takes a U.S. Bow

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

Lady Bird Johnson Suffers Mild Stroke

Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson was reported to be in fair condition in an Austin, Tex., hospital this morning after suffering a stroke.

The mild brain attack left the 89-year-old Johnson unable to speak, but doctors at Seton Medical Center say she is upbeat, aware of her surroundings and not in pain, reports the Associated Press.

Johnson has been hospitalized since Thursday, when she awoke from a nap at her home and had trouble speaking and swallowing medication. The doctors say they believe the stroke caused damage to a small area on the left side of Johnson's brain.

The former first lady is due to remain hospitalized through the weekend for observation and more tests.

President Lyndon Johnson died in 1973.


Livestock Diseases Pop Up in Poland, S. Korea

Threats of livestock diseases popped up around the world today with reports of a mad cow disease scare in Poland and a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in South Korea.

Officials in Poland say the nation's first case of mad cow disease has been detected near the southern border with Slovakia, but that it appears to be an isolated incident, reports the Associated Press.

Mad cow disease is a major concern because if transmitted to humans, the disease can cause a brain-wasting illness called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has claimed the lives of more than 100 people, mostly in Britain.

In South Korea, officials confirmed that foot-and-mouth disease killed 280 pigs on a farm this week and the condition may be spreading. The announcement prompted the slaughter of 10,000 pigs at nearby farms and the restriction of livestock around the country.

South Korea suffered a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2000 that devastated what was then a $339 million pork export industry, with 95 percent of exports going to Japan. The outbreak forced restrictions on the exports that Japan had just started to lift.

The disease spreads quickly among cloven-hoofed animals, but is not dangerous to humans.


Calif. Medical Marijuana Co-op Dealt Another Legal Blow

A federal judge has snuffed out the attempts of a California marijuana buyers club to legally distribute pot for medical purposes.

The Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative had gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with its case to sell pot under a 1996 California law allowing the sick to obtain marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's recommendation.

The Supreme Court turned down the appeal last year, but the group sought to reopen the case under new legal arguments. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer thwarted that effort yesterday, however, refusing to lift an order banning the club from distributing cannabis.

An appeal of the decision and much more litigation of the law is expected.


Ethanol Plants Polluting, EPA Says

The gasoline additive ethanol is valued for reducing tailpipe emissions of carbon monoxide and preventing the use of another additive that pollutes water, but the plants that make ethanol are now under fire for causing pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that in the process of converting corn into ethanol, factories are releasing levels of carbon monoxide, methanol and some carcinogens at levels that are "many times greater" than promised, the Associated Press reports.

The EPA says it has informed the plants of the problems and plans to meet with factory representatives in five states to demand that the emissions be reduced.


Why Cancer Patients Can't Quit Smoking

One out of four patients who undergo disfiguring head or neck surgery for smoking-related cancers still can't kick the habit.

That's the disturbing conclusion of a new study from the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Michigan, reports HealthDay.

In polling 81 patients with head and neck cancers from the Ann Arbor VA and the University of Michigan hospitals, the researchers found that 23 percent of the patients continued to smoke regularly after surgery, while 35 percent admitted to having smoked at some point in the six months preceding the survey.

And more than half of the group (46 patients) continued to drink alcohol, though the combination of drinking and smoking is known to increase the risk of head and neck cancers. Smoking and drinking were also associated with poor physical functioning and a lower quality of life.

So, if smoking caused their illness in the first place, why don't they quit?

Many of these people desperately want to, says lead researcher Sonia Duffy, but getting through the cancer surgery is often their main priority. And, ironically, she adds, smoking helps provide many with a coping mechanism.

The findings are published in the current issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.


Birth Control Patch Takes a U.S. Bow

American women now have another birth-control option, and it could be the easiest, most convenient form of contraception yet, according to HealthDay.

Just released into the marketplace: Ortho Evra, the first contraceptive skin patch to be sold in the United States. Manufactured by Ortho-McNeil, it is designed to mimic combination birth-control pills -- the ones containing synthetic estrogen and progesterone. A single patch works for a full seven days.

The patch, available only by prescription, measures about 1.75 inches square, with a self-adhesive backing. It can be placed on any one of several areas of the body, including the lower torso (front or back) or the outside of the upper arm. One patch stays put for seven days, and a new one is placed in a new location on the eighth day. The hormone-laced patches are used for three weeks and followed by one week without a patch, a regimen similar to most birth control pills.

Both the Pill and the patch work in similar ways to prevent pregnancy -- primarily by blocking ovulation. Although both are said to be about 99 percent effective, this can vary greatly with compliance.


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