Health Highlights: May 8, 2002

Unwelcome U.S. Visitor - Gonorrhea That Resists Some Antibiotics Trace Pesticides Found on Quarter of Organic Foods: Study Ah, Andrei... Sing Me a Song Docs Sue Over Resident Hiring, Pay Policies Guidelines Give Grim Scenario for Possible Ebola Attack Anthrax Attacks Grew Deadlier With Each Letter

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

Unwelcome U.S. Visitor -- Gonorrhea That Resists Some Antibiotics

The latest invasion from other countries has public health experts alarmed. Strains of gonorrhea that resist some conventional antibiotic treatment have shown up in the mainland United States, according to The New York Times.

This particular group of sexually transmitted diseases is thought to have originated in Asia, hopped across the Pacific to Hawaii and only recently made its way to the U.S. continent.

How antibiotic resistant is it? The Times says that fluoroquinolones like ciprofloxacin and ofloxacin -- antibiotics long associated with fighting gonorrhea -- have been all but abandoned in Hawaii.

This particular strain is now in California, The Times reports, and should be addressed shortly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. government's communicable disease watchdog agency.


Trace Pesticides Found on Quarter of Organic Foods: Study

Depending on how much of a purist you are, new research on organic food is either good news or bad.

The good news is that a sampling of produce found that about three-quarters of fruits and vegetables considered "organic" were indeed pesticide free, compared to only about a quarter of conventional produce that had no chemicals. And the chemicals on organic foods were only in trace amounts.

The bad news, however, is the findings indicate that organic food apparently is not, as some are led to believe, pesticide free, and some of the chemicals found on the produce have in fact been banned for years, such as the chemical DDT, reports the Associated Press.

According to the study, published in today's issue of the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, the findings don't necessarily mean organic foods are unsafe -- the residues rarely were anywhere near limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The findings are from samplings of organic and conventional fruits and vegetables taken by the Agriculture Department and the Consumers Union.

Scientists say some of the chemicals on the organic foods may have either drifted from neighboring farms or simply have remained in soil over generations from previous crops.


Ah, Andrei ... Sing Me a Song

Feeling low,? Feeling down in the dumps? Well, if you live in Moscow, a little Smirnoff can help you get rid of that depressed feeling... and we're not talking about vodka here.

The BBC reports that Andrei Smirnoff, a professional singer, has set up a telephone service where "patients" can call in requests, and he'll sing them a song to chase away the blues. Here's what he told the BBC: "Sometimes people have depression, and sometimes they feel down - and in this time they call me and listen to my song, and it helps depression go away. The telephone does not give high quality sound, but the phone gives part of my heart and part of my soul. That is why people call me."

One of those callers was Olga, who suffers from cerebral palsy. "I feel as if he is sent by God," she told the BBC. "If I'm angry or sad, I always pick up the phone and give him a call."


Docs Sue Over Resident Hiring, Pay Policies

An antitrust class action suit filed by doctors yesterday claims that policies by the medical establishment to limit competition for doctors have forced young doctors-in-training to accept low wages and excessive work schedules.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenges the hiring policies of the National Resident Matching Program, through which most doctors-in-training get their first jobs, reports the Associated Press.

The program matches candidates and hospitals according to lists submitted by both sides, with all parties agreeing to accept the match without negotiations on work wages or hours.

According to the plaintiffs, the program adopted policies 50 years ago on the grounds that free competition in recruiting and paying resident physicians was "undesirable" because there were more jobs than candidates and that free competition could have driven up residents' salaries.


Guidelines Give Grim Scenario of Possible Ebola Attack

New guidelines aimed at better preparing doctors to identify a bioterrorist attack using Ebola or other bleeding viruses highlight the challenges and grim realities that such an attack could present.

Perhaps the biggest challenge would be detecting an outbreak, because early signs, which can appear anywhere from two to 21 days, appear as nothing more than flu-like symptoms, with fevers, facial redness, lethargy and headaches, reports the Associated Press.

Those suspected to have the virus would need to be isolated from other patients because the virus is highly contagious, and health care workers would need to wear heavy face masks or shields and goggles, double gloves and impermeable hospital gowns.

A drug called Ribavirin is useful in some cases, but is not widely available.

The guidelines, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were compiled by the Working Group on Civilian Biodefense, which is composed of doctors and public health experts.

The group warns that Ebola and other so-called hemorrhagic fever viruses are already known to have been turned into weapons by both the former Soviet Union and the United States.


Anthrax Attacks Grew Deadlier With Each Letter

The criminal probe of last fall's anthrax-by-mail terror campaign took a chilling turn with the revelation that the germ became more potent from one letter to the next. The deadliest of all was the final letter, sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

According to The New York Times, the finding brings the FBI back to square one, with no clear suspect in sight. For example, was the mastermind a relatively inexperienced chemist who gradually learned to make the germ more lethal? Or was he/she a skilled professional who methodically boosted the potency of the bacteria with each succeeding letter?

Five people died from inhalation anthrax after the mail campaign began Oct. 5.


Consumer News