Health Highlights: May 8, 2003

Mystery Illness Strikes Cambodia Artificial Eye Implant Helps Blind People See Objects Chainsaws Recalled Canada Pledges Safety of its Prescription Drugs Some New England Well Water Poses Arsenic Risk Cholera Epidemic Feared in Southern Iraq

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

Mystery Illness Strikes Cambodia

A mystery illness -- which doctors have confirmed is not SARS -- is sweeping through an area of northeastern Cambodia, the Associated Press reports.

The unknown disease has killed seven people and infected nearly 400 others in two villages since it first appeared in early March.

Doctors visiting the villages say the illness does have some of the same symptoms -- coughing, fever, breathing difficulties -- seen in people with SARS. But people with this mystery illness also suffer diarrhea and maintain normal white blood cell counts, two things not usually found in people with SARS, the AP says.

One western doctor who tended to people sick with the illness described it as a form of pneumonia preying on people in poor health.

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Artificial Eye Implant Helps Blind People See Objects

Early tests of an artificial eye implant show that blind people with the implant are able to receive and "see" pictures sent from a video camera, BBC News Online reports.

First trials of the device demonstrated that it allows blind people to identify everyday objects such as a cup or plate. The tests are being done at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

So far, three people have received the retinal implant, which is 4 by 5 millimeters in size.

In the test, pictures of objects were taken by a video camera and then transmitted to the implant.

The implant could help people who have lost their vision due to a degenerative eye disease such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa, BBC News Online reports.

The test results were presented at the meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, held in the United States.

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Chainsaws Recalled

About 7,000 Homelite brand chainsaws are being recalled because the saws can operate when the engine is at the "idle" setting, posing a serious injury risk to operators and bystanders.

The chainsaws have the model number UT10946 and manufacture dates of 11-02 or 12-02 printed on the lower corners of a black data label located on the back side of the chainsaw's engine housing, says a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission news release.

The chainsaws have a red housing with black trim and came with a rectangular black plastic case. The chainsaws were sold nationwide (retail price about $200) from December 2002 to February 2003.

Consumers with one of these chainsaws should take it to the nearest Homelite-authorized service center for a free throttle-adjustment. The stores that sold these chainsaws do not provide this service.

For more information, phone Homelite at 1-800-776-5191 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. You can also visit the firm's Web site.

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Canada Pledges Safety of its Prescription Drugs

The Canadian government says it's assuming responsibility for the safety of prescription drugs sold by Canadian companies to American consumers across the border, the Washington Post reports.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had sought such a pledge for years, saying it was concerned that millions of Americans were buying their medications from Canada, where government price controls make drugs considerably cheaper. The FDA says it has only limited power to stop Americans from buying drugs through the Internet and at pharmacy storefronts, even though the practice is generally illegal under U.S. laws.

The Canadian government issued an official statement last week saying that drugs sold within its borders must be equally safe and effective, whether destined for use by Canadians or for export, the Post reports.

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry, in addition to citing a significant loss in profits, says Canadian drugs aren't as tightly regulated as medications produced in the United States. An industry spokesman says a major complaint is that Canadian laws allow drugs from third world nations to pass through Canada unregulated -- a charge the Canadian government denies, the newspaper reports.

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Some New England Well Water Poses Arsenic Risk

A number of New England counties stretching from northern Massachusetts to coastal Maine are at risk of having private well water reserves contaminated with harmful levels of arsenic, The New York Times reports.

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey says as many as 100,000 people in affected areas may now be drinking water that exceeds the new federal standards for arsenic, the newspaper says.

The newspaper identifies two areas at highest risk -- Rockingham, in coastal New Hampshire; and York, the southernmost county in Maine. Many other areas throughout the region tend to have naturally higher levels of arsenic in groundwater, the Times says.

While the highest levels of arsenic found in these areas are still well below concentrations linked to certain cancers and other health problems, state governments have begun urging private well owners in affected regions to have their water reserves tested. Federal and state regulations are much less concerned with private wells than with public sources of drinking water, the Times reports.

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Cholera Epidemic Feared in Southern Iraq

The World Health Organization fears a serious cholera outbreak may soon take hold in Iraq.

There have been 17 confirmed cholera cases in the southern city of Basra, and WHO officials say they believe there could be hundreds more unreported cases, the Associated Press reports.

A WHO team is in the city to assess the true extend of the cholera situation. The first confirmed cases in Basra were seen in children age 4 and under.

Health experts have warned for some time that the lack of sanitation and shortage of clean water in southern Iraq could lead to a serious cholera outbreak, the AP reports.

Cholera is a waterborne disease that's treatable if it's detected at an early stage. Malnourished children are at especially high risk of dying from cholera.

Scott RobertsRobert Preidt

Scott RobertsRobert Preidt

Published on May 08, 2003

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