Health Highlights: Nov. 17, 2002

JFK Was Much More Ill Than He Let On U.S. Losing Stem Cell Researchers to Britain Nationwide Alert Issued for S.C. Company's Drugs Virus Plagues Caribbean Cruise Ship Mass. Governor Has Viral Meningitis Monaco's Ruler Hospitalized for Pulmonary Infection

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

JFK Was Much More Ill Than He Let On

John F. Kennedy, who became the youngest man elected President of the United States in part because he portrayed himself as vigorous, was actually much more ill than he ever disclosed.

Kennedy was in pain throughout his presidency, and had so many various health problems that he was taking as many as eight medications a day, according to today's New York Times.

Kennedy's back problems were well known, but newly revealed medical records reveal a much more extensive list of illnesses, according to the Times article. Kennedy handlers allowed a historian, Robert Dallek, and a physician, Jeffrey A. Kelman, to look at previously undisclosed X-rays and medical records. Dallek, who is working on a biography of the 35th President, and Kelman have written an article on JFK appearing in the December issue of The Atlantic magazine.

In addition to his back woes and a potentially fatal lack of adrenal function called Addison's disease, JFK also suffered from colitis, persistent infections, depression, food allergies, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and sleeplessness, according to the Times.

The authors said he had spinal fractures and metal screws in his vertebrae even though his autopsy report found "no significant gross skeletal abnormalities" other than the bullet wounds he received, according to the Times.

Kennedy was never unable to do his job despite all the pain, illness, and medication, Dallek said. Moreover, the Times says, he never complained.


U.S. Losing Stem Cell Researchers to Britain

The promise of more money and little political interference is luring American scientists to move across the Atlantic and do their research in Great Britain, the Boston Globe reports today.

The article says Britain, although much smaller than the United States, has taken command of stem cell research under a directive by Prime Minister Tony Blair. The U.K., in an attempt to boost national pride, has set aside $57 million for stem cell research, while the U.S. National Institutes of Health has spent just $18.8 million, the Globe says.

Britain is trying to convince American scientists to join its universities taking part in this research.

Last year, President Bush limited the amount of U.S. government research money available for stem cell research so that more human embryos wouldn't have to be destroyed.

No such political restrictions exist in Britain, the Globe says, so it has become a more attractive place. "Having decided to focus my career on helping people through stem cell research, I did not feel [the Bush administration] could stand in my way," the Globe quotes one leading researcher, Roger Pederson, as saying. Pederson moved from the University of California, San Francisco, to the University of Cambridge, taking 30 years of experience with him.


Nationwide Alert Issued for S.C. Company's Drugs

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a nationwide alert warning health workers that injectable antibiotics, pain medications and hormones made by Urgent Care Pharmacy of Spartanburg, S.C., may be dangerous.

Pain clinics and other health facilities should immediately quit using all injectable drugs made by Urgent Care, the government says, after one of that company's drugs was linked to deadly meningitis.

According to an Associated Press report, the company recalled one of its injectable drugs, the steroid methylprednisolone, in September after it was linked to four cases of meningitis caused by a rare fungus. One of the patients died.

The FDA says its inspections found the Spartanburg pharmacy ill-equipped to ensure sterility in any of the injected drugs it makes, and Urgent Care wasn't properly testing the drugs for sterility before shipping them to pain clinics and other customers.

Urgent Care refused to recall any other drugs, the FDA says, so the agency is urging health workers to avoid using any of the following made by Urgent Care: baclofen, betamethasone, Bimix 30:1, clonidine, estradiol, hydromorphone, fentanyl, morphine, papaverine, Super Trimix, mesylate/prostaglandin, and testosterone.

The drugs were sold in Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.


Virus Plagues Caribbean Cruise

The run of illness on one Caribbean cruise ship continues.

Twenty more passengers on board Holland America's cruise ship Amsterdam got sick from a stomach virus, bringing the total to 28 on the current voyage and at least 465 on the boat's last four sails.

The illnesses on the Amsterdam's current 10-day Caribbean cruise continued despite efforts to scrub the ship clean. The passengers who became ill, along with 32 of their traveling companions, were flown home from Curacao when the ship made a scheduled stop there three days ago, company spokesman Erik Elvejord says.

The Associated Press reports that the epidemic began in early October, when at least 215 people got sick on the Amsterdam's cruise from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale. At least 222 more fell ill on the ship's next two outings.

After 600 workers had spent hours cleaning and sanitizing the ship, it departed Nov. 11 with 1,316 passengers. All had received a letter about the virus, which strikes people with up to two days of diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain, but all opted to board anyway.


Mass. Governor Has Viral Meningitis

Massachusetts Acting Gov. Jane Swift was resting comfortably today but will remain in the hospital for a few more days after being diagnosed with "a classic case" of viral meningitis.

Today's Boston Herald reports that Swift came down with what her doctors said was a non-threatening case of viral meningitis. "It's very common among people like her -- young, healthy people," the Herald quotes Brigham and Women's physicians' organization president Dr. Troy Brennan as saying. "She's doing quite well."

Swift, 37, is now being treated with fluids, rest and darkness to prevent "photophobia," or pain caused by light, according to the Herald.

Swift was elected as lieutenant governor and named acting governor in 2001 when Paul Cellucci was appointed U.S. ambassador to Canada. She did not run for election this year and will be replaced by governor-elect Mitt Romney, also a Republican.

The nation's youngest governor, she is also the first female governor of Massachusetts and, in May 2001, became the first governor to give birth to twin girls while in office.


Monaco's Prince Ranier Hospitalized

Monaco's ruler, Prince Rainier, has been hospitalized for a bronchial pulmonary infection and will stay there several days, his palace reported today.

Rainier, 79, was admitted yesterday to a heart and chest clinic in the principality. "This condition ... will necessitate a stay in hospital of several days," a palace press statement said, according to the Associated Press. The statement gave no other details, and a palace spokesman said he had no further information.

Rainier, who was married to film star Grace Kelly, spent nearly a week in the same hospital in May for treatment of fatigue and bronchitis.

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