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Health Highlights: Oct. 25, 2002

CDC Issues New Hand Hygiene Guidelines for Hospitals Acupuncture-Induced Drowsiness a Hazard Behind the Wheel Depression Rife Among HIV-Infected Patients Chinese Food Additive Could Pose Vision Hazard Obese Flier Loses Airline Suit Condom Testing 101

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

CDC Issues New Hand Hygiene Rules for Hospitals

The U.S. government is urging doctors and nurses to forgo soap-and-water hand washing rituals in favor of fast-drying alcohol solutions, reports the Associated Press.

Hospital-spread viruses and bacteria infect roughly 2 million people every year and kill about 90,000. Medical personnel frequently skip hand-washing routines between patients because the procedure can take up to a full minute. It's believed the new guidelines, issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will significantly reduce the problem. Many hospitals have already made the change and studies suggest infection rates can be cut in half, according to the AP.

The alcohol-based gels kill more germs than the soap and water and are more user-friendly. Nurses can clip the containers to their uniforms, squirt a blob onto their hands and disinfect them as they move from one patient to the next. The CDC estimates this will save one hour in an eight-hour intensive care shift.

While all nurses are expected to adopt this practice, surgeons can choose between the gels or the customary antimicrobial soap.

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Acupuncture-Induced Drowsiness a Hazard Behind the Wheel

Acupuncture can cause drowsiness in some people and practitioners need to warn their patients about this potential side effect, the British Medical Association says.

While sleepiness can be a positive by-product of acupuncture, particularly for patients in pain, it can put themselves and others at risk if they then get behind the wheel of a car, says Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA.

People who know they get sleepy after a session should be told to arrange a ride home. "We have to find ways of getting information to patients that will help them make decisions that are informed," Nathanson told the BBC.

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Depression Rife Among HIV-Infected Patients

Perhaps as many as 80 percent of people infected with the AIDS virus suffer from depression or anxiety, a new survey reports.

A companion survey of HIV-infected patients found that many suffer from other conditions like insomnia and lethargy, but most reported that their doctors never asked about their mental health, according to HealthDay.

"The AIDS treatment community has focused very much on the physical conditions related to the disease, but these various symptoms have received insufficient attention," said study author Dr. Ewald Horvath, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.

Death rates from AIDS fell dramatically in the late 1990s in the United States as powerful drugs became more common. Typical AIDS patients can now expect to live for several -- perhaps many -- years if they take drugs as prescribed, although there is a growing number who are immune to one or more of the medications.

But even while their lifespans may be longer, two surveys in Horvath's study suggest that HIV-infected patients still face a variety of emotional challenges. The findings appear in the October issue of the Journal of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care.

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Chinese Food Additive Could Pose Vision Hazard

Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a preservative commonly found in Chinese food, may be linked to sight problems, Japanese researchers say.

Rats on diets high in MSG experienced vision loss and had thinner retinas, according to an analysis of the Hirosaki University study reported by BBC News Online. But eye experts quoted in the analysis said people would have to consume exceptionally large amounts of the preservative before they would be in any danger.

For six months, the scientists fed the rats three different diets -- containing either large or moderate amounts of MSG, or none. MSG made up 20 percent of the diet containing the highest amounts of the additive.

The researchers theorize that MSG binds to receptors on retinal cells and destroys them. This also puts added stress on any remaining cells, they speculate.

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Obese Flier Loses Canadian Airline Suit

The Canadian Transportation Agency has dismissed the complaint of an obese woman who claimed that her condition constituted a disability and that she shouldn't be forced to buy an extra seat.

Calgary law professor Linda McKay-Panos described herself in court documents as "morbidly obese." She filed the complaint in 1997 after Air Canada required her to pay for the equivalent of 1.5 seats, Canadian Press reports.

"Being unable to fit in a seat should not be enough evidence of the existence of a disability as many people experience discomfort in a seat," the three-person panel that heard the case said in its decision.

Two similar cases have been filed since McKay-Panos first raised the issue, Canadian Press says.

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Condom Testing 101

A German condom maker is offering to pay British college students $150 per semester to test and rate its products, reports The New York Times.

"We are doing interviews [for prospective testers] back to back," the newspaper quotes a spokesperson for the German company Condomi as saying.

The company claims 10 percent to 15 percent market share of the 160 million condoms sold in England annually, making it the country's third-largest seller, reports the Times.

The company's marketing efforts include ads in college newspapers with the headline, "Want to get paid to have sex?" So far, about 150 people have responded, a company spokesperson says.

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