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Health Highlights: Sept. 28, 2002

Hospital Use of Soap and Water May Soon Go Down the Drain New Govt. Rule Grants Health Care Rights to Fetuses Malaria-Carrying Mosquitoes Found in Va. 400,000 Pounds Of Tainted Beef Recalled Alarming Syphilis Rise Seen Among Gay Men Knowing That Your Memory Fails Is An Omen 2 Families Swap Kidneys Feds Urge Seasonal Heat Inspections

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

Hospital Use of Soap and Water May Soon Go Down the Drain

In an environment where hand-washing can truly be a matter of life and death -- hospitals -- the trend may soon be to ditch soap and water altogether. In its place, advise experts, should be quick-drying alcohol gels.

According to research presented today at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, alcohol-based rinses are highly effective at killing hospital germs, reports the Associated Press.

Researchers at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Washington, D.C., found that switching to the alcohol rinses two years ago resulted in a drop in drug-resistant staph infections by 21 percent, while resistant enterococcus dropped 43 percent. Both are serious, hospital-acquired infections.

More and more hospitals are reportedly using the quick-drying gels, which require no water and only need about 15 seconds to dry.


New Govt. Rule Grants Health Care Rights to Fetuses

The Bush administration has issued new rules that would allow states to define fetuses as children, thereby making them eligible for government-subsidized prenatal care under the federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program.

Under the new rules, the definition of children qualifying for care includes any individual under the age of 19, including those conceived but not yet born, reports The New York Times.

Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of health and human services, heralded the new rule as a way to increase the number of low-income women eligible for prenatal care. But critics call it a political maneuver to further the administration's anti-abortion agenda, and say the rule attempts to set a legal precedent for recognizing a fetus as a person.

States must now decide whether to add fetuses to their programs. Proponents and opponents of the rule say the debate will be heated.


Malaria-Carrying Mosquitoes Found in Va.

Health officials in Loudoun County, Va., say they have discovered mosquitoes carrying a malaria parasite in neighborhoods close to where two teens were infected over the summer in a rare outbreak of the disease.

The mosquitoes, found near the Potomac River outside of Washington, D.C., represent the first time in at least 20 years that malaria has been identified in an area of the United States where humans were also infected with the disease, reports the Washington Post.

Officials stress that, while the strain of malaria-causing parasite produces a very unpleasant form of malaria, it is easily treated and mild compared to the more notorious strain that has killed millions of people in developing nations.

More tests are being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm the results, but the findings have prompted increased local anti-malaria measures, including the use of larvicide in areas where mosquitoes breed.


400,000 Pounds Of Tainted Beef Recalled

A Wisconsin meat-packing company has recalled about 400,000 pounds of beef that may have played a role in an outbreak of E. coli contamination that caused illness in 40 people in three states, reports the Associated Press.

The recall was issued yesterday by Emmpak Foods, of Milwaukee, as a precaution after health officials found that 40 people in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin had become ill from E. coli.

The cases were discovered while health investigators were looking into an outbreak of another strain of E. coli that caused 19 people to become ill after taking a rafting trip in northern Wisconsin. It is not known if the two outbreaks are related.

The recall follows another recall of 471,000 pounds of ground beef at the company in May that was also prompted by E. coli contamination.


Alarming Syphilis Rise Seen Among Gay Men

There's been an alarming increase in the number of syphilis cases affecting gay men, reports The New York Times.

In New York City, syphilis cases increased more than 50 percent in the first six months of this year over the same period last year, to a total of 202 cases, according city health officials.

The majority of those cases have been among men who said they had male sex partners. About half in the group also are infected with HIV.

In San Francisco, the number of syphilis cases jumped from 22 in 1999 to 116 in 2001.

In a statement released yesterday by New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, authorities said many men who have contracted syphilis report having unprotected sex with multiple, anonymous partners.

Authorities say they are especially concerned because having syphilis makes people more susceptible to HIV.


Knowing That Your Memory Fails Is An Omen

Joking about "senior moment" memory problems is common, even among people who aren't yet middle-aged. But new research suggests that very frequent complaints about memory failure may be an omen, reports HealthDay.

The higher the awareness of memory loss, the higher the risk of future memory decline, says Dr. Gary Small, the director of the UCLA Center on Aging, who will present his new research this weekend in Chicago at the First Annual Dementia Congress.

"To some extent, subjective awareness of memory changes predicts future decline in brain function in the memory centers," Small says.


2 Families Swap Kidneys

Time seemed to be running out for two New Hampshire families both in need of donor kidneys -- until they discovered each other.

In two rare instances where recipients weren't compatible with their own relatives, Emily Smith donated a kidney to Sara St. Pierre, while St Pierre's father, Fred, returned the gesture for Smith's sister, Brittany.

The transplants, coordinated by the New England Organ Bank, took place Aug. 27 at two Boston Hospitals, reports the Associated Press. They are among a small number of family-to-family swaps, the AP says.

Sara St. Pierre, 22, had suffered from reflux nephropathy, a disease that leads to progressive kidney failure. Brittany Smith, 16, had suffered from meningitis, which caused her kidneys to fail.

Some 53,000 Americans are now waiting for a kidney transplant, reports the AP, and about 2,800 die each year because a donor organ isn't found in time.


Feds Urge Seasonal Heat Inspections

To avoid deadly leaks of carbon monoxide (CO) in their homes, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is urging all Americans to have their heating systems professionally inspected before the cold weather sets in.

The agency says all furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, water heaters and space heaters should be checked for CO leaks, whether these appliances burn kerosene, oil, coal, natural gas or wood.

The inspection should include a check of chimneys, flues and vents for leaks or blockage. Every home should also have a CO alarm to detect the odorless, colorless gas, which can cause death in high concentrations. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.

Consumer News