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Health Highlights: Aug. 2, 2003

Doctors Perform World's 1st 'Triple Swap' Kidney Transplant FDA Drops Olestra Warning Label U.S. Army Investigating Pneumonia Outbreak in Iraq FDA OKs Hepatitis C Drug for Children West Nile Kills 2 in Texas, Hits Colorado Hard

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

Doctors Perform World's 1st 'Triple Swap' Kidney Transplant

It's believed to be the world's first simultaneous "triple swap" kidney transplant operation. And it has given a new lease on life to a 30-year-old woman from Florida, a 39-year-old woman from Pennsylvania, and a 13-year-old boy from Maryland.

The "triple switch" was orchestrated Monday by doctors and nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. It was necessary because each of the recipients had a willing donor, but their blood or tissue types weren't compatible with the friend or relative they had hoped to give their organ to.

So nurses at Hopkins turned to the hospital's Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program, which can cross-reference donor-recipient pairs to find a compatible match. Since 2001, the hospital has performed four double transplants using this technique. But this was the first time a "triple switch" kidney transplant had been done, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The 11-hour surgery took place Monday and all six people involved are doing well, hospital officials said.

"She gave me my life back," Tracy Stahl, the 39-year-old from Johnstown, Pa., said of Julia Tower, 57, of Hyattsville, Md. Tower had initially hoped to give her kidney to family friend Jeremy Weiser-Warschoff, 13, of Silver Spring, Md.

The other lucky recipient is Germaine Allum, 30, of Miami.

Lead surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery said, "It was really possible because these three donors desperately wanted to see their loved ones receive a kidney and were open to any possibility to make that happen."


FDA Drops Olestra Warning Label

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says snacks containing olestra, a substitute for fat, no longer have to carry warning labels saying they may cause stomach aches or diarrhea.

In announcing the decision Friday, the agency said it had concluded the faux fat, which is made by Procter & Gamble and contains no calories, rarely causes digestive problems.

"Real-life" consumption studies of products containing olestra showed the chemical caused only infrequent, mild gastrointestinal effects. A six-week study with more than 3,000 people showed that the group consuming potato chips containing olestra experienced only a minor increase in bowel movement frequency compared to those people who consumed only full-fat chips, the agency says.

The FDA approved olestra's sale in 1996, as long as packages bore labels spelling out possible gastrointestinal side effects.


U.S. Army Investigating Pneumonia Outbreak in Iraq

Fourteen U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq have been stricken with serious cases of pneumonia and two have died, prompting the Army to send a six-person team of specialists there to investigate, the Associated Press reports.

Nine soldiers have recovered from the illness and three are still hospitalized. All were so ill that they had to be evacuated from the region while on respirators, the AP says. Most are being treated in Germany

The medical team en route to Iraq includes infectious disease experts and those who will take air, soil, and water samples. The illness has stricken troops from different units in widely scattered areas.

So far, there is no evidence of association with biological weapons or exposure to SARS, military officials told the AP.


FDA OKs Hepatitis C Drug for Children

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Schering-Plough drug Rebetol for treating the hepatitis C virus in children, the manufacturer says.

Used in combination with a type of interferon called Intron A, Rebetol is the only approved pediatric hepatitis C therapy, the company says.

The FDA granted Rebetol its so-called "orphan-drug" designation for rarely diagnosed conditions, since the virus is believed to affect fewer than 200,000 children in the United States.

By contrast, some 4 million American adults have been diagnosed with the infection, and 70 percent are expected to develop chronic liver disease. The virus contributes to the deaths of as many as 10,000 Americans annually -- a number that could triple by the year 2010, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics cited by the drug maker.


West Nile Kills 2 in Texas, Hits Colorado Hard

It's official: The West Nile virus season is well under way.

Texas reports its first two deaths of the year from the mosquito-born disease -- a 68-year-old East Texas man and an 85-year-old North Texas woman, according to an Associated Press account. An Alabama woman in her 80s was the first person in the United States this year to die from the virus, state officials told the AP Monday.

And Colorado quickly rose to the hardest-hit state this week, reporting 18 confirmed cases and 10 suspected instances, the Rocky Mountain News reports. Assuming all 28 cases were confirmed, the state only recorded half that number during all of last year, the newspaper says.

This year's Colorado victims -- all in 12 Front Range and eastern plains counties -- have a higher percentage of serious complications, too, the News says. Six have swelling on the brain known as encephalitis, and five have an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord known as meningitis.

The weather is partially to blame for the spike in the South and West, experts say, as the rainy spring that allowed mosquitoes to breed was followed by lots of heat and humidity, which speeds up their metabolism and encourages their search for food.

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