Health Highlights: Dec. 1, 2003

WHO Plans AIDS Treatment for Millions Dialysis Centers Faulted for Lack of Proper Care FDA Inspects Mexican Scallion Growers Child Eczema Cream May Backfire Washington State Adds 3 Flu Deaths to Mounting Toll Another Flu-Like Illness Hits Cruise Ship

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

WHO Plans AIDS Treatment for Millions

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it's planning to treat 3 million people for AIDS in poorer nations by the end of 2005.

The so-called "3 by 5" initiative involves training 100,000 workers, redirecting resources of existing health clinics, and using "one-size-fits-most" antiviral therapies, the Washington Post reports. WHO says it won't pay for the treatments, but will give the targeted nations the expertise they need to begin their own programs.

In Africa, where at least 25 million people are infected, fewer than 100,000 receive antiretroviral therapy, which combines at least three potent antiviral drugs that suppress the AIDS-causing HIV virus and help restore the body to better health, the newspaper reports.

In a separate statement, the WHO's Asian/Pacific regional office announced that more than 500,000 people in the area died from AIDS this year, or approximately one death every minute, China's Xinhua news service reports.

Monday's WHO announcements coincide with World AIDS Day. The organization's "3 by 5" plan also establishes the United Nations as a world leader in fighting AIDS, including providing treatment resources and information.

In other World AIDS Day activities Monday, actor Richard Gere visited clinics in India, where some 4 million adults are said to be infected with the HIV virus. And U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson flew to the African nation of Zambia to focus awareness on the world's hardest-hit continent. "Nobody is going to be spared unless we all come together in the fight against this disease," he said before participating in a march through the resort town of Livingtone.

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Dialysis Centers Faulted for Lack of Proper Care

Many dialysis centers in the United States provide inadequate treatment. And that lack of care threatens the estimated 300,000 Americans with kidney failure who visit the centers to get their blood cleaned, a new report says.

Dr. Brian Pereira of the National Kidney Foundation says dialysis care has improved in the last 20 years, and the dialysis industry contends that centers with problems are not the rule, the Associated Press reports.

However, the AP says, a recent report by the General Accounting Office found:

  • At 512 facilities in 2000, blood tests showed that one-fifth of patients received inadequate dialysis treatment.
  • At 1,700 dialysis facilities, 20 percent or more patients received inadequate drug treatment for anemia, a deficiency in red blood cells that is common with kidney failure.
  • A growing number of centers -- 216 -- has gone nine or more years without an inspection to see if they comply with accepted standards.

The news service says federal officials hope that care at dialysis centers will improve in January when new Medicare payment rules give doctors financial incentives to examine patients more frequently.

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FDA Inspects Mexican Scallion Growers

Inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are in Mexico to inspect the crops of four scallion (green onion) exporters closed in the wake of a hepatitis outbreak that has killed three people and sickened at least 600 others in Pennsylvania.

U.S. health officials have established that the cases of hepatitis A stemmed from Mexican-grown scallions served at a Chi-Chi's restaurant, located about 25 northwest of Pittsburgh. The same produce may also have caused smaller outbreaks in Tennessee and Georgia, the Associated Press reports.

Sales of green onions from Mexico have dropped dramatically since the outbreak, the AP says.

An FDA spokesman tells the wire service that inspectors would be in Mexico at least two days.

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Child Eczema Cream May Backfire

An aqueous cream routinely given to children with eczema could do more harm than good, British researchers tell BBC News Online.

The skin specialists at Sheffield Children's Hospital say 56 of the 100 children surveyed had adverse reactions to the cream, including symptoms from redness and itching to burning and stinging.

Similar emollients -- designed to be rubbed into the skin to soothe and lubricate it -- caused problems in just 17 percent of study participants, the researchers write in the Pharmaceutical Journal.

The researchers say doctors and parents should carefully monitor children who use aqueous cream for this purpose. They say the cream when used as a soap substitute -- where it is merely applied to the skin instead of rubbed in -- appears to cause fewer reactions.

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Washington State Adds 3 Flu Deaths to Mounting Toll

Deaths from the flu continue to occur earlier than usual, with three elderly Washington State residents joining a list that includes four Colorado children.

The Seattle Times reports that all three victims were residents of a nursing home in Yakima County. "We're right in the middle of it. It's the earliest (flu-season start) I've ever seen," Phyllis Shoemaker, an influenza epidemiologist for the state Department of Health told the newspaper.

According to the Times, nearly 4,000 cases have been reported in Washington state alone so far, and Texas and Nevada have also had a large number of cases.

In the last week, flu has claimed the lives of 2-year-old and 21-month-old Colorado children who had had no other medical problems. It has also killed an 8-year-old and a 15-year-old who did have medical complications, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

About 36,000 people die from the flu in the United States each year. This year, because of the early incidents and deaths, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have urged flu vaccinations, especially for the young and elderly.

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Another Flu-Like Illness Hits Cruise Ship

Seventy-three passengers, complaining of flu-like symptoms, caused a Carnival cruise ship to return to its Port Everglades, Fla. port Saturday.

The Associated Press reports that four crew members on the ship Legend also suffered from the malady.

There were 2,378 passengers aboard the ship, the wire service says. The possible cause of the illness was given as norovirus, which infects more than 20 million people annually. Norovirus's symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and it lasts about three days, the AP reports.

The outbreak didn't affect the ship's next departure. It left for an eight-day Caribbean trip on schedule Saturday afternoon.

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