Health Highlights: Dec. 12, 2003

Tests Show Promise for Ebola Treatment Health-Care Costs Mean Tough Choices for Disabled Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills Conn. Official Bioterrorism Preparedness Flounders Expert: SARS Won't Return to Canada Study Prompts Call for Less Processed Salt

HealthDay News

HealthDay News

Published on December 12, 2003

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

Tests Show Promise for Ebola Treatment

A treatment for Ebola developed by U.S. scientists is the first to show any promise against the dreaded virus.

A study in the Dec. 13 issue of The Lancet says that this new treatment cured a third of Ebola-infected monkeys during testing. This is an important advance and raises hopes for development of a lifesaving therapy for humans, the Associated Press reports.

The drug was developed by scientists at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. The World Health Organization says it plans to use the new drug during the next human Ebola outbreak, the AP reports.

Currently, there is no treatment for Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Milder strains of the disease have a death rate of 50 percent while the death rate for more severe forms is 90 percent.


Health-Care Costs Mean Tough Choices for Disabled

The costs of health care are often too much of a burden for many disabled Americans, forcing them to forgo needed equipment, medication, or the basics of life, says a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Friday.

The survey found that a large number of non-elderly adults with permanent disabilities are forced to make difficult decisions, even though many have health insurance. For example, some have only enough money to buy either food or medicine, but not both.

The survey of 1,505 adults ages 18 to 64 with permanent disabilities found that half go without equipment that could help them better cope with their disabilities. More than a third said they split pills, postpone care, or skip medication doses because of cost.

A third of the people in the survey said they cut back on essentials such as food and heat in order to pay for their health care, the Associated Press reports.

There are an estimated 15.5 million disabled adults in the United States.


Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills Conn. Official

"Flesh-eating" disease has claimed the life of the chairwoman of the Connecticut Board of Mediation and Arbitration, reports The Day of New London.

The newspaper says that 52-year-old Robin Miller, who was also chairwoman of the state Department of Administrative Services' Employee Review Board, died Wednesday at Hartford Hospital. Her death was caused by necrotizing fasciitis, a deadly bacterial infection.

Health officials said that the disease is rare and difficult to contract. There have never been any reports of it being spread in a school or work setting.

It's estimated that between 500 and 700 people in the United States contract necrotizing fasciitis each year. About 20 percent of them die. This destructive infection of muscle and fat tissue is caused by bacteria from Group A Streptococcus, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bacteria can spread through direct contact with the nose and throat of an infected person or through contact with infected skin lesions.

Bioterrorism Preparedness Flounders

A year after President Bush launched the nation's smallpox vaccination campaign by getting inoculated himself, a new report finds that the program and other bioterrorism preparedness measures are heading nowhere.

The report finds that only two states, Florida and Illinois, are ready to distribute vaccines and medicines in the event of a major outbreak or attack, according to the Washington Post.

The Trust for America's Health, a nonpartisan, nonprofit health advocacy group, finds that after two years and $2 billion spent, "states are only modestly better prepared to respond to public health emergencies than they were prior to Sept. 11, 2001."

The Post reports that fewer than a dozen states have written plans on how to cope with a pandemic flu, and are not prepared for an emergency. Part of the problem is state budget cuts

Despite Bush's call for millions of health-care workers to get vaccinated against smallpox, only 38,200 have done so, according to the report. One expert predicted to the Post that, in the event of even a single report of smallpox, the public would rush to hospitals to demand a vaccine only to find few people there to administer it.


Expert: SARS Won't Return to Canada

A leading Canadian microbiologist is boldly predicting that severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) won't return to Canada the way it did earlier this year.

The expert, Dr. Donald Low of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, nonetheless cautioned that the nation be on its guard for another emerging infectious disease, the Globe and Mail of Toronto reports.

Low, debunking other claims that SARS will make a comeback, said he could not find any evidence of a viable reservoir for the virus, the paper reports. Patients who have recovered from the disease don't appear to harbor the virus, according to the Globe and Mail.

"The fact that new SARS outbreaks around the world are unlikely does not mean that vigilance is unwarranted," Low writes in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. "The SARS outbreak of 2002-2003 provides a reminder that new infectious diseases will continue to emerge and that a powerful and effective international public health community is necessary to protect us when they do."

SARS infected 151 people in Canada between February and July, killing 44, the Globe and Mail reports.


Study Prompts Call for Less Processed Salt

A British group is calling on the food industry to cut down on the amount of processed salt in its products, citing a new study finding that less salt can save thousands of lives.

The study, appearing in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Hypertension, finds that reducing sodium intake from the average of 12 grams per day to 3 grams would prevent 20,500 stroke deaths and 31,400 deaths from heart disease each year in the United Kingdom.

It further suggests that reducing salt by just one gram a day would save 6,000 lives a year, the Times of London reports.

The newspaper says that a group called Consensus Action on Salt and Health immediately demanded that the food industry reduce the amount of sodium in processed foods. This could be done without the public being involved or even noticing.


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