Health Highlights: Dec. 18, 2003

Bush Won't Need Knee Surgery Report: Two in Contact With SARS Patient Flew to U.S. Baby Meningitis Vaccine in Short Supply Flu Kills 3 Residents of Florida Nursing Home Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths May Have Leveled Off FDA Reveals Test Data on Heart Stent

HealthDay News

HealthDay News

Published on December 18, 2003

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

Bush Won't Need Knee Surgery

President Bush won't need knee surgery, doctors told him Thursday following an MRI on the painful joints that have kept him from his regular jogging schedule for several months.

Bush, an avid runner, has abandoned his daily routine since the summer when doctors also diagnosed a slight muscle tear in his right calf, CBS News reports.

In lieu of surgery, Bush, 57, was prescribed a strict exercise regimen and some stretching exercises, a White House spokesman said. The president underwent the MRI -- short for magnetic resonance imaging -- on the advice of his White House physician. The procedure allows doctors to examine portions of the body, particularly soft tissue, in 3D.

Bush only has the pain when he runs, his spokesman said, adding the president still maintains a "pretty rigorous workout schedule."

Bush had the MRI at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he then met with a number of soldiers wounded in Iraq. The president also dropped by to see Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is recovering from prostate cancer surgery performed earlier this week.


Report: 2 in Contact With SARS Patient Flew to U.S.

Two people who came in contact with a newly diagnosed SARS patient in Taiwan later flew to the United States, the Associated Press reports.

The patient, a 44-year-old Taiwanese military scientist, has been identified only by his rank and surname, Lt. Col. Chan, the AP says. He allegedly failed to follow safety guidelines in his Taipei lab by not wearing protective gloves and a mask while working with samples of the SARS virus, the wire service reports.

After spilling a sample of the highly contagious virus on or around Dec. 5, the scientist reportedly failed to quarantine himself at home, choosing instead to attend a conference in Singapore on Dec. 7. The scientist began displaying symptoms of SARS upon his return to Taiwan on Dec. 10.

Singapore has already quarantined 70 people who came in contact with the man. However, Taiwanese officials have issued quarantine orders for 25 others, including two military officials who flew with the scientist upon his return to Taiwan Dec. 10. Later that day, the pair flew to an undisclosed location in the United States, the AP reports.

A Taiwanese government spokesman tells the wire service that the men haven't shown symptoms of SARS, which has an incubation period of about 10 days. The spokesman says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring the conditions of both men. He adds that the Taiwanese government hasn't decided on possible disciplinary action against the scientist.

Following the Taiwan announcement, China's government ordered all researchers to turn over samples of the SARS virus. And China Central Television says Beijing airport has begun disinfecting flights from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and has set up special health checks for travelers from those countries, the AP reports.


Baby Meningitis Vaccine in Short Supply

Prevnar, the vaccine that prevents meningitis in babies, is in short supply and is likely to be rationed.

The New York Times reports that the American Academy of Pediatrics notified its members that if the shortage is widespread, then the vaccination schedule will have to be changed.

The vaccine's maker, Wyeth, has created an allocation process by which doctors can appeal for more if they don't have enough to complete the vaccination process, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Shots are usually given at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months.

Wyeth, the only maker of the shot, cites "production constraints" that could delay shipment of the vaccine in the first and second quarters of 2004, according to the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Babies who receive their vaccines through the Vaccines for Children program are at risk of not having enough, the CDC reports.

Prevnar joins several other vaccines that are experiencing a shortage, including this year's flu shot. A report issued earlier this week says many other childhood vaccines are expected to remain in short supply.


Flu Kills 3 Residents of Florida Nursing Home

Three elderly residents of a Sarasota, Fla., nursing home have died from the flu within the past week, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

The Sarasota County Health Department didn't identify the victims, their genders, or the nursing home, the newspaper says. A department spokeswoman did say that all were over age 65 and had unspecified chronic health problems. At least one of the people who died had been vaccinated for flu, the spokeswoman said.

Tests are pending on the three victims to see if they died from the virulent Fujian-A strain of flu that has killed more than a dozen children in the United States since early November. Most of those deaths and the widespread flu activity have occurred in western states, but health officials earlier this week warned that the outbreaks were likely to spread east.

The Fujian strain, due to its late detection, was not included in this year's flu vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today that flu activity is now widespread in 36 states, 12 more than a week ago.


Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths May Have Leveled Off

Alcohol-related traffic deaths rose or remained steady in 19 states during a four-year period ending in 2002, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in a new report. The death rate fell in the remaining 31 states.

South Carolina saw the greatest rise in the death rate, followed by Kansas, South Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, according to an Associated Press analysis of the report. States with the highest number of alcohol-related deaths per miles traveled were Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, Nevada, and Louisiana, the AP says.

Experts consulted by the wire service say they can't explain why the increases affected only some states and not others. "There don't seem to be any patterns," said Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The new report cites 17,419 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2002, which translates to 41 percent of all traffic fatalities. By comparison, 16,572 were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 1998, accounting for 40 percent of the total.


FDA Reveals Test Data on Heart Stent

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, under fire recently for what critics say may be hasty approval of cardiac devices known as stents, says at least one of the devices has been proven safe.

The AneuRx Stent Graft System was FDA-approved in 1999 to prevent rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, where the body's main artery balloons in a particular spot to the point where it may burst.

Two years after approval, the agency ordered the device's manufacturer, Medtronic, to follow up on a group of 942 patients to make sure the device worked as advertised over the long term.

Following the extended study, the FDA says there was an estimated death rate of 2.7 percent three years after the patients received the device. In a statement, the agency says "these devices remain safe and effective."

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