Health Highlights: Dec. 2, 2003

Vitamin B May Help Fight Depression Elder Abuse Underreported in United States Doctors Concerned About Drug-Resistant HIV District of Columbia to Offer Free Condoms Canada Reports Progress on SARS Vaccine Dialysis Centers Faulted for Lack of Proper Care

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

Vitamin B May Help Fight Depression

A new Finnish study says that taking vitamin B supplements may offer a boost for people combating depression.

The study of 115 outpatients receiving treatment for depression for six months found that they seemed to respond better to antidepressants if they had high levels of vitamin B12 in their blood, BBC News Online reports.

The study appears in the journal BMC Psychiatry.

One of the researchers told BBC News that the finding may prove significant because many people with depression do not respond to anti-depression medications.


Elder Abuse Underreported in United States

Elder abuse in the United States is underreported due to differences in state laws, says a University of Iowa study.

The study looked at elder abuse in private residences but not in care facilities. Along with underreporting, the study says that differences in state laws also result in inconsistent resolution of elder abuse cases across the country, the Associated Press reports.

The researchers divided their definition of elder abuse into a number of categories, including neglect, emotional, sexual, physical and financial exploitation.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that states with mandatory reporting and tracking of elder-abuse cases have much higher investigation rates than states with more lax laws.


Doctors Concerned About Drug-Resistant HIV

Doctors at the McGill AIDS Centre in Montreal say an increasing number of people have a mutated form of HIV that's resistant to drug treatment.

About 12 percent of newly infected HIV patients seen at the McGill AIDS Centre have a virus that can't be controlled with current HIV/AIDS drugs, CBC News Online reports.

"People develop the same kind of infections they used to get before we had any drugs, they develop full-blown AIDS," Dr. Christos Tsoukas told CBC News.

This kind of resistance can happen when patients fail to take medications every day at prescribed times. That allows the virus an opportunity to mutate and build resistance against the drugs.

It can take a long time to develop new drugs able to counter HIV mutations. Tsoukas says he's concerned that new drugs may come too late to help current patients with the virus mutation.


D.C. to Offer Free Condoms

Washington, D.C., officials -- reporting the nation's highest incidence of HIV and AIDS -- will soon offer free condoms in select government offices and public gathering places, the Washington Post reports.

Distribution centers will include the D.C. Housing Authority and the departments of human services and motor vehicles, the newspaper says.

Over the next year, the city plans to distribute some 550,000 male condoms and 30,000 female condoms. It already hands out the products at public schools, and may seek additional venues like beauty salons, barber shops and nightclubs.

At a recent experiment at one city club, about 900 condoms were given out over a two-day period, the Post says.


Canada Reports Progress on SARS Vaccine

A Canadian-made SARS vaccine could be available as soon as next fall, reports the Toronto Star, citing progress made by several groups of researchers.

Three types of vaccines are already being tested in rabbits and mice and may soon advance to primates. If available in the forecasted 18 months leading up to autumn 2004, the vaccine would be produced in record time, the newspaper says. The process normally takes 10 years and some $200 million, the report adds.

The research is being funded by the government, several public and private laboratories, and a number of universities.

But the picture isn't entirely rosy, the newspaper notes. Since the SARS virus is so infectious, producing a vaccine would require manufacturing facilities with highly sophisticated filtering and ventilation systems -- of which there are very few around the world and none in Canada.

Ironically, the newspaper also cites another potential stumbling block -- a lack of active SARS infections worldwide. Ultimately, that may not be a problem, since forecasters predict a return of the virus with the onset of colder weather.


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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