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Health Highlights: Dec. 27, 2004

Public Health Warning Comes in Earthquake Aftermath Lung Disease May Have Killed NFL Great Young Males Least Likely to Use Seat Belts: Survey Conn. Governor Has Breast Cancer Pediatric Heart Surgeon an Apparent Suicide

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

Public Health Warning Comes in Earthquake Aftermath

International aid organizations have begun an intense effort to send supplies and relief workers to the nine Asian countries most affected by Sunday's huge underwater earthquake and subsequent tidal waves known as tsunamis. In addition to those items needed for immediate victim relief, a major concern is preventing disease outbreaks caused by the remnants of the tidal waves and the hundreds of bodies that have remain unclaimed.

"The longer-term effects may be as devastating as the tidal wave or the tsunami itself," CNN quotes the U.N.'s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland as saying. "Many more people are now affected by polluted drinking water. We could have epidemics within a few days unless we get health systems up and running."

On its Web site, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a massive, internationally coordinated effort to bring relief as quickly as possible. Of major concern was the possible lack of hospitals and clinics in the most devastated areas, the WHO statement said.

"Besides the need for mass management of casualties in hospitals, WHO foresees the urgent need for reactivation and boosting the capacities of local systems for health-care delivery," the statement said. "At short term, in a few days, additional threats to human life can be expected to arise from contaminated water sources."

The Associated Press quoted Jasmine Whitbread, international director of the aid group Oxfam, warning that without swift action, more people could die in the aftermath. "The flood waters will have contaminated drinking water and food will be scarce," she said.

As of Tuesday morning, Eastern Time in the United States, more than 40,000 people were reported killed, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India being the hardest hit. Scores of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, China, and Japan have begun relief efforts, including sending workers to the affected areas.

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Lung Disease May Have Killed NFL Great

The respiratory disease sarcoidosis, coupled with other health problems, may have caused the death of pro football great Reggie White, according to a preliminary autopsy report released Monday, the Associated Press said.

White probably had the condition that affected the amount of air his lungs could hold, resulting in "fatal cardiac arrhythmia," said Dr. Mike Sullivan, the medical examiner for Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

Sleep apnea may also have been a factor in the death Sunday of the 43-year-old retired defensive lineman.

The autopsy report is a preliminary one. The final cause of death may not be known for three months, Sullivan's office said.

White died at Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville, N.C., after his wife, Sara, had called 911 from their home in nearby Cornelius. White had sarcoidosis for several years, family spokesman Keith Johnson said, the AP reported.

A two-time National Football League Defensive Player of the Year, White was also an ordained minister.

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Young Males Least Likely to Use Seat Belts: Survey

Young men between 19 and 29 years old were the group least likely to wear a seat belt while driving or riding in a car, a new U.S. government report shows.

The analysis, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also shows that 88 percent of people between 16 and 64 years old were reported to always or nearly always use seat belts. This number is close to the goal set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to increase national seat belt use to 90 percent by the year 2005, according to a prepared statement.

The data, from a 2002 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality survey, also found that:

  • Teens between 16 and 18 were the most likely to use seat belts. Only about 3 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys were reported to have never used their seat belt.
  • Non-students ages 19 to 21 were four times as likely not to use their seat belts as students of the same age (12 percent compared with 3 percent).
  • People with a high school education were twice as likely not to wear their seat belts as those with some higher education (almost 8 percent compared with almost 4 percent).
  • People living in non-metropolitan areas were more than twice as likely not to wear their seat belts as people living in large metropolitan areas (about 9 percent vs. 4 percent).

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Conn. Governor Has Breast Cancer

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell was undergoing a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery Monday after being diagnosed with breast cancer, her staff announced.

Tests show the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes, and Rell, 58, will be in Danbury Hospital for three days. According to a statement released by her office, she will continue to govern while recuperating and intends to deliver her State of the State address when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 5.

A routine mammogram discovered calcium deposits, which were removed. During that procedure, two other lumps were discovered and one was found to be cancerous, the Hartford Courant reported.

Rich Harris, a Rell spokesman, said the governor's staff does not believe Rell will require radiation or chemotherapy treatment following the surgery.

Rell downplayed the illness in her statement, saying she was looking forward to watching the UConn football team play the Motor City Bowl on ESPN Monday night. "My family is here with me for the holidays, and the doctors and I are ready," Rell said. "Nothing is going to keep me from cheering for the Huskies."

Connecticut's only other woman governor, Ella Grasso, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1980 while in office, and died of the disease in 1981.

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Pediatric Heart Surgeon an Apparent Suicide

Christmas joy was transformed into sorrow Sunday.

The surgeon who transplanted a heart into a 14-year-old Arkansas boy so the teenager was able to be home for Christmas, apparently committed suicide in Little Rock.

The Associated Press reported that Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb, 45, who had achieved national fame through an ABC News documentary focusing on his surgical skill, died from an apparently intentional drug overdose. The announcement was made by Arkansas Children's Hospital, where Drummond-Webb was chief of pediatric and congenital cardiac surgery.

His wife found the body, the hospital press release said. The wire service quoted a hospital official as saying that friends believe the surgeon suffered a sudden bout of depression.

The 2002 ABC series on Drummond-Webb focused on his phenomenal success record at the time: 830 surgeries in 18 months with a 2 percent mortality rate. His latest success was Travis Marcus of Cabot, Ark., who first had been fitted with a miniature artificial heart and then had undergone a transplant. He was able to leave the hospital last Thursday, after four months, to be home in time for Christmas.

The AP quoted Dr. Jonathan Bates, chief executive officer of the hospital, about Drummond-Webb's dedication: "Some [surgeons] would say they saved 98 out of 100," Bates said Sunday. "He looked at it and said, 'I lost two out of 100.' "

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