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Health Highlights: Jan. 4, 2004

Strong Indication China Has SARS Case Livestock Tracking System May Take Years to DevelopMRI the Latest Treatment for Depression? Woman Sues Over False HIV Diagnosis VA Shortens Wait for Non-Emergency Appointments

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

Strong Indication China Has SARS Case

Although tests have yet to confirm it, Chinese authorities strongly indicated Friday that a 32-year-old television producer has severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The BBC reports that China's official news agency says that gene sequencing of the virus points to the first case in that nation since July. "There is a possibility that the patient may have contracted the SARS... virus," the BBC quotes the agency, Xinhua, as saying.

The patient is being monitored via closed circuit television in Guangdong province, where the epidemic began in late 2002. The virus has since claimed 774 lives.

The World Health Organization said that the patient "has suffered from pneumonia and displayed signs and symptoms that could fit the profile of SARS," according to the BBC. "However, such signs and symptoms could be caused by a large number of other infectious diseases."

On Tuesday, a medical researcher in Taiwan who came down with SARS in a lab accident was released from the hospital after doctors determined that he posed no further threat of infecting anyone, the BBC says.

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Livestock Tracking System May Take Years to Develop

As U.S. government workers continue to track down cattle that may have come from the same herd as the one infected with mad cow disease, an official has told The New York Times that a national tracking system may take "a year or two" to phase in.

It became evident during the past two weeks that the nation needed to develop a better and more systemized way to trace livestock, because it took some time to discover where the Washington State dairy cow had come from. According to the Times, a new tracking system would be able to find cattle involved or exposed to mad cow disease within 48 hours of discovery.

"These timelines are very aggressive, and it will be a huge task to get the system in place and operational to the extent we'd like it," Scott Stuart, president of the National Livestock Producers Association, a group in Colorado Springs, told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, investigators say they have tracked nine cows to a herd that included the one infected with mad cow disease in December.

The Washington Post reports that the animals were exported from a farm in Alberta, Canada, to one in Washington state. Finding these animals is critical because of concerns that the animals may have eaten that same contaminated feed that sickened the Holstein diagnosed with mad cow disease.

According to the Post, the farm in Mabton, Wash., has quarantined 4,000 cattle since the one cow was infected. A case of mad cow disease was reported in Alberta earlier in 2003, raising concerns that both cases may be tied to the same source of contaminated feed.

The discovery came a day after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a ban on "downer" cows, those that can no longer walk, from the food supply.

There was also some hopeful news about whether any other infected meat had entered the marketplace. A USDA spokesperson told the Times that while it was "theoretically possible" that some of the missing cows had already entered the food supply, the government considered it unlikely. The suspected herd was all dairy cows, and those animals are not slaughtered until they stop giving milk, which can last for many years.

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MRI the Latest Treatment for Depression?

Undergoing an MRI might offer an uplifting experience.

The Wall Street Journal reports that researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. tested a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on 40 patients who suffered from bipolar disorder. One symptom of bipolar disorder is depression.

The results, which are published in the current issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, indicated that using an MRI on depressed patients makes them feel better.

According to the Journal, 77 percent of the those who underwent an MRI with an extremely weak magnetic field felt better after the brain scan. "Significant differences in mood improvement were found between the bipolar disorder subjects who received actual EP-MRSI and those who received sham EP-MRSI..." the researchers concluded.

Woman Sues Over False HIV Diagnosis

A Massachusetts woman who received nine years of HIV treatments she didn't need is suing the doctors and clinics who misdiagnosed and treated her.

According to the Associated Press, Audrey Serrano, 41, claims she was diagnosed in 1994 with HIV, a precursor to AIDS, and was treated by doctors at the Family Practice Clinic (now called All Family Care Inc.) in Fitchburg. A number of physicians are also named in the Dec. 29 suit, as well as the University of Massachusetts medical center in Worcester. Serrano says that six blood tests since Labor Day 2003 show she does not have HIV.

"It's nice to not constantly feel like you're going to die, literally," she told the wire service. "I'm still tired a lot, though." The basis of the lawsuit, which claims unspecified damages, is that Serrano suffered a variety of physical ailments -- including colitis, an inflammation of the intestine -- because of AZT and other harsh medicines she took daily to fight the virus, which attacks the immune system, according to the AP. Also listed in the lawsuit are emotional distress and depression.

So far as UMass Memorial is concerned, spokesman Mark L. Shelton told the wire service that the hospital did nothing wrong. "UMass Memorial has not treated anyone for HIV who did not have HIV, and there is no factual basis for reporting otherwise," he said in a prepared statement.

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VA Shortens Wait for Non-Emergency Appointments

The long waiting lines at VA hospitals may soon be over for some veterans.

The Associated Press reports that veterans who need medical help because of health problems resulting from their military service are going to the front of the line for non-emergency appointments.

These new rules from the Department of Veterans Affairs are a follow-up to an October announcement by VA Secretary Anthony Principi that priority appointments would be given to veterans with 50 percent disability or more. Until Principi established the policy, these veterans were not always given priority treatment.

According to the wire service, the new rule changes a policy in which veterans with war injuries or certain cancers related to Agent Orange exposure and who are not severely disabled, waited with other veterans for appointments.

"If a veteran cannot see a doctor in a timely manner, then we have failed that veteran," Principi told the AP. The wire service reported that the following procedures would be in effect:

  • Appointments for such veterans must be scheduled within 30 days of the request.
  • When an appointment is unavailable, the VA must arrange for care at another VA facility or contract for out for it.
  • Any veteran needing emergency care still will be treated immediately.

Some veterans had been waiting as long as two years for a non-emergency VA appointment, the wire service said.

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