Health Highlights: July 22, 2003

Which U.S. Hospital Ranks Highest? Infant Mortality Under-Reported in Eastern Europe: U.N. U.S. Considers Restricting Common Poison Treatment 19 Charged With Altering Cancer, AIDS Drugs Transplant Patients May Have Been SARS 'Superspreaders' Conjoined Korean Twins Separated

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

Which U.S. Hospital Ranks Highest?

Johns Hopkins Hospital is the highest-ranking U.S. medical center, according to the annual survey conducted by U.S. News and World Report.

There aren't any real surprises in the top 17 hospitals, which were given two points for what the magazine calls "Best Hospital Specialties." Some of these specialties include heart and heart surgery, cancer treatment, respiratory illnesses, orthopedics, eye diseases and injuries, and endocrinology.

The top 10 hospitals are:

1) Johns Hopkins, Baltimore
2) Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
3) UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles
4) Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
5) Cleveland Clinic
6) Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.
7) University of California, San Francisco Medical Center
8) Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis
9) University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor
10) University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle

For the complete list, including the best hospitals classified by specialty, go to U.S. News and World Report's online site.


Infant Mortality Under-Reported in Eastern Europe, U.N. Says

Infant mortality rates in many Caucasus and Central Asian countries are much higher than reported by their governments, according to a UNICEF report issued Tuesday that expressed alarm at what it called a hidden crisis.

UNICEF's executive director, Carol Bellamy, told a press conference that infant mortality rates in eight of the countries are more than double those in Latin America and far higher than in East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, the Associated Press reports.

The U.N. agency interviewed women in eight countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia plus Romania and Ukraine to learn if many deaths of children in their first year might be going unreported.

One of the widest discrepancies was found in Azerbaijan, where the estimated rate was 74 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births vs. the official rate of 17 per 1,000, said the report, by UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center in Florence, Italy.

In Tajikistan the rates were 89 per 1,000 estimated vs. the official 47 per 1,000; in Turkmenistan , it was 74 vs. 33; Kazakhstan, 62 vs. 24; Kyrgyzstan, 61 vs. 29; Uzbekistan, 49 vs. 30; Georgia, 43 vs. 16; and Armenia 36 vs. 15. Official infant mortality rates in the two other countries surveyed either had much narrower or virtually negligible differences: Romania (32 vs. 21) and Ukraine (16 vs. 14).

In comparison, the report cited an infant mortality rate in advanced industrialized nations in 2000 of 4.8. It blamed under-reporting in large part on the different ways countries define infant mortality.


U.S. Considers Restricting Common Poison Treatment

A decades-old treatment to induce vomiting in children after accidental poisoning may soon be restricted by the U.S. government amid growing evidence that the treatment doesn't really work that well.

Ipecac has been kept in the medicine chest by generations of parents. But recent research suggests it's not appropriate for all cases of possible poisoning, and may not work as billed when it is used, the Associated Press reports.

Last year, only 16,000 cases of ipecac treatment were recorded by the nation's poison control centers, down from 150,000 cases in 1986. Experts now say children often don't swallow enough of a poisonous substance to warrant its use.

An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently voted to rescind nonprescription sales of the syrup; a vote by the full FDA is pending. And the American Association of Poison Control Centers and American Academy of Pediatrics are writing new guidelines to discourage ipecac's use in almost every instance of poisoning, the AP reports.

The best advice if there's a suspected poisoning is to immediately call the nationwide poison-control center hot line at 1-800-222-1222.


19 Charged With Altering Cancer, AIDS Drugs

Nineteen people have been indicted in Florida for allegedly selling bogus or diluted medications for cancer and AIDS.

The indictments were handed down Monday amid a statewide investigation of pharmaceutical wholesalers suspected of peddling weakened or bogus drugs, reports the Associated Press.

None of the people charged has been implicated in any deaths, although charges against them include racketeering, conspiracy, and prescription drug fraud. The defendants made tens of millions of dollars from the scheme, prosecutors allege.

Drugs involved include Neupogen and Epogen -- used to treat AIDS/HIV and cancer -- and Gammagard for HIV patients, the AP reports.


Transplant Patients May Have Been SARS 'Superspreaders'

Organ transplant patients whose immune systems are weakened by anti-rejection drugs are at particularly high risk for SARS, and may have been virus "superspreaders," Canada's National Post says.

The report cites two transplant patients in Toronto who contracted a more severe, harder-to-treat form of the disease and spread it to numerous others. Area hospitals have since devised new guidelines for isolating and treating transplant patients, the Post says.

Another Canadian newspaper, the Toronto Star, reports that an international team of scientists has confirmed "beyond doubt" that the coronavirus is responsible for SARS. Led by Dutch virology professor Albert Osterhaus, the team tested samples from 436 SARS patients in six countries.

Three-quarters of the samples tested were positive for the coronavirus -- a mutated form of the same germ responsible for the common cold, the scientists found. Those whose samples didn't contain the virus were probably misdiagnosed and died from another illnesses -- most likely the flu, the scientists speculate.


Conjoined Korean Twins Separated

Just two weeks after failed surgery to separate two adult Iranian twins joined at the skull, doctors at the same Singapore hospital have successfully separated two Korean infants conjoined at the pelvis and lower spine.

Unlike the far riskier surgery on the Iranian sisters, the operation on the Korean infants -- 4-month-old Sa Rang and Ji Hye -- had been given an 85 percent chance of success. The surgical team for the Koreans included Dr. Keith Goh, who had led the failed procedure on the Iranians, CNN reports.

The Korean parents, who had met and were encouraged by the Iranian twins before the ill-fated surgery, said they were determined to proceed with the operation on their toddlers despite the women's deaths.

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