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Health Highlights: July 30, 2003

Medical Schools Go Virtual AMA Guides Doctors on Older Drivers Farmed Salmon May Have High PCB Levels U.S. Hospitals Unprepared for SARS, Report Says Black & Decker Drills Recalled for Fire Hazard

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

Medical Schools Go Virtual

Medical school students will now be able to earn a degree without going through the time-honored tradition of working on a cadaver.

A consortium of schools is setting up the "International Virtual Medical School," allowing students to study for two years without practicing on fellow students or even going to the classroom, the Boston Globe reports.

Distance learning has become commonplace since the advent of the Internet, but such was not the case for medical school, where students were expected to receive hands-on training. But advances in computers are changing all that, according to the Globe, especially with their ability to simulate the human body.

"I've come to believe that e-learning is a powerful way to deliver science material," Steven Smith, associate dean for medical education at Brown University in Providence, R.I., told the paper. Smith designed the curriculum for the consortium, which includes 38 other institutions, including the University of Michigan.

Under the program, students would be allowed to take courses via computer for the first two years. After that, the Globe says, they will have to spend two years training at a clinical hospital.

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AMA Guides Doctors on Older Drivers

Doctors are only a mouse click away from getting help in determining whether their older patients are fit to drive.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has placed on the Internet a guide to help physicians determine whether the various medical conditions of their elderly patients could make them dangerous behind a wheel.

"It's a lot easier to prevent tragedy than to deal with tragedy once it has occurred," the Associated Press quotes Dr. John Armstrong, an AMA trustee, as saying.

The guide comes in the wake of two tragedies involving older drivers in the last few weeks. One, in California, killed 10 people in a farmer's market, while a second, in Florida, injured three. However, the AMA said the guide was conceived and finished long before those accidents, according to the AP.

The AMA guide says that elderly drivers are a "public health issue." Car crashes are the leading cause of injury death to people between the ages of 65 and 74. And in people 85 and over, the death rate from accidents is nine times higher than it is for drivers between 25 and 69 years old.

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Farmed Salmon May Have High PCB Levels

Farmed salmon may be contaminated with higher levels of PCBs than any other source of protein, including all seafood.

That's the conclusion of a report released Wednesday by an environmental advocacy firm.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are an industrial byproduct that have been shown to be a probable cause of cancer, reports The New York Times. They were banned in the United States in 1976.

Salmon for human consumption -- 60 percent of it farmed -- has become the third most popular seafood, behind tuna and shrimp. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published advisories saying salmon is so nutritionally beneficial that people should eat as much as they like, reports the newspaper.

But the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental research and advocacy organization, says the amount of PCBs found in farmed salmon exceed amounts recommended in guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999.

And while the levels don't exceed those in regulations issued by the FDA in 1984, the newspaper cites an FDA press officer who says the agency is "actively looking at the science to see if the science dictates that it needs to be changed."

The Environmental Working Group tested salmon from five countries, including Canada and the United States. The group says some 23 million Americans eat salmon at least once a month.

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U.S. Hospitals Unprepared for SARS, Report Says

U.S. hospitals lack the trained workers, equipment and monetary resources necessary to handle an outbreak of SARS, according to a report by the independent investigative arm of Congress.

In a report released Wednesday, the General Accounting Office says a large-scale outbreak could cause "severe overcrowding," particularly it were to hit during the peak flu season, the Associated Press reports.

A GAO survey of 2,000 hospitals finds they generally lack sufficient quarantine and isolation facilities, air-filtering equipment, and respirators to care for a large number of infectious patients.

The United States dodged this year's wide-scale outbreak that affected Asia and Canada. Worldwide, the disease sickened more than 8,400 people and killed at least 812. The United States, by contrast, reported only 73 cases and no deaths.

However, many health experts believe the disease may return with the onset of colder weather, much like the flu.

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Black & Decker Drills Recalled for Fire Hazard

Black & Decker is recalling 265,000 18-volt cordless drill/drivers that can overheat, posing a fire hazard.

The company has received 20 reports of melting, smoking, or fires in the drills, including two minor burn injuries.

The following models and production dates are affected:

Model Number Date Codes Color
CD1800 20011952 through 20020652 Orange
PS3700 973652 through 983052 Jade
PS3725 20003852 through 20013652 Jade
PS3750 20002454 through 20005252 Jade

The model number is printed on the nameplate on the side of the drill and the date code is on the bottom of the handle where the battery is inserted.

Mass merchandisers, home centers and hardware stores nationwide sold the drills/drivers from September 1997 through February 2002 for between $50 and $80.

Consumers should stop using them immediately, remove the battery, and contact Black & Decker toll-free at 1-866-821-5444 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday to receive a free repair.

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