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Health Highlights: July 30, 2005

Lou Gehrig's Disease Drug May Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Lethal Bird Flu Strain Found in RussiaFootball Coaches Reminded That Summer Practice Can Kill Bush Signs Patient Safety LegislationRobins Most Likely Carriers of West Nile, Study Says FDA Bans Use of Antibiotic in Poultry

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

Lou Gehrig's Disease Drug May Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

A drug used to treat symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can also help people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who haven't responded to other medications.

Yale University School of Medicine researchers conducted a study using 13 patients with OCD who had not responded to other medications, according to a university news release. And although the study was a small one, the preliminary results are promising, according to a statement from the study's first author, Dr. Vladimir Coric, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and director of the Yale OCD clinic.

Imaging studies of the brain have shown that people with OCD have an overabundance of glutamate, a brain neurotransmitter. The Yale research team tested the study participants with a drug called riluzole, which modulates glutamate content. Riluzole has been effective in treating some of the symptoms of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The results showed that seven of the patients had a 35 percent reduction in symptoms and five were categorized as responsive to the treatment. One patient left the study. The test results were presented July 29 at the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation annual conference in San Diego.


Lethal Bird Flu Strain Found in Russia

Russian health investigators have identified the dangerous strain of bird flu that's swept Asia among fowl in Russia's Novosibirsk region, the Associated Press reported Friday.

No human infections have been reported in Russia, though the lethal H5N1 strain has killed about 60 people in Asia over the past two years. Russian officials said all of the dead or infected birds found in Russia have been incinerated, the AP reported.

Russia's chief epidemiologist speculated that the virus that's affected chicken, geese, ducks, and turkeys could have been introduced by migrating birds that rest on the Siberian region's lakes, the wire service said.

Separately, Vietnam announced Friday that two more people had died of bird flu, raising the country's human bird flu toll to 41 since 2003. Other human deaths have been recorded in Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia.


Football Coaches Reminded That Summer Practice Can Kill

As much of the United States endures one of the hottest summers in recent years, football practice has begun at all levels -- high school, college and professional.

This has prompted a reminder from a sports health expert from the University of North Carolina that three U.S. football players died from the results of heat stroke in 2004, deaths that could have been prevented. Dr. Frederick Mueller, chairman of the American Football Coaches Committee of Football Injuries and chair of exercise and sports science at UNC, says in a news release that coaches need to be alert to their players' reaction to the heat during practice sessions.

"No athlete should ever die from getting too hot during practice or games," he says. "Such tragedies are 100 percent preventable." Mueller says 24 football players at all levels have died from heat stroke since 1995.

He suggests the following procedures for teams practicing in the heat: Players should get all the water they want in practice and have frequent cooling-off breaks; shorter practices and non-contact drills without helmets; coaches and trainers should keep a close watch on temperatures and humidity; practices should be held early or late in the day; if it's too hot, coaches need to consider canceling them for a day.

Finally, Mueller says, "Players should be encouraged to tell coaches or trainers if they don't feel good. They should never be made to feel weak [inadequate] if they have trouble."


Bush Signs Patient Safety Legislation

Legislation creating a nationwide system for reporting and analyzing medical errors was signed into law Friday by President Bush.

The signing ended years of debate over whether to make the system mandatory or voluntary. The new law makes it voluntary for hospitals to confidentially report mistakes; such reports could not be used in malpractice suits, according to the Washington Post.

A 1999 report on medical errors from the National Institute of Medicine found that as many as 100,000 Americans die each year due to medical mistakes. At present, 23 states have systems for collecting reports of these errors, and all but one is mandatory, the Post said.

Hospitals and medical providers have long argued against mandatory reporting systems, saying voluntary ones would encourage more doctors and hospitals to participate, the newspaper reported.

"This law strikes the proper balance between confidentiality and the need to ensure responsibility throughout the health care system," the American Medical Association said in a statement praising the presidential bill signing.

Under the law, hospitals are encouraged to report their mistakes confidentially to groups known as patient safety organizations. These groups ultimately could contract with the facilities to analyze past problems and prevent future mistakes. The federal government, at a five-year cost of about $60 million, would develop the computer network and help coordinate the nationwide effort, the newspaper said.


Robins Most Likely Carriers of West Nile, Study Says

The bird most often associated with the coming of spring may also be the most likely to carry the sometime-fatal West Nile Virus

The Associated Press that a DNA analysis of blood taken from the abdomens of 300 mosquitoes in Connecticut during the past three years indicated that at least 80 percent of the West Nile virus had come from the blood of robins. Before this analysis had been done, many scientists believed the crow was the primary carrier of the virus.

But the DNA study showed that only one percent of the West Nile virus found in the mosquitoes came from crows, the A.P. says.

Through July 15, 11 states had reported 25 cases of human West Nile virus-related illness, including one fatality, according to research released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The toll so far doesn't compare to last year at the same time, when there were 108 cases in about 10 states.

The Connecticut findings have been turned over to the CDC publication in the agency journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.


FDA Bans Use of Antibiotic in Poultry

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it would ban use of the antibiotic Baytril to treat infections in poultry, saying the medication was promoting a drug-resistant form of bacteria called Campylobacter.

The decision, announced by FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford, only affects the Bayer Corp. drug's use in poultry, the agency said in a prepared statement. Campylobacter is the leading bacterial cause of food poisoning in the United States.

The move, the first withdrawal of a veterinary drug on the basis of antibiotic resistance concerns, was immediately applauded by Consumers Union as an important step in protecting public health.


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