Health Highlights: March 16, 2004

Drug-Resistant TB Called a Growing Global Problem Acupuncture Soothes Headaches Acupuncturist Used Improperly Cleaned Needles Britain Bans Thousands from Donating Blood Sick Popcorn Worker Awarded $20 Million Thailand Reports New Bird Flu Death

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

Drug-Resistant TB Called a Growing Global Problem

Tuberculosis is becoming more and more resistant worldwide to antibiotics, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

As many as 300,000 new cases of drug-resistant TB are reported each year around the world, and about eight of 10 cases are "superstrains" resistant to three of the four first-line antibiotics, according to an analysis of the WHO survey by The New York Times.

The problem is particularly acute in the former Soviet Union, where infected people are 10 times as likely to have drug-resistant strains of TB than anywhere else, the WHO reports.

And the survey's authors say the problem may be even worse than measured, since statistics were difficult to come by in places like Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, and Nigeria.

One expert tells the Times the last new TB drug was introduced in 1963, and newer medications are urgently needed. Shortages often force patients to cut back on medications, allowing the TB bacterium to mutate into forms that are resistant to the drugs.

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Acupuncture Soothes Headaches

Acupuncture provides effective treatment for chronic headaches, British experts say in a study published in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers analyzed 401 people who suffered several days of severe headaches each week. Some received up to 12 acupuncture treatments over three months while those in the control group received other forms of treatment, such as medication, BBC News Online reports.

All of the study participants kept a diary of their headache and medication use and recorded the severity of their headaches on a six-point scale.

The people who received acupuncture had an average of 22 fewer days of headaches per year, made 25 percent fewer visits to the doctor, used 15 percent less medication, and were off work 15 percent less than those in the control group.

"[The study] is very positive for us. This should help to lift acupuncture out of what is seen to be alternative to mainstream medicine," Dr. Mike Cummings, medical director of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, told BBC News.

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Acupuncturist Used Improperly Cleaned Needles

Public health officials in Quebec, Canada, are telling about 1,200 patients of a Montreal acupuncturist to get tested for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis because the acupuncturist used needles that were improperly cleaned.

Acupuncturist Suzanne Sicotte disinfected, but did not sterilize, needles that she re-used on different patients, The Globe and Mail reports.

Public health officials have sent registered letters to 1,444 people known to have received acupuncture treatment from Sicotte since 1979. People who receive the letters are being urged to consult a nurse or a doctor and to have blood tests for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and hepatitis B. These are all blood-borne diseases that can be transmitted by infected needles.

Horacio Arruda, director of public health for the Quebec Ministry of Health, said there's only a small chance that someone would have been infected during the acupuncture treatments. When acupuncture needles are inserted under the skin, they don't normally draw blood, he said.

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Britain Bans Thousands from Donating Blood

Thousands of people in Great Britain have been banned from donating blood due to fears about the human form of mad cow disease.

The ban, which applies to all people who have had blood transfusions since 1980, comes three months after it was revealed that a British man who died from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) may have been infected with the disease when he received a blood transfusion.

The man received the blood in 1997 and developed vCJD six years later, BBC News Online reports.

This is the first reported case of possible vCJD transmission through blood. There is no proof that the man was infected via the blood transfusion but a possible link can't be ruled out.

Health Secretary John Reid described the ban as a "precautionary measure" and says it was about "balancing risks."

The United States, France and a number of other countries already ban blood donations from people who have lived in Great Britain.

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Sick Popcorn Worker Awarded $20 Million

A former popcorn-factory worker with severe breathing problems has been awarded $20 million by a jury that sided with the worker's claim that the butter flavoring used in microwave popcorn damaged his lungs.

Eric Peoples, 32, is the first of 30 former workers at a factory in Jasper, Mo., to have his case decided by a jury, reports USA Today. He developed a severe cough in 1998 and is now functioning with 20 percent lung capacity, the newspaper says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they're investigating workers' claims that a chemical used in the buttery flavoring in microwave popcorn is to blame for the lung ailment now referred to as "Popcorn Packers' Lung."

Spokespeople from both agencies maintain that microwave popcorn is safe for consumers to pop and eat at home, USA Today reports.

Monday's judgment was made against New York-based International Flavors and Fragrances, maker of the buttery flavoring. The company could not be reached for comment, the newspaper says.

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Thailand Reports New Bird Flu Death

A 39-year-old factory worker in Thailand has become Asia's 23rd human fatality in the three-month-old bird flu epidemic, the Associated Press reports.

The woman is believed to have been infected on or about March 1 by chickens at a neighbor's house. She died Friday, but her death was not confirmed until Tuesday.

Meanwhile, China has declared itself free of known cases, while Japan has imposed new penalties against farmers who fail to report bird flu infections among fowl, the AP reports.

Despite the human deaths, early fears expressed by the World Health Organization and others that the H5N1 bird flu virus could mix with a human strain of flu and spark a pandemic among people haven't come to fruition, the wire service notes.

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