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Health Highlights: May 26, 2005

CDC Urges Meningitis Vaccine for Teens, College Freshmen N.Y. Halts Payments for Erectile Dysfunction Drugs More People Visiting E.R.s, But There Are Fewer to Visit R.I. Hamsters Test Positive for Killer Virus Pesticide Use Increases Parkinson's Risk: Study

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

CDC Urges Meningitis Vaccine for Teens, College Freshmen

Children 11 to 12 years old, unvaccinated teens entering high school, and college freshmen living in dormitories are among those at highest risk of deadly bacterial meningitis and should be routinely inoculated, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in new guidelines issued Thursday.

Meningitis is an infection of the spinal cord fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain. A bacterial form, medically referred to as meningococcal disease, infects up to 3,000 Americans every year, killing about 10 percent of its victims. Another 15 percent suffer long-term effects including hearing loss, limb amputation, and brain damage, the agency said.

The illness -- which peaks in people ages 16 to 18 -- is commonly spread among those sharing close quarters, like a college dorm. Symptoms including fever, headache, stiff neck, and fatigue may be misdiagnosed as flu. But the disease tends to progress rapidly and can kill within hours, the CDC said.

Sanofi Pasteur's new vaccine called MCV4 is a single shot that lasts longer than older vaccinations, the agency said. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January. The CDC said it hoped to recommend the vaccine to all children and young adults older than age 11 within three years as sufficient supplies become available.

The CDC guidelines were quickly endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and the National Meningitis Association.

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N.Y. Halts Payments for Erectile Dysfunction Drugs

New York State Gov. George Pataki has imposed a temporary ban on funding of all erectile dysfunction drugs until he introduces legislation to enable the state to cross-reference sex-offender lists with health databases.

The move is in response to revelations earlier this week that convicted sex offenders in the state were receiving ED drugs at taxpayers' expense, Newsday reported.

"I urge the Legislature to act quickly on this legislation that will allow us to put a targeted ban in place that will prevent sex offenders from receiving these drugs at taxpayer expense," Pataki said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Missouri state officials disclosed Wednesday that the state's Medicaid program paid for ED drugs for 26 convicted sex offenders during the last year.

The officials said that those prescriptions would not be refilled and that future orders for ED drugs would be checked to confirm that recipients are not on the sex-offender registry, the Kansas City Star reported.

The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a new regulation Tuesday that allows states to stop paying for impotence treatments for convicted sex offenders.

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More People Visiting E.R.s, But There Are Fewer to Visit

A record 114 million Americans visited a hospital emergency room in 2003, despite a steady decline in the number of E.R. facilities available nationwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report issued Thursday.

While E.R. visits shot up 26 percent over the decade from 1993 to 2003, the number of emergency department facilities fell 14 percent over that span, the CDC said.

People over age 65 accounted for the bulk of the increased visits to emergency rooms, the agency said. Medicaid patients were four times more likely to seek treatment there than people who had private insurance, indicating that the E.R. was often the place of first resort for poor and uninsured people.

The most common reasons for visiting the emergency room were injury, poisoning, and the adverse effects of prior medical treatment. The average wait time to see a doctor in 2003 was 46.5 minutes, about the same length of time recorded three years earlier, the CDC said.

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R.I. Hamsters Test Positive for Killer Virus

Two hamsters taken from a PetSmart store in Warwick, R.I., have tested positive for the virus that killed three organ transplant donors, the Providence Journal reported Thursday.

The organ donor, who died last month of an unrelated stroke, had bought an infected hamster at the same store, but investigators have not yet determined whether the same breeder supplied all three.

The hamster's virus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, or LCMV, apparently had entered the donor's organs, which were given to four people in transplants performed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the newspaper reported. Only one recipient survived.

Dr. David R. Gifford, Rhode Island director of health, said investigators are testing animals at the Arkansas breeder where the donor's hamster originated. They are also trapping wild mice around the donor's home to see if they may have been the source.

Four more transplant patient deaths linked to LCMV have also come to light, the Associated Press reported.

Wisconsin officials reported Tuesday that they believe the same virus caused the deaths of four transplant patients in 2003.

In addition, the Rhode Island Department of Health has warned that the virus appears to have been transmitted through urine or feces of the infected hamster, and that pregnant women should avoid all exposure to household pet rodents.

More than 100 hamsters, guinea pigs and mice from the Warwick store have been euthanized and sent to be tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Petsmart chain has asked its suppliers to check their stocks of pet rodents for LCMV. In healthy people, the virus causes only flu-like symptoms. But transplant patients take large doses of immune-suppressing drugs, which makes them more vulnerable.

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Pesticide Use Increases Parkinson's Risk: Study

The more exposure people have to pesticides, the greater their risk of Parkinson's disease, says a European study published in New Scientist magazine.

The study of 767 Parkinson's patients and 1,989 healthy people found that amateur gardeners and others who use small amounts of pesticides are 9 percent more likely to develop Parkinson's than people who don't use pesticides. Farmers and others who use large amounts of pesticides have a 43 percent increased risk of Parkinson's, AFX News reported.

The findings appear to strengthen the theory that pesticide use is linked to Parkinson's disease and confirms the need for pesticide users to wear protective gear. The study didn't identify specific pesticides that might be associated with Parkinson's.

The study authors also noted that there are other, more significant risk factors, such as having a family history of the disease and being knocked out multiple times, AFX News reported.

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