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Health Highlights: May 30, 2005

Boston Officials Report Rare STD Canadian Red Cross Guilty of Distributing Tainted Blood Surgery Board Exam Answers Sold on eBay Hundreds of Sex Offenders Got Viagra Via Medicaid: Report Uninsured Focus of Secret Meetings by Health Experts

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

Boston Officials Report Rare STD

Six patients in the Boston area, as well as individuals in three other U.S. cities, have come down with a rare condition called Lymphogranuloma venerum (LGV), health officials report. The disease is a type of chlamydia infection that is rarely fatal but can damage the bowels and scar the anus.

So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have also confirmed cases in San Francisco, Atlanta and New York, the Associated Press reported Monday. All of the patients are either gay or bisexual men. One Boston patient told his doctor he thought he was infected during a recent trip to Brazil.

"This is probably a case of biological tourism," Dr. Daniel Cohen, a Boston infectious disease specialist who works at the clinic where the man was treated, told the AP.

LGV is usually a disease of the tropics, but Netherlands officials also noted a jump in cases last year, from the usual two or three cases per year to 92 cases by November of 2004.

Unprotected anal intercourse is the leading risk factor for LGV, so experts are worried it may also signal higher levels of unsafe sex among gay men. The disease is treated with antibiotics if caught early and is almost never fatal. Early signs include a pimple or lesion on the genitals.

Dr. Hillard Weinstock, a CDC medical epidemiologist, told the AP his agency will coordinate with state labs to increase surveillance and testing for the infection.

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Canadian Red Cross Guilty of Distributing Tainted Blood

The Canadian Red Cross plead guilty Monday to distributing infected blood during the 1980s, infecting an estimated 20,000 people with the hepatitis C virus and another 1,000 with HIV, the Bloomberg news agency reported.

The agency will pay a C$5,000 ($3,980) fine along with C$1.5 million to establish charities aimed at funding scholarships for members of affected families and to start the National Medical Error Project, to help spot and eliminate improper medical procedures.

"We profoundly regret that the Canadian Red Cross Society did not develop and adopt more quickly measures to reduce the risks of infection," agency chief executive Pierre Duplessis said in a video-taped statement submitted to Ontario Superior Court in Hamilton.

The agency sold off its Canadian blood operations in 1998 to help pay C$70 million in damages to infected individuals.

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Surgery Board Exam Answers Sold on eBay

The American Board of Surgery will rewrite its certifying exam and change its examination rules after 86 answers to the test turned up for auction on eBay in August, 2004.

According to the Associated Press, Craig Edward Amshel, a St. Augustine, Fla., rectal specialist, failed the 2002 exam. However, under rules in place at the time test-takers were allowed to review their tests privately.

According to his lawyer, David R. Dearden, Amshel then sold sets of questions that were auctioned off on eBay for up to $300 each.

Amshel -- who passed the board's test in 2003 -- has since had his board certification revoked and has agreed to pay $36,000, the estimated cost of drafting new questions, the AP reported.

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Hundreds of Sex Offenders Got Viagra Via Medicaid: Report

Nearly 800 convicted sex offenders in 14 states got prescriptions for Viagra and other impotence drugs that were paid for by the federal Medicaid program, according to a survey by the Associated Press.

Most of the cases were in New York, Florida and Texas, the news service said.

According to the AP survey, the states that provided registered sex offenders with the impotence drugs are Florida, 218 cases; New York, 198; Texas, 191; New Jersey, 55; Virginia, 52; Missouri, 26; Kansas, 14; Ohio, 13; Michigan, seven; Maine, five; Georgia, three; Montana, three; Alabama, two; and North Dakota, one.

New York was the first state to discover that Medicaid had paid for Viagra prescriptions for sex offenders. That revelation prompted the federal government to order states to stop the coverage for these felons, the AP said.

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Uninsured Focus of Secret Meetings by Health Experts

A diverse group of health experts has been secretly meeting for months to craft a proposal that will expand healthcare coverage to as many uninsured people as possible, The New York Times reported on its website.

The issue has cooled in Washington since the collapse of President Clinton's proposal for universal healthcare coverage in 1994, but the problem is increasingly urgent among people who provide healthcare coverage and those who pay for it, the newspaper reported.

The Census Bureau said 45 million Americans had no health insurance in 2003, up by more than 5 million from 2000.

The group's 24 participants include executives from AARP; the AFL-CIO; the American Hospital Association; the American Medical Association; America's Health Insurance Plans, the trade association for health insurers; the National Conference of State Legislatures; the National Governors Association; Pfizer; Blue Cross and Blue Shield; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Families USA, and the Heritage Foundation, the Times said.

The report said the participants hope to avoid political pressure by meeting in secret. While no agreement has been reached, plans that have been discussed include tax incentives for the purchase of insurance, changing Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, the creation of purchasing pools at the state level, and increasing federal spending.

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