Health Highlights: Nov. 23, 2003

China to Test SARS Vaccine Nursing Home Care for Alzheimer's Inadequate Burger King to Breast-Feeders: Have It Your Way Daschle Vows Medicare Fight in Senate U.S. Confirms Scallions Caused Hepatitis Outbreak FDA Panel Backs Wrinkle Gels

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

China to Test SARS Vaccine

China plans to test the first SARS vaccine on humans by the end of December.

A senior health official said that the vaccine has been successful against monkeys and had no side effects, the BBC reports. The official, Yin Hongzhang, said that if the schedule remains in effect, China would be the first nation to try to vaccinate against the pneumonia-like virus, according to the BBC account.

China's Guangdong province was the origin of the first known outbreak of the virus last year, and that nation suffered the most. Of the 800 known deaths worldwide, 349 occurred in China, which also accounted for 5,327 of the 8,000 or so infections worldwide, the BBC reports.

Experts believe that SARS may be a seasonal vaccine, and it began appearing in November 2002. The World Health Organization believes it would take two years to develop a successful SARS vaccine.

-----

Nursing Home Care for Alzheimer's Inadequate

A new study finds that people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are not receiving the care they need in nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.

The study by University of North Carolina researchers, funded by the Alzheimer's Association, finds that many patients in these facilities are undernourished, depressed, and not being treated for pain. It also found that what the facilities reported did not match what the patients were saying.

Specifically, the study found that 54.1 percent of the residents had low food intake, while the staff at these facilities said only 13.7 percent were. Also, half the patients did not get enough fluids, yet the facilities said only 6.9 percent were.

Forty percent of the patients who experienced pain got no medication for it, according to the study. And although roughly a quarter of these patients were depressed, only 28 percent of them were receiving any medication for it.

The study was to be presented in San Diego Sunday at a meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.

-----

Burger King to Breast-Feeders: Have It Your Way

On the eve of a planned "nurse-in" at its restaurants on Saturday, Burger King announced that it would allow breast-feeding in its establishments.

The world's second largest restaurant franchise was facing a massive protest nationwide after an employee at a suburban Salt Lake City franchise asked a woman to either leave or go to the bathroom because her nursing was bothering another customer.

The new policy tells Burger King employees to explain kindly to customers who complain that breast-feeding is allowed in its dining areas. If that's a problem for the complainant, then that customer is free to move to another part of the restaurant, according to the Associated Press.

Rob Doughty, a Burger King spokesman, said that the policy, announced Friday, was already in the works and was not meant to defuse Saturday's protest, the AP reports.

"We want to be a family-friendly place," Doughty said. "We want to be responsive to our customers, and didn't know this was a big issue. Unfortunately in Utah, it went directly to the press, and we didn't have a chance to take a look at it."

Catherine Geary, the Utah mother who was asked to leave, told the Salt Lake Tribune that she was happy with the company's stance. "It's great. I think Burger King has done everything that I've asked them to do," she told the paper.

-----

Daschle Vows Medicare Fight in Senate

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Sunday that the Medicare overhaul that barely passed the House early Saturday would face a vigorous fight in the Senate.

Daschle, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, added, however, that he didn't think there were enough votes to filibuster the bill.

"We will fight this bill as hard as we possibly can," Daschle said. "We have a number of procedural options available to us, and we're going to use them all."

The U.S. House of Representatives barely passed a Republican-sponsored Medicare and prescription drug bill early Saturday after some last-minute maneuvering and middle-of-the-night phone calls to wavering members.

The bill, which would mark the biggest changes in Medicare since the program was enacted in 1965, now moves to the U.S. Senate.

Democrats who oppose the bill held the vote lead through most of the night, CNN reports, but Republicans held off on making the final tally while President Bush and other GOP leaders made calls urging some members to change their minds.

The roll-call vote, which the Washington Post says was the longest in memory, lasted some three hours. Just before dawn, GOP leaders convinced two Republican congressmen, C.L. "Butch" Otter of Idaho and Trent Franks of Arizona, to vote "yes." A few other fence-sitters followed suit.

The final vote was 220 for, 215 against.

The bill, which would add a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program and expand the role of private insurers, has created deep divisions in Congress. Supporters call it a fundamental change that would help older Americans rein in their prescription drug costs, while opponents see it as a handout to insurers and drug companies that would ruin Medicare.

Under the bill, starting in 2006 all of the 40 million Americans under Medicare would get subsidized coverage for drugs if they join a private insurer that would provide the rest of their care, according to the Post account.

-----

U.S. Confirms Scallions Caused Hepatitis Outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Friday that green onions used in a mild salsa were responsible for the nation's largest outbreak of hepatitis A.

On Saturday, health officials declared that the worst was over. "We do feel like this particular outbreak has been successfully ended," the Associated Press quotes CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding as saying.

The outbreak has killed three and sickened 600 people who ate at a Chi-Chi's restaurant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The Food and Drug Administration has announced that it is probing other hepatitis outbreaks in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. Hepatitis A is a virus that attacks the liver

The scallions were imported from Mexico, and the FDA has ordered any shipments to be halted at the border.

The government is alerting consumers to use other types of onions. If you do have green onions, the FDA urges you to cook them thoroughly, as if in a casserole. If you are at a restaurant, the FDA advises to ask for a substitute onion.

-----

FDA Panel Backs Wrinkle Gels

An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration gave smooth sailing Friday to competing gels that would combat wrinkles.

The panel voted to recommend approval of Restylane by Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. and Hylaform by Inamed Corp., two gels that are already on the market in Europe and Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The newspaper reports that the gels could command sales of up to $150 million a year, and erode the popularity of collagen treatments.

The recommendation came with some restrictions, the Times reports. The panel said the gels were inadequately tested in people of color, and that post-marketing tests shoul

Consumer News