Health Highlights: Oct. 5, 2004

Major Flu Shot Shortages Predicted Report: Cities Misrepresent Lead Levels in Water Egypt Targets Elephantiasis Towel Radiators May Pose Burn Hazard Jeb Bush Seeks New Hearing in Right-to-Die Case Low-Fat Diet Prevents Gallstones

By HealthDay News HealthDay Reporter

Updated on October 05, 2004

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

Major Flu Shot Shortages Predicted

The British government abruptly withdrew the license Tuesday of a primary supplier of flu vaccines to the United States.

U.S. health officials were caught off-guard by the move, and quickly predicted significant flu shot shortages just as the flu season is set to begin, HealthDay reported.

British health authorities suspended the license of Chiron Corp. for three months. In August, the company discovered what it said were contamination problems at its Liverpool manufacturing plant.

Following Tuesday's announcement, the company said it couldn't provide any vaccines this year to the United States and other countries.

Chiron had planned to ship up to 48 million doses of the vaccine, none of which has been released. The company was to provide about half of the U.S. supply. Worldwide, the company is the second-leading flu vaccine producer behind the French drugmaker Aventis.

Flu shot campaigns typically begin in October, about a month before the season begins in the United States.

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Report: Cities Misrepresent Lead Levels in Water

Cities across the U.S., including some of the nation's largest, have manipulated data that shows unacceptable lead levels in drinking water, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Philadelphia and Boston discarded tests that showed high readings or avoided testing homes that were most likely to have high lead levels, the newspaper report said. And New York City withheld hundreds of unacceptable test results over the past two years, the report alleged.

And the federal government appears to be turning a blind eye to the problem, the Post reported. In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency -- which has the power to enforce lead regulations -- ordered utilities to fix violations in just 14 cases, less than one-tenth the number mandated in 1997, the newspaper said.

The Post examined water systems in 65 cities that had lead levels at or near federal maximums. Government and utility records demonstrate that in dozens of cases, utilities clouded data that showed the extent of lead contamination, ignored warnings to fix problems, and failed to turn over required data to regulators, the newspaper said.

The EPA told the paper it is "going full throttle" to correct problems, while the utilities denied they are deceiving the government. Some also argued they should not be required to spend millions of dollars to fix problems the often stem from consumers' own fixtures, the newspaper reported.

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Egypt Targets Elephantiasis

Egypt is in the final year of a five-year program to eliminate elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), a mosquito-borne disease that causes swelling in the arms and legs that makes the flesh resemble elephant skin.

The disease infects about 120 million people around the world, and the World Health Organization estimates that about 1 billion people are at risk, the Associated Press reported.

Egypt is targeting about 2.7 million people in eight provinces by providing them with medicine to protect them against the parasite that causes elephantiasis. Egypt is the first country to launch a nationwide effort to wipe out the disease.

The program seems to be working; a number of areas have reported declining rates of infection.

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Towel Radiators May Pose Burn Hazard

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Tuesday the recall of 200 Runtal Sundance Towel Radiators that may rupture and pose a burn hazard.

The wall-mounted towel radiators may overheat and rupture when they're overloaded with towels. A rupture could release hot fluid that could cause burn injuries. There has been one report of rupturing. No injuries have been reported, the CPSC said.

The towel radiators were sold for about $300 through the Runtal North America Inc. Web site between November 2003 and July 2004, and through the Web sites of Bed, Bath and Beyond and eQwip between November 2003 and January 2004.

Consumers with these towel radiators should immediately stop using them. The company is contacting by phone and by letter every person who bought the product to arrange for pick-up and replacement, the CPSC said.

For more information, contact Runtal North America Inc. at 1-800-526-2621 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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Jeb Bush Seeks New Hearing in Right-to-Die Case

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has appealed to the state Supreme Court for a rehearing in the case of a brain-damaged woman whose husband wants to allow her to die, according to CNN.

Terri Schiavo, 40, has been in a persistent vegetative state since suffering a severe heart problem in 1990. Her husband, Michael, has fought with her parents over her right to die, stating that's what his wife would have wanted. His wife apparently left no written instructions.

Terri Schiavo breathes on her own, though must use a feeding tube to survive. Doctors have given her virtually no hope of a recovery.

A year ago, her husband won the court-ordered right to remove the feeding tube. But six days after the removal, the Florida legislature hastily passed legislation giving Gov. Bush the power to order the tube reinserted, which was done immediately.

Last month, however, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling that the so-called "Terri's law" was unconstitutional. Bush, in his appeal to the state's high court, said its decision appeared to limit the legislature's ability to govern, CNN reported.

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Low-Fat Diet Prevents Gallstones

The low-fat diet that doctors recommend to help prevent heart disease may also thwart gallstones, HealthDay reports of new research.

The 14-year study of more than 45,000 men found that those who ate the most unsaturated fats -- the kind generally found in vegetables, rather than meat -- were 18 percent less likely to develop gallstones than men with the lowest unsaturated fat intake, according to the report, published in the Oct. 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The men in the study, all middle-aged or older, filled out a 131-question form about their eating habits in 1986, and again every two years after that. None of the men had been diagnosed as having gallstones at the start of the study. When they filled out their questionnaires over the next 14 years, they were repeatedly asked whether they had developed gallstones.

There was a 2-to-1 difference between men in the top 20 percent of unsaturated fat intake and those in the bottom 20 percent. The 18 percent reduction in gallstone formation was found in men who had the highest intake of unsaturated fats.

There are several ways that fat intake can affect gallstone formation on the molecular level, the journal report said. For example, an increase in the amount of unsaturated fats in cell walls can make those cells more sensitive to insulin, which acts to reduce gallstone formation, the researchers wrote.

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