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Health Highlights: Sept. 23, 2003

Ecstasy Use Soars, U.N. Report Says More than 10,000 Sign Up for World Trade Center Registry West Nile Outbreaks Seem to Follow Droughts Singapore Lab Worker Contracted SARS While on the Job Table Talk Pies Recalled for Allergy Hazard Seattle Restaurant Serves Up Obesity Waiver

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

Ecstasy Use Soars, U.N. Report Says

Use of synthetic drugs like Ecstasy and amphetamines is skyrocketing around the world, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday.

The survey by the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that global use of Ecstasy shot up 70 percent between 2000 and 2001, while use of amphetamines soared some 40 percent during the same period, reports the Associated Press.

More than 40 million people aged 15 or older worldwide used amphetamine-type stimulants during 2000-2001, the report estimates. It attributes much of the rise to the inaccurate perception that the drugs "are less harmful than other illicit substances," the report says.

The drugs have become widespread staples at dance parties and discos, due to the euphoria and perceived energy boost they provide. But experts warn they can cause dependence, loss of memory and other forms of mental decline, the AP reports.

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More than 10,000 Sign Up for World Trade Center Registry

More than 10,000 people from 47 states have signed up for the World Trade Center Health Registry since its inception on Sept. 5, the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene says.

Registry participants must complete a 30-minute survey describing where they were on Sept. 11, 2001, how long they may have been exposed to smoke and fumes from the Trade Center collapse, and whether they have had any health problems since. Registry organizers will contact them periodically to track any health changes.

Ultimately, the registry will allow experts to observe patterns that might otherwise go undetected. All information will be kept confidential, the Health Department says.

Anyone exposed to the Trade Center aftermath is welcome to participate. Call 1-866-692-9827, or visit http://www.wtcregistry.org.

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Researcher: West Nile Outbreaks Seem to Follow Droughts

Summer droughts seem to precede the worst seasonal outbreaks of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, a Harvard Medical School researcher says, adding this could make it easier to predict where the virus might strike hardest.

Paul R. Epstein proposes that during droughts, many sources of water dry up, reducing the numbers of frogs and other predators that feed on mosquitoes. Remaining sources of water become gathering spots for birds, which become easy and attractive targets for mosquitoes, he adds.

Epstein cites the following patterns to the Associated Press:

  • The first U.S. outbreak in 1999 in New York followed a three-month drought and three-week heat wave.
  • 2002's serious outbreak followed a year of widespread warm winters and spring and summer droughts.
  • This year's worst outbreak is in Colorado and nearby western states, where there was little snow pack in the mountains due to a warm winter.

Other experts say Epstein must prove his theory scientifically. "I suspect that it is going to be more complicated than just saying that West Nile virus transmission will increase or decrease based on periods of rainfall," Dr. Ned Hayes, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist, tells the AP.

U.S. Cases of West Nile Virus
As of Sept. 23, 2003


Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Singapore Lab Worker Contracted SARS While on the Job

A Singapore lab worker who became the world's first case of SARS in four months contracted the disease at his workplace, according to investigators from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The 27-year-old man had been researching West Nile virus, samples of which somehow became contaminated with SARS, the investigators concluded. The researcher tested positive for SARS on Sept. 8 after having fallen ill several days earlier. He was discharged from the hospital Sept. 16, BBC News Online reports.

Experts say a health crisis may have been narrowly averted. "It hasn't been a disaster, but it could have been," lead investigator Dr. Anthony Della-Porter told the BBC.

The WHO report recommended that all viral samples at the government-run lab be destroyed until employees are better trained and better record-keeping procedures are implemented.

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Table Talk Pies Recalled for Allergy Hazard

Table Talk Pies is recalling 275,000 4-inch pies of various flavors that may be contaminated with pecan residue, posing a hazard to people with a severe allergy to nuts.

The pies were sold under the Table Talk, Freihofer, Entenmann's, Frisbie, and Blue Ribbon brand names, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports on its Web site. Affected flavors include blueberry, apple, pineapple, lemon, cherry, chocolate èclair, peach and pumpkin.

The pies were produced Sept. 16 and 17 and distributed to retail outlets in East Coast states from Maine to Virginia. The company says it has no reports of illness.

Affected brands and product codes are:

Table Talk
0927 OCT 02
0928 OCT 03
SEP 25
SEP 26
SEP 28
SEP 29
SEP 30
OCT 2
Freihofer
SEP 27 – 4

Entenmann’s
27 27 30 29
1001 1002
1003 1003

Frisbie
927 OCT 02
Blue Ribbon
SEP 26
SEP 27

For more information, contact Table Talk at 508-438-1513.

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Seattle Restaurant Serves Up Obesity Waiver

Order a signature dessert at the 5 Spot eatery in Seattle, and you'll have to sign a liability waiver first.

The semi-serious gimmick applies to "a sugar-coated, deep-fried, ice-cream-swaddled, caramel-drizzled, whipped-cream-anointed banana" called The Bulge, reports the Washington Post.

Before you can take your first bite of the fattening fare, you have to sign a waiver that states, "I will not impose any sort of obesity-related lawsuit against the 5 Spot or consider any similar type of frivolous legislation created by a hungry trial lawyer."

5 Spot co-owner Peter Levy says the creation stemmed from anger at trial attorneys who want to make restaurants accountable for their patrons' eating habits. "We came up with the most fattening and delicious dessert we could think of," he tells the Post.

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