Today's Health Highlights

Anthrax Victim Dies Stroke Claiming Fewer American Lives Alcohol Top Drug, Survey Finds

(SATURDAY, Oct. 6) -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of The HealthDay Service:

Florida Anthrax Victim Dies

A Florida man died Friday after becoming the first person in the United States in a quarter-century to contract an inhaled form of anthrax.

Meanwhile, health officials are stymied in their search for the cause of his disease, the Associated Press reports. The case has taken on added significance because of worries that terrorists could use the disease in a biochemical attack.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said, however, that the quick identification of the case, reported Thursday, resulted from more aggressive disease surveillance nationwide and called it "the disease monitoring system in action.'' The bug was identified at the Florida state health lab in Jacksonville, where the CDC had recently trained technicians to identify anthrax.

U.S. officials say there's no link to terrorism in the case but they sent investigators to North Carolina and Florida, two states where the victim had spent time in recent weeks. He was identified as Bob Stevens, 63, a photo editor at the supermarket tabloid The Sun. He had been taken to JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Fla., on Tuesday, where he failed to respond to antibiotics.


Stroke Claiming Fewer American Lives

In the last decade, stroke has put more Americans in hospitals than ever before, says a new study. But there's a silver lining to this cloud -- the number of deaths due to stroke has fallen steadily, HealthDay reports.

Authors of the study, which appears in the October issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, say while the drop in deaths is encouraging, the fact that so many people are hospitalized may call for a new approach to stroke-prevention programs.

About 750,000 Americans have strokes every year, and about 160,000 are fatal. That ranks stroke third behind heart disease and cancer as the nation's leading causes of death. Stroke is most common among elderly and minority populations, including blacks and Hispanics.


Alcohol Top Drug, Survey Finds

A first-of-its-kind survey of recovering alcoholics and addicts reveals alcohol to be the main problem for American substance abusers who consider themselves "in recovery."

According to a report in USA Today, 46% of a nationwide sample of people who described themselves as having a "serious" substance abuse problem said their problem was with alcohol only. Eight percent said that they had both alcohol and drug problems but that they were mainly dependent on alcohol.

By contrast, only 19% of the recovering substance abusers said their chief problem was drugs, and 4% claimed problems with both alcohol and drugs but said drugs were their main problem. About 22% said alcohol and drugs were equal problems.

The anonymous telephone survey, done in August, culled 250 people who were willing to speak and who described themselves as "in recovery" or "formerly addicted" to alcohol, drugs or both. More than 80% had at least one year of recovery time.


Breakthrough Drug for Pulmonary Hypertension

A new drug is promising medical -- and perhaps financial -- relief to patients with the rare but potentially fatal condition called pulmonary hypertension, a HealthDay story says.

An estimated 30,000 people in the United States suffer from the condition, a progressive narrowing of the small blood vessels in the lungs that often leads to failure of the right side of the heart and death. Until now, the only treatment has been a medication that must be delivered 24 hours a day through an implanted catheter.

The new drug, bosentan, is taken in pill form and is called "a major breakthrough in the field" by the researcher who directed one study that led to Food and Drug Administration approval last month.


Many Blacks Forgo Flu Shots

Blacks are much less likely than whites to get flu shots. That's true even when managed-care health plans offer the shots to patients for free, The New York Times reports.

Health experts already knew that blacks receive fewer flu shots than whites, and they speculated the disparity might be due to such factors as poor access to health care and lack of knowledge or misconceptions in minority communities about the vaccinations.

In a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers examined the vaccination rates of Medicare patients enrolled in managed-care plans and patients who paid a doctor for each visit. The researchers found that after surveying 13,674 patients in 1996, about 67 percent of white patients were vaccinated, compared to only about 46 percent of black patients, the story says.


Scientists Growing Plant-Based Vaccines

Scientists are using advances in biotechnology to develop inexpensive, plant-based vaccines to protect against disease such as HIV, hepatitis B and rabies, CBS reports.

"The cost factor is important because production costs for vaccines have been skyrocketing in recent years," says Alexander Karasev, an assistant professor at Jefferson Medical College, part of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

He and his colleagues at the university are researching and testing vaccine components in edible plants such as spinach, lettuce and soybeans that can be grown in developing countries to help fight infectious diseases, the story says. The group has already succeeded in incorporating the gene used in recombinant hepatitis B vaccine into lettuce, which was then fed to a group of volunteers in Poland, whose immunity was boosted as a result.


Stent While You Wait

A same-day surgical procedure to prop open plaque-clogged carotid arteries works well and is safe, at least at experienced clinics, HealthDay reports.

New York doctors who perform the procedure, called ambulatory carotid stenting, say patients can be treated in a matter of hours with only a local painkiller, avoiding potential complications from anesthesia and saving the financial burden of an overnight hospital stay.

"Patients like [the quick operation] very much," says cardiologist Nadim Al-Mubarak, lead author of the study, which appears in this month's issue of the journal Stroke. "It's a very low-invasive procedure, with no cutting, no anesthesia." And as the new research shows, patients who undergo the outpatient procedure are at low risk of suffering strokes, infections and other potential complications after being sent home.

Jeff Walsh

Jeff Walsh

Published on October 05, 2001

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