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Health Headlines - February 15

Posted Feb 19 2009 5:13pm

Bad Colonoscopy Equipment May Have Exposed Thousands of Veterans to Infection

A bad connection between a hose and a valve on an instrument used for colonoscopies at a Tennessee Veteran's Administration clinic may have exposed thousands of veterans to infection.

According to the Associated Press, the problem was just recently discovered at the Alvin C. York VA clinic in Murfreesboro, Tenn., but the bad connection, which could have exposed almost 6,400 colonoscopy patients to infectious bodily fluids may have been in operation for at least five years.

The improper valve connection wasn't discovered until late in 2008, so the VA had to send letters to 6,378 patients who had colonoscopies between April 23, 2003 and Dec. 1, 2008.

While saying there had been no reports of infections or illness directly related to the defective equipment, a VA spokesman told the wire service that every step was being taken to screen any veterans who might have been exposed to infection.

Additionally, the A.P. reported, another 1,800 patients may have been exposed to infection in Augusta, Ga., between January and November 2008 because of improper disinfecting methods on an ear, nose and throat instrument.

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Supreme Court Says Ginsburg's Cancer Has Not Spread

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's cancer has not spread beyond her pancreas, and the 75-year-old justice returned to her Washington, D.C., home on Friday after being released from New York City's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the court said.

Ginsburg's spleen and a portion of her pancreas were removed on Feb. 5 at the center after doctors had spotted a 1-centimeter growth during a CT scan in late January that later was found to be benign. A second, smaller tumor found by her surgeon, Dr. Murray Brennan, during the operation was malignant, however, the court said. Tests on Ginsburg's lymph nodes revealed no cancer, and doctors found no spread of it elsewhere, the Associated Press reported.

Since doctors caught the cancer as early Stage 1 disease, Ginsburg may be able to avoid chemotherapy because of the tumor's small size and the absence of cancer in her lymph nodes, cancer specialists told the AP. In fact, Ginsburg has indicated that she expects to be back at the Supreme Court on Feb. 23, when the justices will hear arguments.

As a colon cancer survivor, Ginsburg underwent regular checkups for growths, and it was the quick identification of the pancreatic tumor that enabled doctors to move quickly, AP reported.

Just 5 percent of pancreatic cancer patients live five years after their diagnosis, since most cases are found in late stage when the disease is harder to treat. For those whose cancer is diagnosed early, surgery, followed by chemotherapy, is the usual course, according to the American Cancer Society, and five-year survival rates grow to 20 percent to 24 percent.

"She couldn't have asked for a better way of picking this up," Dr. Chandra Are, a surgeon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who said he trained under Brennan, told the AP. "She was very lucky."

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Peanut Corp. of America Files for Bankruptcy: Report

Peanut Corp. of America, the peanut processing company implicated in the nationwide salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 600 people and may have led to nine deaths, filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, the Associated Press reported.

The salmonella outbreak has been traced to the company's plant in Blakely, Ga., where inspectors found roaches, mold and a leaking roof. A second plant in Texas was closed this week after initial tests revealed possible salmonella contamination, the news service said.

The Virginia-based company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection; a Chapter 7 filing allows for an orderly sale of a company's assets to pay creditors, the AP said.

The federal government has launched a criminal investigation into the case, and more than a dozen civil lawsuits have been filed. Peanut Corp.'s president, Stewart Parnell, was subpoenaed to testify Wednesday before a Congressional committee investigating the outbreak, but he refused to answer questions, invoking his constitutional right not to incriminate himself. Company e-mails have surfaced, showing he ordered tainted products to be shipped anyway, the AP said.

Despite the headlines generated by the outbreak, many Americans aren't clear about which 1,900 products have been recalled in the nationwide outbreak, a Harvard survey of 1,300 adults released Friday has found.

About one in four respondents mistakenly believes that major peanut butter brands are included in the recall, while fewer than half know that snack bars, baked goods, ice cream and dry-roasted peanuts are among the products being recalled, the AP said.

"A lot of people have taken some precautions but they're not looking at the ingredients in products not related to peanut butter," said survey director Robert Blendon, a health policy professor.

The survey, taken last week, also found that:

  • About 93 percent know about the outbreak and most know that it was caused by salmonella bacteria.
  • Only one in three has a good or great amount of confidence in food makers or government inspectors to keep food safe.

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Many Parents Reject Prenatal Tests: Study

Two-thirds of parents who have a child with a genetic problem avoid pregnancy rather than have tests to identify, or avoid the birth of, another affected child, according to a study that included clients of a state-wide rural genetic outreach program in the United States.

Of the parents who decided to have more children, most decided not to have prenatal screening or testing, United Press International reported. The findings appear in the journal Sociology of Health and Illness.

"Prenatal testing procedures -- to detect genetic conditions or fetal anomalies -- were perceived by many parents as presenting rather than resolving risks," researcher Dr. Susan Kelly, of the University of Exeter in the U.K., said in a news release.

The widespread ambivalence about such testing isn't a simple rejection of medical intervention, opposition to abortion, or the result of parents' positive experience with a child with a genetic problem, Kelly said. It also a wish for more control among parents with more awareness about the limitations of new reproductive technologies, UPI reported.

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