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Health Headlines - March 3

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Pesticides Found in Nearly All U.S. Rivers and Streams

Nearly all rivers and streams in the United States are contaminated with pesticides linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders, said a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report released Friday.

While pesticide concentrations in most of the waterways aren't high enough to affect humans, they can have an impact on aquatic creatures or wildlife that eat fish, the Associated Press reported.

USGS researchers analyzed data collected between 1992 and 2001. About 40 of the 100 pesticides included in the study accounted for the majority of pesticide presence in water, fish, and sediment.

Three common farm herbicides -- atrazine, metolachlor and cyanazine -- were the pesticides most often detected in agricultural streams. Three pesticides commonly used in cities -- simazine, prometon, and tebuthiuron -- were the ones most often found in urban streams, the AP reported.

While the use of pesticides has provided some benefits, such as increased food production and reduction of insect-borne disease, "their use also raises questions about possible effects on the environment, including water quality," said Robert Hirsch, USGS associate director for water.

Ohio Supreme Court Rules on Genetic-Screening Failure

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Friday that parents can sue doctors if genetic screening fails to detect a serious or fatal condition that would have prompted the parents to seek an abortion.

In the 4-3 decision, the court ruled that rewards in such lawsuits would be limited to the costs associated with the pregnancy and the birth of the child. Parents would not be able to sue for damages associated with pain and suffering or for repayment of the expense of raising a disabled child, the Associated Press reported.

The case involved a Kentucky couple, Richard and Helen Schirmer, who sued a Cincinnati obstetrics practice and hospital that provided genetic counseling for the couple. The Schirmers were told the fetus did not have a genetic disorder carried by Helen Schirmer. However, their son was born with the disorder and can't speak or crawl. The son is now 8 years old.

The state Supreme Court ruling is a partial victory for the Schirmers. The court's decision overruled a lower court ruling that the Schirmers could sue for the cost of raising their son, the AP reported.

This is the first time that Ohio's justices have made a definitive ruling on a claim of "wrongful birth."

Some Countries Accused of Hindering Bird-Flu Investigation

Several countries -- including Sudan, Turkey, Tunisia, Iran and Nigeria -- are refusing to cooperate with the international investigation into the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus among wild birds, says Wetlands International, a nongovernmental organization that carries out research for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The group has been commissioned to carry out H5N1 research among wild birds in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. However, some government officials are reluctant to allow the researchers into their countries because of the potential damage it may cause to poultry exports and tourism if H5N1 is found in their wild birds, Agence France Presse reported.

"It becomes harder to predict new outbreaks and to take the right precautions if we don't know the situation in these important countries. Turkey and Iran already experienced outbreaks of H5N1. Information about the current situation in these countries is very important to combat the disease," Wetlands International said in a statement.

In other news, the spread of bird flu in Europe is causing some signs of worry. Poultry consumption has plummeted in a number of countries. For example, poultry sales in Bosnia have declined by 90 percent and poultry consumption in Greece has dropped 75 percent in three weeks, AFP reported.

In France, the mayor of a small town banned chicken from school dinners. A provincial hospital in Austria has reserved 20 percent of its beds for possible bird flu patients.

In Germany, hundreds of people have abandoned their cats and others have sought to have their felines put down after news that one cat in northern Germany had been killed by the H5N1 virus.

Chelation Drug Caused Children's Deaths: CDC

The chelation drug Endrate caused the deaths of two children last year, the first documented link between a chelation drug and cardiac arrest in children, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

Chelation drugs are sometimes used to treat lead poisoning and some people believe they're effective against autism. One of the dead children had lead poisoning and the other was autistic, the Associated Press reported.

The CDC said it's also investigating the death of a 53-year-old woman in Oregon who was given chelation therapy by a natural medicine practitioner. Chelation drugs, which are injected or given orally, attach to metals in the body and carry the metals out of the body through urine or feces.

Given the risks associated with Endrate and the availability of other treatments, hospital pharmacies should consider whether it's necessary to stock Endrate, said Mary Jean Brown, chief of the CDC's Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch.

Endrate is approved in the United States to treat certain heart rhythm disturbances and high concentrations of calcium caused by bone cancer, the AP reported. Since the 1970s, U.S. health officials have warned against using Endrate to treat lead poisoning in children, because it can disrupt the body's chemistry.

Endrate is also used by some doctors to treat autism, in the belief that mercury or other heavy metals cause autism symptoms. However, there is no medical evidence to support that theory and the drug is not approved for that use, the AP reported.

U.S. Sees Sharp Rise in People Seeking Treatment for Meth Abuse

Between 1993 and 2003, the number of methamphetamine users admitted to U.S. substance-abuse clinics more than quadrupled, said a report released Thursday by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

In 1993, there were about 28,000 admissions for methamphetamine or amphetamine abuse. That increased to nearly 136,000 admissions in 2003. Eighteen states had methamphetamine treatment rates higher than the national average, the report said.

Oregon was at the top of the list, followed by Hawaii, Iowa, California, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Montana, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Missouri, Idaho, and Kansas, the Associated Press reported.

Midwestern and Southern states had few methamphetamine abuse patients in 1993 but since then have seen a rapid increase in the number of patients admitted to substance-abuse treatment centers. This reflects the movement of the highly addictive drug from the West -- where it first became popular -- across the Midwest and South to the East Coast, the report noted.

Just hours after the report was released, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that seeks to combat methamphetamine use by putting restrictions on the sale of cold medicines used to make the drug.

Food Fact:
Go with the grain.

Older women who eat the right amount of whole grains cut their risk of a fatal heart attack significantly. At ages 55 - 69, women who eat whole grains for at least three of their daily carbohydrate servings were found to be in better heart health during the next 10 years. Whole grain breads, crackers and cereals -- made from grains that have not been stripped of their bran and germ -- protect against heart disease and diabetes. It's unclear which part of the whole grain -- the fiber, the vitamin E, the folate, the magnesium or some of the health-protective phytochemicals -- provides the health benefits. Read labels carefully. Look for "whole-grain" or "whole-wheat flour" as the first or second ingredient.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Battling exercise "burnout."

To keep your enthusiasm up, it may pay to put a few exercises down for a while. Changing your exercise program every couple of months may help beat boredom. Besides, after a while, your body adapts to the exercise stressors your current program had introduced, and craves new challenges.

FAQ of the day:
Does fiber prevent colon cancer?

Many studies find a link between higher fiber intake and lower colon cancer risk, but not all do. It's possible that it's the cancer-fighting phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables rather than the fiber that are most protective. But one thing seems clear: People who eat more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables have much lower risk of colon cancer.
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