Sunday, July 23, 2006

Health Highlights: Feb. 12, 2006

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Conference Called to Discuss Bacteria That Caused Abortion Pill Deaths
Describing it as "an unusual scientific conference," The New York Times reports that the U.S. government has scheduled a May 11 meeting in Atlanta to discuss the possible connection between two bacterial infections, one of which caused 4 California deaths last year to women who took the abortion pill RU-486.
The two bacteria are Clostridium sordellii and Clostridium difficile, the newspaper says. Clostridium sordellii was the direct cause of the deaths of 4 California women who had taken RU-486. Clostridium difficile has been found to be the cause of diarrhea and colitis outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes throughout the United States. Both bacteria do best in environments with limited oxygen such as human intestinal tracts, the Times reports, and they can produce infections similar to toxic shock syndrome, which can be fatal.
An official from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, speaking on a condition of anonymity, told the newspaper that 15-to-20 scientists who have studied the two bacteria have been asked to make presentations in an auditorium at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The newspaper said the official said there would be tight security for the conference because RU-486 is a controversial subject and some officials have been threatened after speaking about it publicly.
"We hope to keep the focus on the science," the Times quotes the official as saying. "We're holding this in a secure government facility for a reason."
Study: 'Pacemaker Cells' Must Work to Prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
British researchers say they've discovered a subset of brain cells that may hold the clue to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Scientists from the University Bristol report in the latest issue of the online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience that these cells -- which they named "pacemaker cells" -- control a person's gasping ability. One theory for SIDS death is that the brain doesn't generate nervous impulses to alert the baby's body when breathing stops, and the infant doesn't "gasp" itself back into normal respiration.
The research team, which includes American scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Dartmouth University, concludes that the discovery of the "pacemaker cells" may resolve a 15-year debate as to why some babies' breathing doesn't resume normally while they're sleeping.
A key appears to be low oxygen levels during sleep, the scientists found. In a university news release, the research team concluded that the "pacemaker cells" relied on protein that forms a tiny hole within the membrane of the cells. When that pore is blocked and oxygen levels are low, the "pacemaker" cells' ability to gasp were blocked, the researchers said.
More Emergency Surgery for Ariel Sharon
Doctors operated once again on 77-year-old Israel prime minister Ariel Sharon early Saturday, after they discovered damage to his digestive system. A portion of his large intestine was removed, and Sharon's condition was said to be stable after the operation.
The New York Times reports that Sharon remained in a coma, a condition he has been in since he suffered a massive stroke Jan. 4.
Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem where the operation was performed, said at a news conference that surgeons removed about 20 inches from Sharon's large intestine, the Times reported.
Early reports had indicated Sharon might have been slipping toward death, but Mor-Yosef is quoted as saying, "The situation is serious, it is stable, it is critical, but there is no immediate danger to the life of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon."
His two sons and close political aides had been summoned to Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein-Kerem hospital, the Times reports, after doctors performed an abdominal scan that indicated blood flow problems to his intestines. Surgery began shortly before noon, the newspaper reported.
Israel is having national elections March 28, and Sharon had formed a new political party as he sought re-election. The country is currently being governed by Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister and a close ally of Mr. Sharon.
One-fifth of Study Group Never Reported Chronic Pain
Another study has added to the disturbing conclusion that many people who suffer from chronic pain never report it to their doctors and may be needlessly suffering.
Mayo Clinic research involved 3,575 residents in Olmsted County, Minn. from March through June 2004. Researchers say they found that 497 (22.4 percent) of these were silent sufferers, people who had persistent pain for at least three months but didn't seek a doctor's help. Researchers said the study participants represented a cross section of the county's population. The study is published in the latest issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Medical professionals aren't certain why some people don't report chronic pain. They speculate that it could be because they have had bad experiences previously with treatment or don't have enough medical coverage. But for whatever reason, it's possible that a sizeable segment of the population suffers pain needlessly, the report concludes.
"Doctors have a responsibility to ask their patients about chronic pain," says Dr. Barbara Yawn, Olmsted Medical Center physician and an author of the study.
The study found that chronic pain sufferers who do not seek treatment tend to be younger men whose pain has less impact on their usual activities.
Italy, Greece and Bulgaria Report Cases of Avian Flu
The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has reached Italy and Greece, the Associated Press reports, and the infected birds were all swans.
This comes on the heels of Nigeria reporting Friday that it had its first suspected cases of human avian flu. However, there is no evidence that the human cases were caused by any circumstance other than contact with birds, officials said.
The cases of avian flu in Italy were all found in 17 swans, the wire service reports, and all were in the south -- Puglia and Calabria in southern Italy, and in Sicily. "It's certain that the virus has reached Italy," Italian health Minister Francesco Storace is quoted as saying. He added that the government was investigating taking precautionary measures in the affected areas.
Meanwhile, Greece's agriculture minister told the A.P. that three swans in northern Greece died of the H5N1 strain.
The New York Times also reported that European Union officials said some swans in Bulgaria, near the Danube Delta, were also infected with avian flu.
The World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies plan to send experts to Nigeria to help the country fight the outbreak. The United States has pledged $20 million and a team of scientists.
In related news, two more bird flu deaths have been reported, one in China and another in Indonesia. And lab tests have confirmed the presence of bird flu in a new country -- Azerbaijan.
Since 2003, 88 people have been killed by bird flu, the WHO says. Almost all the deaths have been in people who had contact with infected poultry.

Last reviewed: 02/12/2006 Last updated: 02/12/2006

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