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  POISON NEWS HEADLINES - June 2003

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Deaths from malaria and encephalitis amid floods

The Star, 30 June 2003

 

Guwahati (India)  -  At least 60 people have died of malaria and encephalitis in India's flood-hit Assam where torrential rains have displaced 70,000 people.  Fifty-four people have died of malaria and six from Japanese encephalitis in areas lashed by monsoon rains and floods since early June. 

 

Horseshoe crab research pays off 

The Star, 30 June 2003

 

Singapore  -  The husband-and-wife team who first genetically engineered a copy of an enzyme found in horseshoe crabs' blood is set to profit from their creation, which is marketed commercially as the diagnostic tool PyroGene.

Until now, the crab had been the only source of the enzyme Factor C, which is used to test for contaminants in every drug and vaccine, every artificial limb, and every dialysis and intravenous drib.

Factor C, extracted from the crab's sapphire-blue blood, can detect the bacteria that causes cholera, gonorrhoea and flu.  In their presence, the crab's blood clots and turns jelly-like because of Factor C.  Each year, up to 300,000 of the crabs are caught, bled for the enzyme, and retuned alive to the sea.

The success of PyroGene  has paid off for Associate Professor Ho Bow and his wife Professor Ding Jeak Ling, both  attached to  the National University of Singapore (NUS).  The product is the culmination of research work that Ho started back in 1979 and joined by his wife Ding five years later.   

 

Pregnancy chances blighted for the daughters of women exposed to DDT 

The New Straits Times, 28 June 2003

 

Paris (France)  -  A study found that DDT, a widely-outlawed pesticide that is still in use in some poor countries, can seriously delay the chances of pregnancy among daughters of women who were exposed to the chemical three decades previously.

Researchers found that the problem ability of getting pregnant plummeted among young women in the United States whose mothers had been exposed to background levels of DDT between 1960 and 1963, when the chemical was in its heyday.

The fact that DDT should have such a devastating effect on the complex female hormone system is unsurprising, given that previous research has already blamed it for premature birth and low birth-weights.

But the real surprise was the scientists' finding about DDE, a derivative that occurs when DDT is broken down by metabolism.  They discovered that there was a 16 per cent increase, rather than decrease, in fertility for every 10 additional microgrammes of DDE per litre of blood. 

Why these two closely-related chemicals should have such opposite effects is unclear.

 

Pfizer's combination malaria drug proves very effective 

The New Straits Times, 28 June 2003

 

New York (USA)  -  Pfizer Inc said its experimental combination therapy for malaria was about three times more effective than the most commonly used drug for the deadly parasitic disease.  The Pfizer treatment combines the standard therapy, chloroquine, with Pfizer's antibiotic Zithromax, which had sales last year of US 1.52 billion.

In a 28-day mid-stage clinical trial against drug-resistant malaria, 96 per cent of the patients who took the combination treatment were free of the symptoms,  compared to 31 per cent who took chloroquine alone and 38 per cent who took only Zithromax.  Chloroquine is increasingly becoming ineffective because the mosquito-transmitted parasite has become resistant to it after 30 years on the market. 

 

Studies find HRT raises risk of breast cancer 

The New Straits Times, 26 June 2003

 

Studies published recently said hormone replacement therapy (HRT) not only increases the rate of breast cancer, it can cause the cancer to be more severe and even clouds the mammogram's ability of an early detection.

A study last year followed women using a combination of oestrogen plus progestin to ward off the effects of menopause.  As participants turned up with breast cancer, the study was called off.

Another study found that combining oestrogen with progestin is dangerous, whether taken daily or only a few days in a month.  Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, found that women taking oestrogen for 25 years or longer, had no significant increase in risk of breast cancer.  But women who combined oestrogen and progestin had breast cancer almost twice as frequently.  That risk grew with years of use.

 

Mercury linked to autism 

The New Straits Times, 24 June 2003

 

Scientists in the US have established link between autism and mercury poisoning.  A mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, which is used in some vaccines, could be responsible for some cases of autism, the scientists said. They discovered that babies who go on to develop autism have abnormal levels of mercury in their hair, suggesting that their bodies may have difficulty in excreting the poison. 

 

Warning on risky sex supplement 

The Sunday Mail, 22 June 2003

 

Washington (USA)  -  The US Drug Agency warned against the use of  six "sexual stimulants" sold in the guise of dietary supplements because they contain a prescription drug risky to some people.  The products sell under the names of Sigra, Stamina Rx, Stamina Rx for women, Y-Y, Spontane ES and Uroprin.

Internet advertising for the products claim they are all-natural products that increase stamina and sexual performance.  But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says they contain a prescription drug sold in Europe to treat impotence.  This can cause a dangerous side effect in people who take nitrate-containing drugs to treat heart disease. 

 

Eighteen children die of Japanese encephalitis 

The Star, 21 June 2003

 

Beijing (China)  -  Eighteen children have died from an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis that has infected more than two hundred people in South China.  The virus, which attacks the brain and the spinal cord, is mosquito-borne and usually erupts in rice-growing and pig-farming rural areas.

Provincial health officials said they are taking urgent measures to eliminate the disease.

 

Meanwhile the Xiaotangshan Hospital in Changping county discharged its last 18 SARS patients yesterday. 

Situated on the outskirts of Beijing, the Xiaotangshan Hopsital was completed in less than a week using 7,000 labourers toiling round the clock at the height of the SARS outbreak.  The hospital with a capacity to hold 1,000 patients treated some 680 SARS patients and recorded eight deaths while 672 recovered.  With the release of the final batch of recovered patients yesterday, the fate of the hospital and its 1,200 military medical staff hangs in the air. 

 

Angry doctor accused of drugging colleagues 

The Star,  15 June 2003

 

Athens (Greece)  -  A neurosurgeon has been accused of heavily sedating two hospital colleagues in an apparent reprisal for being assigned unpopular shifts.  He was alleged to have slipped sedatives into the coffee of the victims in the hospital canteen. The 48-year-old surgeon was arrested carrying a box of sedatives.  One of the alleged victim was once taken into intensive care after being drugged.  The accused surgeon has been suspended indefinitely pending investigation. 

   

Monkeypox infects 40 in three US States

The Star, 11 June 2003

 

Chicago (USA)  -  Health officials investigating an outbreak of monkeypox that apparently spread from pet prairie dogs to people said the number of reported cases has risen to at least 40, including four confirmed cases.

It was the first time monkeypox, a smallpox-related virus normally found in Africa, had ever appeared in the United States, said officials from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Seven people have been hospitalised but no one has died.

Investigators said the prairie dogs were probably infected with the virus by a Gambian giant rat, which was native to Africa, at a Chicago-area pet distributor.  The Illinois Agriculture Department , along with state and federal health officials, tried to track down 115 customers both individuals and pet stores that bought exotic animals from the distributor since April 15.  An employee of the distributor is a confirmed case of monkeypox.

Monkeypox in humans is not usually fatal but causes rashes, fevers and chills.

 

 Herbal tea bad for teeth

The Sun, 11 June 2003

 

Researchers at the University of Bristol Dental School have found that herbal teas can seriously damage teeth by eroding protective enamel.  They measured the acidity of a range of teas and found wide variations.  Some had how pH levels indicating high acid levels while others were relatively alkaline and harmless.   Overall, the researchers found that many of the teas eroded tooth enamel.  Some were three times more dangerous than orange juice.

  

Chlorine link to childhood asthma ?

The New Straits Times, 10 June 2003

 

A research published recently has linked chlorine to the alarming surge in childhood asthma over the past 30 years.

Young children who swim several times a week in highly chlorinated pools could suffer similar lung damage to regular smokers, said scientists in Belgium.  Sports doping statistics show the condition is also prevalent among swimmers, with more than 40 per cent of elite swimmers registered as asthmatic.

The new study claims the problem have been caused by nitrogen trichloride, an irritant gas released with urine or sweat on swimmers.

Researchers took blood samples from 226 primary schoolchildren who had swum regularly at indoor pools since early childhood and samples from 29 adults and children both before and after a session in an indoor pool.

The samples showed that children who regularly attend indoor pools accumulated proteins that destroyed the cellular barrier protecting the lungs, making it permeable and more prone to the passage of allergens, the substances that unleash an asthma attack.

 

Antidepressant way to beat hot flashes

The New Straits Times, 10 June 2003

 

An antidepressant, paroxetine, is said to be able to cut the number of menopausal hot flashes by at least half, new research from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine shows.  It is however not quite as effective as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for hot flashes, which can reduce their frequency by up to 90 per cent.  But concern over the effect of HRT has risen because studies show it increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer and dementia.

  

Statins 'can lower risk of cancers'

The New Straits Times, 10 June 2003

 

A cholesterol-lowering drug called statins, already known for its ability to reduce the risk of heart attack, can also reduce the risk of prostate and kidney cancers by as much as 36 per cent if taken for at least four years.

University of Amsterdam researchers found that taking statins reduces the risk of developing cancer by 20 per cent but that protection increases to 36 per cent for those who take statins for four years or more.  But the benefit stops about six months after the patient stops taking the drug.

 

 American-made cigarettes have higher nitrosamine levels

than foreign brands

The New Straits Times, 10 June 2003

 

American-made cigarettes contain up to twice as much of a cancer-causing chemical as foreign brands, said officials from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. 

They compared the levels of the carcinogen nitrosamine in Marlboro, chosen because of its wide availability, and local brands in 13 other countries.  In 11 of the countries, the local brands had much lower levels than Marlboro.

They said the higher nitrosamine levels in American-made cigarettes are a result of the way the tobacco is cured and blended.

 

Cadmium used in batteries may lead to cancer, says study

The New Straits Times, 9 June 2003

 

Paris (France)  -  Long-term but low-level exposure to cadmium, a metallic element commonly used in batteries and electrical products, may lead to cancer, a study suggests.

Cadmium is a known carcinogen but researchers say it seems to work dangerously by targeting a mechanism called mismatch repair, which roots out and fixes mutations that can spontaneously occur in cells after they divide.  If the repair system is inhibited, it will allow genetic flaws to be passed on in the cell and its descendants, thus boosting the risk that they will become cancerous.

  

Mystery disease kills more than 30 children in India

The New Strait Times, 7 June 2003

 

Nashipur (India)  -  A mystery disease which has claimed the lives of more than 30 children in eastern India sparked panic through the region as baffled doctors were unable to explain its cause.  Most deaths occurred in the remote Nashipur village affecting children aged between one and two and, strangely, mostly male children. 

Hundreds of mothers took their ailing children to makeshift medical camps in Nashipur.  Many came in horse-driven carriages the only means of transport in this village.

  

Too much water a health risk

The Star, 6 June 2003

 

London (England)  -  Researchers say many exercisers are putting their health at risk by over-consuming water.

"Drinking water at every opportunity can cause serious problems, such as hyponatraemia or water intoxication," says Dr. Dan Tunstall-Pedoe of St Bartholomew's Hospital.   "That leads to diluted sodium and other body salts, or electrolytes, in the blood which can cause dizziness and respiratory problems.  Some people collapse because of it, as happens quite frequently in the marathon." 

 

School beauty and admirers drink poison

The Star, 5 June 2003

 

Hong Kong  -  A primary school beauty killed herself and four of her friends and admirers drank poison in torment over their tangled relationship.  The 13-year-old girl who killed herself by drinking poison left a note saying she had been wrong to let so many boys in the school fall in love with her.  Three of her admirers and one female school friend then poisoned themselves following her death but managed to be saved.

The storeowner who sold the poison to the students was arrested and the school headmaster and other officials were sacked or warned for negligence. 

 

Smoking bad for the brain

The New Straits Times,  3 June 2003

 

Heavy smoking more than 20 cigarettes a day is associated with more rapid decline in verbal memory and visual speed, another suggestion that smoking is bad for the brain. 

Researchers from University College London tracking the health of almost 2,000 British adults found heavy smokers had poorer memories in middle age.  A sample of the study participants underwent memory, concentration and visual speed tests at age 43 and again at age 53.

Other research has already labeled smoking as a risk factor for dementia.  One cause of dementia is restricted blood flow in the brain, and smoking is linked to narrowed arteries and silent mini-strokes that choke that blood supply.

  

Fourth doctor in Hong Kong dies from SARS

The New Straits Times, 3 June 2003

 

Hong Kong  -  Another member of Hong Kong's medical profession has died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the fourth doctor to succumb to the virus.

Dr. Cheng Hay-Yan of the department of medicine and geriatrics at Tai Po Hospital contracted the disease in April after volunteering to work with SARS patients.

  

Pupils down with food poisoning

The Star, 2 June 2003

 

Beijing (China)  -  Some 144 elementary school pupils in China's Sichuan province were poisoned after eating tainted candy handed out ahead of June 1 celebration of  International Children's Day. 

A total of  320 children at a Qijiang school received 10 pieces of candy each which were bought from street vendors.  By mid-morning, the pupils suffered from stomach ache, headache and vomiting.  More than 100 pupils were eventually hospitalised.