From USA Today
A rush of testing for
first U.S. case of mad cow disease was
discovered in December in a Washington state
dairy cow, consumer advocates and lawmakers have
been calling for reforms to the testing system
for the fatal brain-wasting disease. pThe
U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday
that it will embark on a one-time testing
regimen 10 times larger than its previous
system. It will focus its efforts on animals
considered at high risk, including those that
can't walk, cattle with neurological problems
and older cattle. pFrom June 2004 to
November 2005, the agency will test as many of
these cattle as it can. pUSA TODAY's
Elizabeth Weise and Anita Manning
spoke to public health and agriculture experts
about key questions in this complicated
Q: Why do we care if cattle
have mad cow disease?
A: Because cattle that have this
degenerative disease of the nervous system, known
to scientists as bovine spongiform encephalopathy,
can infect people who eat infectious material,
specifically the brain, spinal cord or dorsal root
ganglia (the nerves that come off the spinal
Q: What is the human form of
mad cow disease?
A: It is a variant of an illness
called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a brain
disorder that seems to strike out of nowhere,
causing dementia and death. There are several
forms of CJD that sporadically occur at low levels
(one in 1 million people) in all populations. But
the new variant that emerged in England in the
mid-1990s -- about a decade after the first cases
in cattle -- is distinctive. It is found more
often in young people, has a longer course of
illness before death, is specifically linked to
the consumption of infected beef and looks
different under a microscope. Both classic CJD and
the variant, which is called vCJD, are believed by
most scientists to be caused by brain proteins
called prions that become misshapen.
Q: Can it be cured?
A: There is no known treatment or
cure. Patients are given supportive care, but the
disease is always fatal. Since 1995, at least 155
cases have been detected.
Q: Are Americans dying of the
A: No. There has been only one
positively diagnosed case of vCJD in the USA, and
that involved a Florida woman who grew up in the
United Kingdom and is presumed to have acquired it
there. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention helped to establish the National Prion
Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case
Western Reserve University in 1997. It analyzes
spinal fluid and brain tissue from suspected cases
to monitor for vCJD. As of November, the center
had examined tissues from 1,221 suspected cases.
Of those, the only confirmed case of vCJD was the
Florida woman's. In addition, 586 cases of
sporadic CJD were found.
Q: How do cattle get mad cow?
A: By eating other cattle. Because
cattle are vegetarians, that doesn't occur
naturally. However, cow carcasses -- heat-treated
and ground into powder -- were commonly fed to
cattle as an inexpensive protein source beginning
in the 1980s and ending in the 1990s with the
discovery that the practice could spread disease.
The United States and Canada banned the practice
Q: Are there other ways?
A: Humans, elk, sheep and deer can
spontaneously develop this family of diseases,
called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.
There's no firm evidence that cattle can, but most
scientists believe it's likely. If cattle follow
the human model -- a big if -- there could be
about 35 spontaneous cases of mad cow a year in
Q: How did the Washington state
cow get mad cow?
A: No one knows for certain. The
cow was imported from Canada as a calf. Initially
it seemed that she was infected by feed there,
especially since a case of mad cow was found in
Canada in May. But none of the infected cow's herd
mates from Canada has thus far tested positive for
mad cow. ''If it was in fact a feed source, we'd
expect more than one animal in that group to be
infected,'' says Jim Reynolds, a professor of
veterinary medicine at the University of
California. So now some researchers think it might
have been a spontaneous case, though they can't
say for sure.
Q: How did the U.S. test before
A: USDA's Animal Plant Inspection
Service tested about 20,000 cattle in 2002 for mad
cow. Because European studies have shown that
downer cattle (i.e. cattle that can't walk) have
the highest likelihood of having the disease,
APHIS concentrated on testing downers and those
with obvious neurological problems. Between 5% and
15% of those animals were tested. A smaller number
of random tests were done on healthy cattle. The
infected cow was believed to be a downer.
Q: Why not test every cow?
A: About 35 million cattle a year
are slaughtered in the USA. In epidemiology, the
study of diseases as they affect populations,
scientists know it's not necessary to test every
individual to get a good picture of what's
happening in a population. Because the incidence
of mad cow is believed to be very low in the USA,
many scientists consider the expense of testing
every animal a waste of resources.
Polio reappears in
countries where it had been eradicated Fears of
vaccine hamper efforts in parts of Africa
International health experts,
tantalizingly close to global eradication of
polio, are struggling to contain the spread of the
virus in central and western Africa.
Eight countries where polio had
been wiped out have seen the disease resurface,
and tests trace the cases -- a total of at least
46 -- back to northern Nigeria. Local leaders in
the state of Kano, north of the capital, Abuja,
halted immunizations in August, claiming falsely
that the vaccine was contaminated and could cause
sterility in girls.
Experts at an international
conference on infectious diseases in Atlanta this
month said they believe Islamic clerics in Kano
are trying to encourage public mistrust of the
Nigerian government, which supports polio
World Islamic leaders are working
behind the scenes to break the logjam. The
Nigerian government sent the vaccine to South
Africa for tests to prove its safety, but the
positive results were not accepted by the Kano
The state then assembled a
23-member team that included Kano Islamic scholars
and other authorities to conduct its own inquiry.
Results are expected within days, said David
Heymann of the World Health Organization, speaking
at the Atlanta conference.
Heymann, who returned late last
week from Nigeria, said U.N. officials have been
working to resolve the differences. ''Problems
have not been solved in the north,'' he said
Friday by phone from WHO headquarters in Geneva.
''But we're getting closer. There may be something
to announce on Tuesday. It won't be the end (of
the problem), but it may be progress.''
WHO initially set 2000 as the
target for ridding the world of polio. That goal
was missed, and WHO moved the deadline to the end
of this year.
Despite the setback, Heymann
expects the spread of polio to cease in every
country by the end of this year or early next
The global eradication effort led
by WHO, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF has
reduced the number of countries where polio
circulates from 125 in 1988 to six -- India,
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Niger and Nigeria --
and brought the number of cases from 1,000 a day
to fewer than 800 for all of last year.
Officials in countries where the
paralyzing virus still exists should support
universal polio immunization, not only to protect
their own children from paralysis, Heymann said,
but also ''to be good neighbors in a world where
national borders do not protect against infectious
Once polio is eliminated from a
country, immunization rates should remain high to
prevent re-introduction of the virus, he said.
''If countries neighboring Nigeria had strong
national immunization programs, they would have
prevented the importations.''
Latest blow to HRT is
taken in stride Doctors say women are more
educated about risk, less likely to take hormones
When the government abruptly
halted a hormone therapy study in July 2002
because of safety concerns, worried women deluged
their doctors with phone calls.
Reaction to last week's news on
hormone use has been far more subdued.
Investigators in the Women's
Health Initiative (WHI) announced that estrogen
increases the risk of stroke and might even raise
the likelihood of developing dementia, although
the hormone had no effect on breast cancer or
Many gynecologists around the USA
say they have yet to receive a single inquiry.
''It's pretty much been pretty
silent,'' says James Liu, chair of obstetrics and
gynecology at University Hospitals of Cleveland.
More women are taking the news in
stride, doctors say, partly because fewer are
In the nearly two years since the
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sponsor
of the WHI, announced that estrogen-progestin
pills raised the risk of breast cancer, heart
disease, blood clots and stroke, the number of
women taking hormones has dropped by more than
40%, from 15 million to 8.5 million, according to
Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, a leading hormone
Research linking hormone therapy
to memory loss and Alzheimer's disease has only
given more women reservations. Hormone
manufacturers and the Food and Drug Administration
now advise women to take the lowest doses for the
shortest amount of time.
By now, most women who have no
severe menopausal symptoms have quit taking
hormones, says James Shwayder, an assistant
professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the
University of Colorado-Denver.
An article published in Obstetrics
and Gynecology in December found that more than
half the hormone users surveyed from January to
March 2003 had stopped taking the medication. But
a quarter of women who quit hormones later resumed
therapy, the article said, to relieve drenching
hot flashes, disabling fatigue, depression and
other menopausal symptoms.
For the most part, women turn to
hormones today only if they believe they can't get
by without them. Such women are unlikely to be put
off by the latest results, Shwayder says.
Joanne Mortimer of Norfolk, Va.,
stopped taking estrogen last year. She resumed
three months later after noticing she ''wasn't as
sharp as normal.''
''For me it's about my brain,''
says Mortimer, 51, a doctor who specializes in
breast cancer. ''I just didn't feel I functioned
Many women were not surprised by
last week's news. Patients have researched the
hormone debate closely in the past year. And
doctors such as Isaac Schiff of Boston have spent
months counseling patients and preparing them for
the fact that estrogen could prove just as
troublesome as combination therapy. Women also
might feel reassured that estrogen-only
supplements apparently pose less danger than they
feared, says Schiff, chairman of the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' task
force on hormone therapy.
Some note that women are not yet
able to fully evaluate their individual risks.
Researchers are still compiling the study's
results, says Marcia Stefanick, a professor at the
Stanford University School of Medicine and
chairwoman of the steering committee for WHI
investigators. Detailed statistics about
estrogen's effect on the body will not be ready
for several weeks, when they will be published in
a medical journal this spring, says Stefanick, who
is one of the report's co-authors.
''It is unfortunate that we do not
have the actual manuscript with the data analysis
to go with this announcement,'' Stefanick says.
''Women are going to have to wait until we can
release real results.''
seekers try to hide their ages
The tough job market and
rising concerns about age discrimination are
prompting graying job seekers to try to mask their
Candidates are omitting dates
or work experience from their résumés. Others are
taking more drastic steps, such as coloring their
hair or getting plastic surgery.
Sixty-three percent of job
seekers would leave a date off their résumé to
hide their age, according to a survey by online
job board HotJobs. Nearly 20% said they would
consider plastic surgery to improve job prospects.
One reason for the image
concern: Age discrimination cases filed with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hit 19,921
last year — a more than 40% jump from 14,141 in
"They look at those dates and
say, 'I've got a dinosaur,' " says Robert
Bloomberg, 64, of Jackson, N.J., who cut
graduation dates from his résumé to try to land a
manufacturing job. "I downgraded my résumé and put
in I was a manager as opposed to a vice
Job-seeking tactics on the
•Plastic surgery. "They've
been laid off for five or six months and want to
do this before the next round of interviews," says
plastic surgeon Elbert Cheng in California.
More than half of face-lift
patients are 51 to 64, says the American Society
of Plastic Surgeons. The number of men seeking
procedures to make them look younger also has
jumped: More than 130,000 men had Botox treatments
in 2002, up 25% from 2001.
Richard Gonzales, 46, had a
chin implant and other procedures to help his job
search. "You have to look as good as you can,"
says Gonzales, a budding actor and sports center
manager in Cupertino, Calif.
•Résuméfudging. Some career
strategists push job applicants to omit dates from
résumés. Career coach Kathy Sanborn routinely
advises clients to omit graduation dates and list
only the last 10 years of their work history.
Those tactics can
"We are seeing more and more
prospective employees trying to hide their ages on
résumés," says Scott Testa, chief operating
officer at Mindbridge Software. "That's one more
reason to delete the résumé from the pile. If they
hide that, what else are they hiding?"
•Hair coloring. Sales of Just
For Men hair color rose more than 15% in the year
ended June 28 vs. two years ago. A Just For Men
survey found more than 75% of respondents think
looking younger gives them an edge in the job
market. "They don't want to be perceived as
older," says Wendy Lewis, a New York-based
cosmetic surgery consultant and author of The
Surgeon sued for placing
screwdriver in spine
HILO, Hawaii (AP) — A surgeon accused of inserting a
piece of a screwdriver into a Big Island patient's
spine, instead of a titanium rod, has been sued
Rosalinda Iturralde, the
sister of the patient who died last month, filed
suit against Dr. Robert Ricketson Monday in
It was at least the eighth
time Ricketson was sued for malpractice, attorneys
According to the suit, when
Arturo Iturralde underwent spine surgery on Jan.
29, 2001, Ricketson had already had his medical
license suspended in Oklahoma, revoked in Texas
and under review in Hawaii.
After surgery had begun, the
suit claims, the doctor realized the rod he
planned to insert was missing.
Instead of waiting for a
supplier to deliver the appropriate device, the
plaintiff says Ricketson used a hacksaw to cut a
stainless steel screwdriver, then tightened it
into place in the patient's spine.
Days later, the screwdriver
snapped in half. After surgery on Feb. 5, 2001, to
remove the screwdriver, a nurse who discovered it
in the operating room trash notified the family,
Iturralde underwent more
surgeries, but eventually become a paraplegic.
Rosalinda Iturralde contends
her brother died June 18 at age 76 because of
complications from the surgery.
It isn't known where
Ricketson, 48, now lives, though he applied for a
medical license in Kansas late last year.
Officials there recommended he withdraw his
application and he did. He could not be reached
The suit claims Ricketson was
addicted to painkillers and stole from his
Mark Davis, Iturralde's
attorney, said the screwdriver story would never
have surfaced if the operating nurse hadn't come
"This doctor had shown
previous evidence of drug abuse and incompetence
in other states," Davis said. He "should never
have been allowed to step foot into an operating
1 in 3 Doctors Withhold
AMA Ethics Chief: Docs
Must Tell Patients of All Treatment Choices
WebMD Medical News
July 10, 2003 -- One in three
doctors don't tell patients about treatments their
insurance doesn't cover.
That's a violation of doctors'
ethical code, says Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH,
director of the American Medical Association's
Institute for Ethics. He led a team that surveyed
720 U.S. doctors. Their report appears in the
July/August issue of Health Affairs.
And what they found is troubling:
- 31% of doctors sometimes don't offer useful
care to a patient because of health plan rules.
- Nearly one in 10 doctors say they do this
often or very often.
- 35% of the doctors who say they sometimes
withhold information also say they do it more
often than they did five years ago.
"One of the lessons we should take
from this is the importance of doctors being
honest with their patients and being open to
commitment to the ethics of the profession," Wynia
tells WebMD. "Our code of ethics is quite clear. A
doctor must talk about all potentially useful
services, regardless of whether they are covered
by the patient's health plan."
It's a matter of respect for the
patient and respect for the doctor's profession,
says Ken Thorpe, PhD, professor of health policy
at Atlanta's Emory University
"Of course doctors should tell their
patients about all their options -- even if they
are more expensive," Thorpe says. "What I find
disturbing is, what do these doctors do when they
have patients who are not insured? Do they not
talk to them at all? A doctor needs to outline the
full scope of treatment for a patient. Some of
these treatments are fully reimbursed, some not.
As long as patients have information on the costs
and benefits of their treatment options, they can
make their own decisions.
Most Information Withheld Doesn't
Threaten Patients' Health
It's no excuse for violating their
own ethical code, but doctors who withhold
information often are just trying to help.
A common scenario, Wynia says, is a
doctor who knows that a patient can get relief
from an older drug that's given twice daily or a
newer drug that's given once daily. If the doctor
knows the new drug is very expensive -- and not
covered by the patient's insurance -- he may not
tell the patient about the new drug.
That's wrong -- but it avoids making
patients feel bad about what they can't afford. It
also avoids a tense conversation in which the
patient may ask the doctor to bend the rules.
Doctors know all about this -- they call it
"gaming the system" -- and it, too, is unethical
and sometimes illegal.
"It seems to me substantially less
likely that a doctor would choose not to offer a
really important service," Wynia says. "If it is
really medically necessary, and you chose not to
talk about it, and the patient finds out, you end
up with a lawsuit. Nobody wants that. So we are
probably talking more about the marginal benefit,
where a service provides some utility but is not
That's paternalistic, says John D.
Banja, PhD, a clinical ethicist at the Emory
Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the
Professions. Doctors shouldn't presume to know
what patients can't afford or don't want to hear,
he says. And the least they should do for a
patient is the standard of care for their
"A doctor cannot expose a patient to
harm, peril, or menace," Banja tells WebMD. "You
can't turn your back on patients when they are
And Banja makes another point. If
treatments are truly needed, insurers are obliged
The Bottom Line: The Doctor-Patient
Wynia says that doctors make a bad
choice when they withhold information from
patients. But it's not all their fault.
"We are talking about a system that
is broken," Wynia says. "It is broken when doctors
and patients feel disempowered about coverage
decisions. When we can't understand these
decisions, this means they were made in ways we
see as unfair or illegitimate. We need to work
hard to make coverage decisions doctors and
patients can live with without sacrificing our
ethical obligations, our health, and our
For Wynia, that's the bottom line.
"The most troubling thing about this
is that if someone finds out their doctor did not
tell them of something, that can erode trust in
their relationship. And that is the last thing we
need," he says. "We need doctors and patients to
work together, not to be wary of each other."
Day care raises shy toddlers'
levels of stress hormone
particularly shy ones, release significantly more
stress hormone at child-care centers than they do
at home, spurring the question of whether group
day care could affect brain development in timid
kids, according to a study out
Shy children had the biggest
increases in cortisol, a stress hormone, during
their time at day care. Large doses of cortisol
shorten the life of brain cells in animals. But
there's no solid research on how the modest
increases seen in kids at day care might affect
their developing brains, says University of
Minnesota psychologist Megan Gunnar, the study
Gunnar and co-author Sarah
Watamura studied 67 infants and toddlers attending
child-care centers full time. Their report is in
the journal Child Development.
About 7 out of 10 toddlers —
16 to 38 months old — increased their output of
cortisol at child care. On days at home, most
didn't have increases in the stress hormone.
Infants had similar cortisol output at day care
and home, but the older babies began to have
rising stress hormones at day care, Gunnar says.
Toddlers who played less with other kids and those
rated as "socially fearful" by teachers tended to
put out the most cortisol.
Cortisol is a "fight or
flight" hormone that helps people cope with
challenging scenarios, and group day care could be
a challenge for timid kids, Gunnar says. "Teachers
tend to pay a lot of attention to those who are
causing trouble and less attention to the dog that
isn't barking, the quieter ones at the fringes,"
Older toddlers show smaller
increases than the younger ones, "and that's
reassuring," says Gunnar, since it suggests kids
adapt. Also, there's strong evidence that
high-quality day care promotes cognitive
development. Other studies find that rises in
kids' stress hormones correlate with poor-quality
day care, but this study did not consider quality,
Cortisol surges in adults can
hinder the immune system, and that might help
explain why toddlers in group care are prone to
getting colds and viruses, she adds.
One small study on family day
care found smaller cortisol rises than at centers.
There's no research on nanny care yet, Gunnar
The best day-care centers can
meet the needs of even timid children, "and we
don't know that keeping them home longer with a
nanny helps them," says Stanford University
psychologist Eleanor Maccoby, an expert on child
Still, shy kids might benefit
from some home care "if finances allow it," she
says. "We know the environment can program the
nervous system, and there might be a little risk
to putting a very fearful toddler in some child
The study isn't detailed
enough to tell how group care affects health, says
University of Pittsburgh psychologist Karen
Matthews. "It does suggest there's a group of
sensitive kids who find center care overwhelming.
We don't know how this care will affect them in
the long run."
Officials brace for new season of
West Nile infections
At least four people have
fallen ill with West Nile virus infection, federal
officials said Tuesday, marking the start of what
could be another epidemic year in the USA.
At this time last summer, the
same number of people were known to be infected,
said Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. But what concerns
officials is that the number of states reporting
the virus in mosquitoes, birds and horses is
running ahead of last year's rate.
Thirty-two states have
reported West Nile so far, compared to 20 in
mid-July 2002. In addition, it has been found in
birds in Delaware, state officials there said.
Three people in Texas and one
in South Carolina have fallen ill. A fifth person
ill with West Nile symptoms, which include fever,
severe headache and muscle aches, is being tested
in a third unnamed state, Gerberding said.
Last year's epidemic of West
Nile, a mosquito-borne virus, was the most severe
on record, causing 4,156 serious illnesses and 284
deaths. "The signs all indicate there's reason to
anticipate a problem" again this year, she said,
but there is "reason to be optimistic" because
research on prevention, detection and treatment is
An experimental blood
screening test being used by blood banks has
already picked up the virus in a donor who had no
symptoms of illness, said Food and Drug
Administration official Jay Epstein, and the first
rapid diagnostic test for West Nile was approved
last week. While not conclusive — positive results
require more testing to distinguish between West
Nile and similar viruses — "its availability is
considered a major contribution to the fight
against West Nile," Epstein said.
Progress is being made on
another front in that battle, said James Meegan of
the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Diseases. An experimental West Nile vaccine
appears to be safe and effective in animal tests,
and testing in humans may begin by the end of the
summer, he said. The vaccine, which is made by
mixing West Nile Virus with the vaccine currently
used to prevent yellow fever, "looks like our best
bet," he said, though other approaches are being
In addition, Meegan said,
researchers have tested about 600 drugs to see if
any are effective against West Nile. So far, about
20-30 show signs of promise and are being studied
"There is an enormous amount
of work going on in this area," said Gerberding,
but "for right now, the most important message is
that people need to be prepared and take steps
necessary to prevent exposure" to mosquitoes and
the viruses they may carry.
Experts can't decide on vitamin
There is not enough
evidence to advise or discourage the use of
vitamin supplements to reduce the risk of cancer
and heart disease, the Preventive Services Task
Force says in today's Annals of Internal
Medicine. The government advisory panel
considered several dozen studies on vitamins and
found that the results were often "inadequate or
conflicting." Past studies have suggested
that antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E included,
block heart-damaging effects of oxygen on arteries
and cell damage that could cause some types of
Under fire, food
giants switch to healthier fare
Kraft sets the pace,
launching global overhaul today. With lawsuits
looming and parents worrying about obese kids,
marketers respond with less-junky snacks in
Junk food's best consumers are kids --
increasingly obese kids.
So that's not the dinner bell you hear. It's an
alarm bell raising Oreo-size goose bumps for the
giant makers of now-unfashionable sugary, fatty
and calorie-laden foods. All are faced with this
new reality: As concern about obesity rises,
they're within a few cookie crumbs of becoming the
next Big Tobacco for trial lawyers.
''You can't stop tobacco from being
unhealthy,'' says Sam Hirsch, an attorney whose
obese clients filed lawsuits against McDonald's.
''But you can make food less unhealthy.''
Consumer groups are screaming. Parents are
steaming. Lawyers are suing. The obese are
stewing. Lawmakers are threatening a ''fat tax.''
And some analysts are giving food stocks the ax.
That's why, faster than you can say ''supersize
it,'' the nation's food behemoths are responding:
* Kraft Foods, the nation's largest food
company, will announce today a sweeping, global
overhaul of the way it creates, packages and
promotes its foods. Kraft plans to reduce the
portion size, fat and calories of many of its
foods, a move that other major food companies
worldwide are expected to mimic. ''This will force
everyone else to review their policies and get on
board,'' says Derek Yach, coordinator of diet and
physical activity at the powerful World Health
* McDonald's this summer will test a Happy Meal
with an option to replace the wildly popular --
but fat-filled -- french fries with a bag of
fresh, sliced fruit.
* Frito-Lay is within weeks of eliminating all
artery-clogging trans fatty acids from its chips
and snacks. And the CEO of its parent company,
PepsiCo, has vowed that at least half of its new
foods and beverages will be aimed at
* Kellogg recently bought Kashi, whose cereals
have no highly refined sugars or preservatives.
Analysts say the food giants haven't suddenly
become food pyramid angels looking out for the
nutritional well-being of America's youth. Rather,
they're increasingly concerned about lawsuits,
legislation and profits.
''This issue isn't going away,'' says Caroline
Levy, consumer group director at UBS, which issued
a report warning why many food stocks could be hit
hard. ''It puts at risk companies that make
That's most foodmakers.
''The bottom line for the food industry is
money,'' says William Sears, author of two books
on kids and nutrition. Few products are cheaper to
dump into food than sugar, so many foodmakers pour
in lots, he says. ''What motivates the food
industry and health-minded mothers is worlds
Not so, says Betsy Holden, co-CEO of Kraft
Foods. ''We're a company focused on doing what's
right,'' she says. ''As a mother and a former
teacher, I believe one of the most important
things we can do is to educate people about eating
and living better.''
Looking to stay out of court
It's no longer socially acceptable for food
giants to blatantly target kids with junky foods.
Just about anyone who markets food to kids is
rethinking what they make and how they package and
''Every major foodmaker is terrified about
lawsuits,'' says Marion Nestle, nutrition
department chair at New York University. ''All big
food companies are re-examining their product
lines -- and how they market them.''
Big Food senses Big Trouble. Americans will
spend just under $1 trillion on food this year,
and foodmakers can no longer sit idly hoping the
wave of concern is just a temporary case of
indigestion cooked up by the media.
Some school lunch programs are eliminating the
junkiest foods. Consumer groups are proposing a
''fat tax'' on some junk foods -- and even
nutritional ''warnings'' on product packaging.
Some legislatures have discussed requiring
fast-food makers to post calories and fat on their
menu boards. And lawsuits are being filed by folks
who accuse the food kingpins of helping make
Perhaps no one scares the fast-foodies more
than John Banzhaf. He's best known for
spearheading billion-dollar victories over the
tobacco industry and is widely credited for the
removal of cigarette commercials from television.
Now the professor of public interest at George
Washington University is taking aim at food.
As a prelude to a lawsuit, Banzhaf recently
sent fast-food executives a letter demanding they
display restaurant signs warning that fatty foods
are addictive. ''I don't expect they'll do it,''
he says. ''But we have to start somewhere.''
More overweight children
The food giants all know what that means: They
must square the foods they target at kids with
statistics on how fat the kids are getting. There
are twice as many overweight children and three
times as many overweight adolescents as in 1980,
says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Jennifer Beaton only wishes her daughter,
Katherine, 10, could drop fatty, salty snacks.
Katherine adores Doritos chips and McDonald's
When the Westlake, Ohio, mom noticed Katherine
putting on weight, she ceased the weekly Friday
afternoon trips to McDonald's for large fries and
a soft drink. And she began to remind her daughter
how fattening the chips could be. Katherine has
lost weight since then, but it hasn't been easy.
''How do you fight with these companies?'' asks
Beaton. ''Maybe they just don't realize how
frustrated parents are.''
Not everyone, however, blames the food giants.
''It's fun and easy to blame all this on
supersized meals and too many vending machines,''
says Robyn Flipse, a registered dietitian and
author. ''But one of the most important things a
parent can do for a child is to give them a
concept of how to eat well.''
Even some parents agree the food buck stops
''The foodmakers are in business to make money
-- and to do that, they've got to target kids,''
says Kerrie Mae Mitchell, an Olney, Md., mother of
an 11-year-old son. ''A parent's job is to
But some food giants -- motivated by the bottom
line -- are starting to redirect themselves.
Foodmakers' game plan
* Kraft. The food kingpin is forming a global
advisory panel of nutritionists and other
outsiders who over the next year will change the
way Kraft makes, packages and promotes its food.
A cap -- to be determined -- will be placed on
the portion size of all single-serve products.
Many products will have calories and fat reduced.
Kraft will eliminate all in-school marketing and
drop some products -- perhaps sugary cookies --
from school vending machines.
''We're making these commitments because we
think it's the right thing to do for the people
who use our products -- and the right thing to do
for our business,'' says Michael Mudd, senior vice
president at Kraft. ''Sometimes, the right thing
to do is also the smart thing to do.''
Kraft's highly profitable Lunchables meal kits,
which typically contain crackers, processed meat
and cheese, fruit punch and candy, have long been
criticized by nutritionists.
In response, Kraft recently added the
Lunchables Fun Fuel line that the company claims
has more nutritious products -- including yogurt
(replacing a candy bar) and 100% fruit juice
(replacing fruit punch). The new lunch kit
replaces the ham, cheese and crackers with such
items as chicken and cheese wrapped in pita bread.
And, following a lawsuit over the trans fatty
acids in its Oreo cookies, Kraft is on a mission
to eliminate -- or greatly reduce -- trans fat in
all of its cookies and crackers.
* McDonald's. For McDonald's, the upcoming
Happy Meal fruit test may be just the beginning.
The test will also give consumers an option to
substitute 100% juice for soft drinks. Industry
consultants also expect McDonald's to eventually
offer fresh vegetables -- such as bagged carrots
-- as an option for kids.
''If healthy lifestyles are becoming more
important to our customers,'' says CEO Jim
Cantalupo, ''we want to play a leadership role.''
But critics wonder: What took so long?
Even as McDonald's recently introduced a
much-advertised entrée salad line that targets
adults, critics wonder when McDonald's will pump
as much promotional money into new, kid-friendly
products that also are more nutritious.
''McDonald's has spent billions of dollars to
convince kids that somebody at McDonald's loves
them,'' says Hirsch, the attorney. ''But the food
is downright unhealthy if consumed on a regular
McDonald's and healthy lifestyles
McDonald's is feeling the pressure. About three
months ago, McDonald's named its first-ever
corporate vice president of healthy lifestyles.
And within the past few months, it overhauled its
Web site to include an interactive section dubbed
Bag A McMeal. It allows consumers to find out the
precise amount of calories, fat and sodium in
every meal option available.
''We see in our research that this is becoming
more important to consumers,'' says Ken Barun,
corporate vice president of healthy lifestyles.
''Moms want to provide healthy options for their
* Frito-Lay. For a company that has built its
snacking empire on chips fried in oil, Frito-Lay
would seem to have the toughest nutritional nut to
Perhaps no Frito-Lay product is more
kid-targeted than its puffed, orange-colored
Cheetos. Earlier this year, the company introduced
Reduced Fat Cheetos.
The new line has about half the fat of regular
Cheetos and about half the unsaturated fat. Even
the sodium was reduced to 210 milligrams per
serving from 290.
The company has spent big promotional dollars
to convince school cafeteria managers that these
new Cheetos are the real nutritional deal. It even
sent thousands of videotapes on which PepsiCo CEO
Steven Reinemund says the unthinkable:
''Overindulgence in any of our products is not
something we encourage or recommend.''
What's behind all this?
''We read the papers,'' says Rocco Papalia,
senior vice president of technology at Frito-Lay.
He's in charge of all new product development. So,
it's no accident that Frito-Lay also plans to
eliminate artery-clogging trans fatty acids from
all of its products by the end of September. But
none of this comes easy -- nor is it easy to sell.
''It's difficult to get kids to eat something
they don't want,'' says Papalia. ''It doesn't do
any good to reduce calories, fat or sodium on
something nobody wants.''
* Kellogg. Even the maker of Froot Loops says
it's serious about kids' nutrition. Never mind
that two of its newest cereals -- Disney's Mud
& Bugs and Tony's Cinnamon Krunchers -- are
heavy on sugar.
Earlier this year, Kellogg introduced Froot
Loops & Milk Bars, a snack bar with dehydrated
milk. ''Too many kids are skipping breakfast,''
says Donna Banks, senior vice president of
research, quality and technology at Kellogg.
''This way, they get the nutrition of milk and
cereal right inside the bar.''
Kellogg purchased Kashi, an organic cereal
line, for $30 million two years ago. Industry
executives say Kellogg executives are studying the
line to figure out ways to put some of its
nutritious elements into future products.
How much sugar is too much? ''We do a lot of
consumer testing,'' says Banks. ''We put as little
sugar in as we can to make it acceptable.
Flawed gene linked to
A flawed gene that
appears to promote manic-depression, or bipolar
disorder, has been identified by scientists.
Manic-depression, which effects about 2.3 million
American adults, involves episodes of depression
Gag order: No over-the-counter
Food and Drug
Administration advisers on Thursday narrowly voted
that ipecac syrup should not be available
over-the-counter. Since 1965, doctors have
advised parents to keep a bottle of the syrup in
their medicine cabinets to make their children
vomit if they swallow some poisonous liquid.
In the past few years, though, experts have
concluded that children given ipecac syrup to
treat poisoning do no better than those who don't
take it. The FDA advisory panel voted 6-4 to
recommend that ipecac syrup not be available
without a prescription.
One-third of Americans born in
2000 will get diabetes
Minorities face even greater risk,
new study finds
A third of the people
born in the USA in 2000, and more than half of
Hispanic woman, will develop diabetes, says the
first study to estimate lifetime risk of the
An estimated 17
million Americans have diabetes. It is a
leading cause of heart and kidney diseases, limb
amputation and blindness.
The study did not
differentiate between type 2 diabetes, which
accounts for more than 90% of cases, and the rarer
type 1, an autoimmune disease that effects about 1
million Americans. In type 1, the body
destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas,
Type 2 results from the body's inability to use
Consumers may have a beef with
cattle feed 'Mad
cow' fears bring scrutiny on what the government
lets cows eat
If you don't finish your steak at a restaurant,
did you know the leftovers might be dinner for a
cow? Or that calves, instead of drinking their
mothers' milk, are fed formula made from cows'
These practices, all perfectly legal, have come
to light with the discovery last month of North
America's first homegrown case of ''mad cow''
Rocked by the specter of spreading infection on
the continent, the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration and Department of Agriculture have
turned their attention to ways of keeping deadly
agents that spread the disease out of cattle and
But opening this delicate topic could have
unappetizing consequences for consumers who rarely
think about what those sizzling steaks and burgers
went through on the way from feedlot to backyard
grill. When they do, they might not want to pay
higher prices to change the system.
Americans have a bucolic image of cows happily
chomping grass in fields. Many don't know that
modern animal husbandry practices have provided
cheap, plentiful meat through such standard
practices as feeding cattle not only pieces of
their herd mates (before the practice was banned
in 1997) but also chicken litter, leftover
restaurant food and out-of-date pet food.
Cleaning up this act could be costly, and
Americans demand cheap meat, says Janice Swanson,
an animal behavior specialist who studies cattle
at Kansas State University.
''The consuming public needs to understand that
it's not just the fault of the producers. The
pressure on them is to produce a product that's so
cheap that they have to capture every possible
efficiency,'' Swanson says. ''The average consumer
doesn't care, and they're not going to pay one
For now, that choice seems far away.
Authorities have found ''mad cow'' disease in only
a single cow in Canada, although it was reported
Wednesday that five steers that once were part of
that cow's herd had been shipped to Montana and
later sent to slaughter. Officials caution that
there's no reason to believe the bulls were
infected because all other animals from that herd
have tested negative.
Even so, the authorities have taken no chances:
The United States closed the border to Canadian
cattle and beef products after the discovery, and
teams of USDA and FDA investigators descended on
Canada and Montana.
Even if this case is contained, authorities
want to head off disaster. Scientists know there's
only one way a cow -- a natural herbivore -- can
get bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, the
brain-wasting disease that in its human form has
killed at least 150 people worldwide since 1996
and devastated the British beef industry. It has
to be given feed by its human handlers that
contains infected animal byproducts. In short,
someone has to feed it ground-up cow.
The FDA tests 600 domestic and 600 import feed
samples a year for prohibited materials, which
include ground-up ruminants -- animals that chew
their cud such as cows, sheep and goats -- in cow
feed. Consumer groups say this is woefully
On Nov. 6, the FDA published an ''advance
notice of proposed rulemaking,'' federal-speak
indicating that the agency might change meat
industry regulations. The FDA notice was couched
as the beginning of a discussion on whether it was
even necessary to change the rules on cattle
The leisurely nature of this discussion is
gone. Industry leaders agree current U.S. rules on
the feeding of cattle -- the mostly likely source
of the infection in Canada -- will undergo a major
overhaul, though no one can say when.
''Before this thing in Canada happened, I
really doubted there would be much change,'' says
Rex Runyon of the American Feed Industry
Association. ''But now . . . it's going to happen;
they're going to make some changes.''
The five areas of discussion the FDA delineated
in its November notice include:
* Excluding brain and spinal cord from animal
byproducts. Before the outbreak of mad cow in
Britain, cows were given feed that included the
ground-up remnants of cows. The most dangerous of
these byproducts are the brains and spinal cords,
the tissues that harbor the most infectious
agents. Mad cow is caused by prions, proteins that
for unknown reasons fold into the wrong shape and
As for using the parts of animals that we don't
consume, the rendering industry was considered an
ecological success until mad cow, says Will
Hueston, director of the University of Minnesota's
Center for Animal Health and Food Safety and a BSE
''You were cooking the material, reducing the
bulk, extracting the fat which could be used in
soaps, candles, fuels and a whole range of
industrial uses, and the rendered protein material
turned out to be a great protein supplement. It
looked like a win-win situation,'' Hueston says.
''And remember that prior to BSE, everyone
believed that the high-temperature cooking in
rendering kills all the disease organisms.''
What happened in Britain in the late 1980s was
a cycle of infection in which a sick animal's
parts went into the feed and infected more
animals. Britain eventually banned the feeding of
meat and bone meal to animals, which stopped the
disease in its tracks.
In response to the outbreak in Britain and
other European countries, the United States and
Canada in 1997 made it illegal to feed cows meat
and bone meal made from ruminants. The feed bans
in both countries do allow use of that feed for
poultry and pigs.
But the larger concern since the
inception of that ban has been that there were too
many loopholes, too many ways for material that
can transmit mad cow to get to cows and then
possibly to humans.
The crisis ''calls for some pretty drastic
measures if we're going to try to ensure the
safety of the beef industry,'' says Larry Hollis,
an extension veterinarian at Kansas State
University. To him, and to many in the industry, a
total ban keeping all mammal by-products out of
animal feed might be the only way to protect
consumers. ''Some people are so hung up on
low-cost production that they will violate
whatever rules are there,'' Hollis says. ''Unless
we keep it out of the feed stream for any purpose,
we could have trouble.''
Says John Stauber, author of Mad Cow USA: Could
the Nightmare Happen Here?: ''What we need to do
is obvious but economically painful for the
livestock industry. That's to implement exactly
the same regulations that exist in Britain and
Europe and ban all feeding of slaughterhouse waste
New York University nutrition professor Marion
Nestle, author of Safe Food: Bacteria,
Biotechnology and Bioterrorism, says: ''There are
lots of reasons why cannibalism isn't a good idea.
This is a real wake-up call about the way we've
been feeding animals.''
* The use of poultry litter in cattle feed. In
parts of the country where cattle are raised near
poultry production areas, it's not uncommon to
feed them poultry litter -- basically excreta,
bedding, spilled feed and feathers. This practice
is not allowed in Canada.
Chickens can't get any diseases similar to mad
cow, so they can legally be fed meat and bone meal
made from cattle. But there is concern that
spilled feed as well as partially digested feed
might end up back in cattle troughs, resulting in
the same potential cycle of infection that caused
the British outbreak of mad cow.
''It's gross,'' says Caroline Smith DeWaal,
food safety director of the Center for Science in
the Public Interest. ''Until BSE, this was this
hidden issue of what the animals were eating.''
But it makes sense from a nutrition stance,
says Neil Lamming, a BSE educator with the
Washington state Department of Agriculture. Cows
have four stomachs that can digest this material
and extract nutrients in a way that animals with
one stomach cannot.
Because Washington isn't a major poultry
producing state, the practice isn't common there.
But Ali Kashani, who manages the state's feed
program, acknowledges that there's a public
relations problem. ''The main reason it's not so
widespread is because of consumer reaction to
it.'' Kashani says.
* Eliminating the restaurant-plate waste
exemption to the feed ban. The 1997 law that
banned most mammalian remains from cattle feed has
an interesting provision that clears a path from
cuisine to cow. The ''plate waste'' exemption
allows restaurants to sell plate scrapings and
leftovers to renderers, which turn them into
cattle feed, among other things.
The American Feed Industry Association's Runyon
defends the exemption: ''How can you tell the
consumer 'Hey, you've just eaten a T-bone steak
and it's fine for you, but you can't feed it to
* The use of pet food in ruminant feed. Retail
pet food frequently contains ruminant meat and
bone meal, but unlike agricultural animal feed,
there's no requirement that it be labeled ''Do not
feed to cattle or other ruminants.'' However,
out-of-date dry cat and dog food is sometimes sold
as salvage and ends up being fed to cattle. The
FDA is wondering whether all pet food should be
labeled, just in case.
* Preventing cross-contamination of feed. A
Government Accounting Office report found that at
rendering and feed plants where both ruminant and
non-ruminant meat and bone meal were made,
cross-contamination could occur. FDA is
considering whether it should require that
rendering and feed plants be allowed to do only
one or the other, but not both, to guard against
It's in the blood
Spray-dried cow and pig blood is used in feed
to provide protein, as a soluble product to mix in
animals' drinking water and, most commonly, as a
milk replacement for calves. Blood serum is
especially effective as a supplement for calves
that are removed from their mothers at less than
24 hours after birth.
Though scientists have been able to transmit
the sheep version of mad cow via blood, no one has
been able to do it in cattle.
But Stauber, author of the Mad Cow book, finds
it laughable that while U.S. regulatory agencies
are cautious enough about the human blood supply
that they don't allow anyone who lived in Britain
in the 1980s to donate blood, they feed cow blood
to cows every day and then allow them to be eaten.
''The question is whether it can be transmitted by
oral feeding. But those experiments involve years,
if not decades,'' he says. ''We have to err on the
side of caution.''
In the end, some change is likely, whether from
scientific, practical or political necessity.
''I believe there's always going to be folks
out there who are maybe going to be trying to cut
corners and get ahead of the game,'' says Shane
Sklar, executive director of the Independent
Cattleman's Association of Texas. ''But we can't
risk the entire United States beef industry on a
few bad apples that are toying around with trying
to make a quick dollar.''
But Mad Cow author Stauber, who has followed
the disease for more than a decade, says he'll
believe in the reforms when he sees them. ''Every
time there's media attention to this issue, every
time consumer and producers start asking
questions, we get this lip service out of USDA and
FDA that 'Yes, we need to do the right thing; it's
just going to take time.' But they're just not
ready to bite the bullet -- it's too economically
painful for the livestock feed industry.''
From Reuters Chicago, June 11, 2003
U.S. Health Authorities Wednesday
Recommended Smallpox Vaccinations for
anyone exposed to "Monkey Pox" either from
infected pets or from the roughly 63 human cases,
all but one in the midwest. The
U.S. government also banned the importation or
trade of African rodents, including Gambian rats
believed to be the original source of the
smallpox-like illness previously unseen in the
Western Hemisphere, said David Fleming, deputy
director of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta.
confident that everything that can be done is
being done to prevent the spread of this virus,''
Fleming told reporters, citing efforts to track
down and euthanize infected animals.
ban was placed on the sale and transportation of
prairie dogs, a rodent native to the U.S. Great
Plains, that the African rats are believed to have
infected and which in turn transmitted the virus
to humans through bites or scratches.
source of the illness was believed to be a
shipment of Gambian rats from Africa to Texas that
later infected captured prairie dogs. Both species
are part of a growing trade in so-called exotic
pets through networks that health authorities have
found difficult to track down.
infected animals were sold to an Illinois
distributor, and the virus has been spread to pet
shops, pet brokers and pet owners via formal and
informal sales in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.
The affected states quickly declared bans on trade
in one or both of the species.
SEVERAL STATES AFFECTED
health departments have reported 29 confirmed or
suspected human cases in Indiana, 21 in Wisconsin,
12 in Illinois and one sickened boy in New Jersey
who apparently contracted the illness on a recent
visit to the Midwest.
no treatment for monkeypox, which usually runs its
course within two weeks after causing flu-like
symptoms and pus-filled blisters on the body.
There has been no evidence to date of
human-to-human transmission in the United States,
although it does occur in Africa.
current outbreak of monkeypox in humans has the
potential to pose a threat to public health in the
United States,'' Health and Human Services
Secretary Tommy Thompson said.
monkeypox is not as harmful as smallpox,
authorities fear a sickened animal, which displays
cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose and eyes
plus a rash, might escape or be discarded into the
wild and spread the virus to squirrels or other
species. One pet rabbit exposed to a prairie dog
smallpox vaccine has been found to be roughly 85
percent effective in warding off monkeypox in
humans, which kills between 1 percent and 10
percent of its victims in the rain forests of
central and western Africa, Fleming said.
recommended that local public health authorities
vaccinate health investigators, veterinary staff,
relatives of monkeypox victims, and others who
believed they were exposed to the virus as long as
two weeks ago.
to be prepared for the fact that monkeypox can be
a fatal disease,'' Fleming said. ''We are
recommending smallpox vaccine for a limited number
of people -- we feel the risk is sufficient to
warrant recommending it, (even) for pregnant women
vaccine, which has been stockpiled in recent
months because of a perceived bioterror threat, is
potentially dangerous for some recipients -- a few
people in every million can be expected to die
from the vaccine. The recent limited vaccination
program has produced some unforeseen side effects,
including 21 people who have suffered inflammation
of the heart or a membrane around the heart.
U.S. bans prairie dog sales in bid
to stop monkeypox
ATLANTA (AP) —
The U.S. government banned the sale of prairie
dogs, prohibited the importation of African
rodents and recommended smallpox shots Wednesday
for people exposed to monkeypox, the exotic
African disease that has spread from pet prairie
dogs to humans.
vaccine can prevent monkeypox up to two weeks
after exposure to the virus, but is most effective
in the first four days.
optimistic we can deliver the vaccine to these
people in time to do good," said Dr. David
Fleming, deputy director for Public Health and
Science at the Centers for Disease Control and
aggressive response to the disease came the same
day that the federal investigation of the
monkeypox outbreak was expanded to eight more
states, bringing the total to 15.
This is the
first outbreak of monkeypox in the Western
"We must do
everything we can to protect persons who are
exposed to monkeypox in the course of
investigating or responding to the outbreak," CDC
director Dr. Julie Gerberding said.
Fleming said he
is confident the disease will be controlled.
"Monkeypox is a
disease that is potentially transmissible from
person to person but at a fairly low level," he
said. "I don't anticipate the same kind of problem
that we anticipate from SARS."
of Agriculture will be in charge of enforcing the
prairie dog ban, which also prohibits transporting
the animals. Gambian rats and five other types of
large African rodents were banned because a
Gambian rat is believed to have spread the virus
to prairie dogs, which are actually rodents and
are native to the American Plains.
Fleming said the
smallpox vaccine is 85% effective against
monkeypox. The smallpox vaccine is widely
available because states stocked up on it out of
fear of bioterrorism. More than 37,000 health
workers in the United States have been vaccinated
as a result.
departments have been actively involved in
planning and preparing for the possibility of a
bioterrorist event," Health and Human Services
Secretary Tommy Thompson said. "We are now seeing
that this level of preparation can also assist in
unexpected, natural outbreaks."
The CDC said
health care workers, veterinarians and family
members who have cared for or had close contact
with infected people or animals should get
vaccinations. The agency also warned veterinarians
and doctors to be on the lookout for the symptoms,
especially in owners of prairie dogs or exotic
rodents from Africa.
didn't know how many people would have to be
vaccinated, but Fleming said he expected the
number to be modest.
About 40 out of
every million people vaccinated for the first time
will face a life-threatening injury, and one or
two will die.
Still, the CDC
is recommending even pregnant women, children and
people with eczema — for whom the vaccine is not
recommended — who have been exposed to infected
prairie dogs get the vaccine.
"Because of the
real risk here ... we're recommending a somewhat
aggressive approach of who should get the
vaccine," Fleming said.
Monkeypox-infected prairie dogs distributed
from Phil's Pocket Pets of Villa Park, Ill., may
have been sold to numerous buyers in 15 states
since April 15, according to a Department of
Agriculture emergency warning issued Wednesday.
The states where
possibly infected prairie dogs were being sought
were Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi,
Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York,
Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Texas,
Ohio and South Carolina.
health officials in Mississippi said they had
ruled out a possible threat, saying two animals
shipped to the state from the Illinois pet shop
turned out to be a pair of healthy flying
As of Wednesday,
health officials had confirmed a total of nine
human cases of the disease — four in Wisconsin,
four in Indiana and one in Illinois. Fifty-four
possible cases had been reported — 25 in Indiana,
17 in Wisconsin, 11 in Illinois and one in New
Jersey, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said.
No one has died
of the disease.
produces pus-filled blisters, fever, rash, chills
and aches, is a milder relative of smallpox. It
has a mortality rate of 1% to 10% in Africa, but
U.S. officials believe better nutrition and
medical treatment here probably will prevent
are seeking people who have bought or swapped
exotic pets distributed since April by Pocket
Pets, where a shipment of prairie dogs is believed
to have been infected by a Gambian giant rat
imported from Africa.
scientific adviser at the Army Medical Research
Institute for Infectious Diseases, said exotic
animals may in the future have to be put in
quarantine and examined thoroughly for diseases.
That has worked for imports of primates, which
spread yellow fever in the 1930s and suffered from
Ebola in 1989.
From USA Today
in monkeypox scare
The number of people in the
Midwest possibly infected with monkeypox, a close
relative of smallpox, jumped Monday to at least
34. Health officials are considering whether to
recommend smallpox vaccination for people who may
have been exposed to infected prairie dogs and
other exotic pets.
Monkeypox is not as severe or as contagious as
smallpox, but experts admit they don't know how it
would behave if it spread widely here because no
one has seen a case in the USA until now.
Fearing that the rare African virus could
spread to wild animal populations, health and
agriculture officials in the three affected states
-- Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois -- are tracking
down prairie dogs, Gambian giant rats and other
exotic animals that may be infected. They are
urging pet owners to notify health officials if
they have sick animals.
The outbreak came to light after several people
involved in the sale or purchase of prairie dogs
from a Milwaukee animal distributor fell ill. The
Wisconsin dealer bought the prairie dogs and a
Gambian giant rat, which was sick at the time of
sale, from an Illinois distributor in mid-April.
Since then, the animals have been sold at pet
stores and at ''swap meets,'' gatherings where
animals are traded and sold.
''At this point, we don't know how many animals
are involved, and we don't know the scope of the
problem in terms of affected areas,'' said Stephen
Ostroff of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. He said six people are hospitalized
with symptoms that include fever, pustular rash
and cough; none is gravely ill. All those affected
had direct contact with sick prairie dogs or, in
one case, a sick rabbit that had been exposed to
an ill prairie dog.
The worry now, said infectious disease
specialist Kurt Reed of the Marshfield (Wis.)
Clinic, is keeping the virus from spreading to
squirrels, mice or other local animals. ''Everyone
hopes this is a one-shot deal for the history
books, but look what happened with West Nile
virus.'' West Nile emerged in 1999 in New York
City and has spread nationwide and into
From USA Today
Montana investigates mad cow
Bulls bought from Canada may have
been in tainted herd
The mad cow investigation crossed
into the USA on Wednesday with the announcement
that five bulls believed to be herd-mates of
Canada's single infected cow were sold to a
Montana rancher in 1997.
It's likely that the bulls were
slaughtered before this year and entered the U.S.
food supply. But experts caution that
there's no reason to panic. Representatives
of U.S. and Montana government agencies say
American beef eaters are not at risk from the
fatal brain-wasting disease.
No quarantines are
planned, but the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, the U.S. Department of Argiculture
and the Montana Department of Livestock are
The yearling bulls
were born in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan
in 1996. Their herd is one of 18 Canada has
quarantined because the cow diagnosed with the
disease or her offspring spent time in it.
The sick cow was killed in January, but the test
results showed last month that she was
The bulls came to the
USA in April 1997, the FDA's Lester Crawford said
in a telephone news conference with Canadian
officials Wednesday. Although U.S. officials
don't know what happened to those five, brand
inspection records show that 11 bulls from that
ranch were sold to three stockyards from 1999 to
2002: one in Montana and two in South
Dakota. It is believed the five Canadian
bulls were among them.
Montana officials say
there's no reason to believe the animals were not
slaughtered and sold as meat, but their
investigation is not yet complete. Officials
in both countries believe the probable source of
infection in the Canadian cow was feed tht
included ground-up cattle infected with the
disease that scientists call bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE). Both Canada and the
United States banned the use of bovine meat and
bone meal in cattle feed in 1997.
Because the disease is
not transmitted merely by proximity, the biggest
danger of infection to other cattle, including the
five bulls, would have been eating the same
FDA cites lack of post-marketing
Drug companies win
approval to sell drugs by promising to
conduct post-marketing research, but more than
half of such reaearch has yet to begin, the Food
and Drug Administration reports.
Post-marketing research can be crucial for
tracking side effects and, in the case of
fast-track drugs to treat life-threatening
diseases, for proving that a medicine that
alleviates symptoms also lengthens lives. On
Thursday, the FDA said 60% of 1,339 promised
post-marketing studies of drugs had not begun, nor
had 30% of 223 promised studies of biological
Pet food recalled as mad cow
A pet food company
asked for customers to return dog food that may
have come from a Canadian cow that tested positive
for mad cow disease, the Food and Drug
Administration said. Pet Pantry
International of Carson City, Nev., said customers
should search for two products: "Maintenance Diet"
with a "use by date of "17FEB04" and "Beef with
Barley" with a date of "05MAR04." There is
no known risk to dogs and no evidence that dogs
could transmit the disease to humans, the FDA
said. The voluntary return is to prevent
discarded dog food from getting mixed with feed
for cattle, goats or sheep. The Canadian
governmen talready has prevented meat for the
single diseased cow to be processed for hman
Study: Smallpox immunity remains
in body for years after vaccination
against smallpox as long as 75 years ago may still
retain some immunity to the disease, a new study
finds. That means as many as 150 million
Americans could already be significantly protected
, researchers say.
vaccinia, the live virus used in the smallpox
vacine, were present in more than 90% of the 306
people tested, and remained fairly constant
whether the participants were vaccinated a year
ago or as far back as 1928, says researcher Mark
K. Slifka of the Oregon Health and Science
University. "From one to 75 years out, the
levels were in the same range," he says.
Group seeks warning against
overheating non-stick cookware
An environmental group
has asked the Consumer Product Safety commission
to require warnings on non-stick cookware
informing consumers of the hazards they pose to
pet birds, and potentially humans, when
Veterinarians have long
known that overheatin non-stick cookware produces
toxins that can kill birds. The syndrome is
so well documented that it is included in the
standard veterinary text on the subject, Avian
Medicine: Principles and Applications.
"It's almost like a
bomb blast - the birds that are further away from
the kitchen will show fewer signs, while the birds
coser will die," says Darrel Styles, an avian
veterinarian at Texas A&M University.
Exposure to the fumes causes the bird's lungs to
fill with fluid and can cause deathe within
minutes, Styles says.
The Washington, D.C. -
based Environmental Working Group would like that
knowledge to be more widespread, especially
because in people, breathing such fumes can result
in what's know as "polymer fume fever," a short
illness that mimics the flu with fever, chills,
shivering, chest discomfort, cough and sore
"We recommend cooking
using coated non-stick cookware at low to medium
heat," Dupont's Rich Angiullo says, "We know (our
product) can withstand temperatures up to 500
degrees F, wll above any of the recommended
temperatures for frying or baking." Dupont
manufactures Teflon, the most popular non-stick
and reality don't always coincide, says
Environmental Working Group president Ken
Cook. "We're still searching for the person
who has never left a pan on a stovetop and had it
get real hot."
In fact, a 1982 paper
published in the American Journal of Veterinary
Research by R.E. Wells of Michigan State
university finds that non-stick cookware begins to
break down at 536 degrees.
"Such temperatures are
generally not reached in routine kitchen use, but
can be reached in a few minutes when such
cookware, if dry, were inadvertently exposed to
domestic heat sources," Wells wrote.
Underwriters Laboratories say that all
UL-certified electric ranges should bring a pan to
475 degrees when the knob is turned to two-thirds
high, and that the maximun heat would probably
exceed 600-650 degrees.
A test done last week
by the Environmental Working Group found that a
cold non-stick pan placed on a cold burner that
was then turned on high reached 736 degrees in
three minutes and 20 seconds. Another
reached 721 degrees in five minutes.
While this isn't
rocket science, the environmental group
believes it's close to the experience of millions
who've put a pan on the stove and then run to
answer the phone or the door "for just a
"Dupont is telling
it's customers that only under extreme cases of
misuse will this stuff (give off) toxic particles
and fumes," Cook says. "That's not extreme
misuse," he says. "That's use."
Polytetrafluorothylene, the material in non-stick
coatings, is in cookware, irons, pans, skillets,
waffle makers, woks, ovens, bread makers, electric
heaters, heat lamps, printers, and light
Lawsuit targets Oreos for trans
A public-interest lawyer has
sued Nabisco, seeking a ban on Oreos because of
dangerous fats. The lawsut, which was filed
May 1 in Marin county, Calif., superior court,
seeks a ban on the cookies because it says the
trans fats that make the filling creamy and the
cookie crisp are too dangerous for children.
Stephen Joseph, head of BanTransFats.com Inc.,
says he has targeted Nabisco because other major
snack food makers have reduced the amount of trans
fats in their products but Nabisco has not.
Nabisco has been exploring ways to reduce
trans fats in Oreos, company spokesman Michael
Mudd says. He also pointed out that the
reduced-fat Oreos have half the trans fats as the
regular cookies. The National Academy of
Science's Institute of Medicine, which advises the
government on health policy, said last summer that
this kind of fat should not be consumed at
all. It is directly associated with heart
disease and with LDL cholesterol, the "bad" kind
that accumulates in arteries.
Monkey deaths cast doubt on AIDS
The death of three monkeys in an
AIDS vaccine experiment suggests that a closely
watched therapy may not give total
protection. For several years, researchers
have concentrated on creating vaccines that hold
HIV in check. Much of the enthusiasm for
this approach comes from experiments on monkeys,
which appear to survive for years with these
vaccines ever after being injected with the monkey
form of HIV. At a conference Wednesday,
researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical
Center in Boston reported that monkeys eventually
appear to fall sick and die, even after showing
promising resistance. "This suggests that
viral escape will prove to be a challenge," Boston
researcher Daniel Barouch said at the 10th
Conference on Retroviruses in Boston.
Illness spreads panic in southern
Residents of southern China stocked up on medicine
and wore surgical masks on the streets after an
unidentified illness killed at least five people
and left hundreds hospitalized. Authorities
in Guangdong province, near hong Kong, said the
"atypical pneumonia" had infected more than 300
people. Officials said plague and anthrax
had been ruled out.
Chinese democracy activist gets
A chinese court convicted a
U.S.-based democracy activist of spying and
terrorism today and sentenced him to life in
prison, the official Xinhua News Agency
reported. Wang Bingzhang, 55, was arrested
after police said they found him tied up in a
temple July 3. Activists suggested that
Chinese agents in Vietnam had abducted him after
he secretly met with Chinese labor leaders in
The Free China Movement, an
activist group in Washington, said Want is
innocent. It appealed for the U.S.
government to win Wang's release. The U.S.
Embassy in Beijing had no comment. Want, a
Chinese citizen, has permanent resident status in
Hormone may prevent premature
The hormone progesterone can help
prevent pemature births in a high number of
high-risk pregnancies, researchers say in a
groundbreaking study. Progesterone is
naturally produced by the ovaries, and it softens
the uterus lining to hold a fertilized egg.
Obesity rate could reach nearly
40% in five years
Reports address U.S. epidemic
among adults, causes, treatments
Nearly four out of 10 adults in
the USA will be obese within five years if people
keep packing on pounds at the current rate -
putting their health at risk, says one of the top
Currently, about 31%, or about 59
million people, are obese, which is defined as
roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy
weight. Almost 65% are either obese or
overweight, 10 to 30 pounds over a healthy weight,
which increases their chances of developing
diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer and
a host of other health problems.
The medical costs associated with
treating these diseases will strain the health
care system and economy in the years to come,
Americans are gaining one to two
pounds a year, says james hill, director of the
Center for Human nutrition at the university of
Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.
hill predicts that, at the current rate, 39% of
Americans will be obese by 2008.
He's one of several national
weight-loss experts who offers possible solutions
to the obesity epidemic in Friday's journal
Science. This report comes on the heels of a
landmark report in January that showed being obese
shaves seven years off a person's life, and just
being overweight shortens a person's life span by
about three years.
to stop gaining weight, people
need to either burn 100 calories more a day with
physical activity or eat 100 calories less every
day, Hill says. They could cut back a little
on portions, skip one soda or walk one extra mile
a day, which would take about 15 or 20 minutes, he
says. "This isn't goint to cause you to lose
a lot of weight, but it's going to keep you from
Bush urges Congress to get aboard
President Bush urged Congress on
Thursday to "think beyond the normal" and approve
his paln to encourage development of cars powered
by clean-burning hydrogen fuel cells. He
said doing so would reduce pollution and America's
dependence on foreign oil.
Health chief: HMOs won't be
Health and human Services
Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday that the
Bush administration would not force older people
to enroll in private health plans in order to get