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Arsenic water killing 1 in 5 in Bangladesh


Hanufa Bibi stoops in a worn sari and mismatched flip-flops to work the hand pump on her backyard well. Spurts of clear water wash grains of rice from her hands, but she can never get them clean.

Thick black warts tattoo her palms and fingers, the result of drinking arsenic-laced well water for years. It's a legacy that new research has linked to one in five deaths among those exposed in Bangladesh — an impoverished country where up to half of its 150 million people have guzzled tainted groundwater.

The World Health Organization has called it "the largest mass poisoning of a population in history," as countless new wells continue to be dug here daily without testing the water for toxins.

The issue surfaced about two decades ago, after some 10 million shallow hand-pump wells were sunk across the country in the 1970s with money from international donors.

The wells were meant to provide clean drinking water to help prevent deadly waterborne diseases, such as cholera. But they unintentionally tapped into arsenic deposits in the ground, releasing the odorless, colorless and tasteless toxin into water used for drinking and cooking. Arsenic has been linked to cancers, liver ailments, skin diseases, heart problems and other health issues.

The new research, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and published online June 19 in The Lancet medical journal, is the first to examine how drinking arsenic-contaminated water over time shaves years off lives.

For the nearly 12,000 people followed over 10 years in the country's Araihazar region east of the capital, researchers found that even low doses of arsenic in drinking water could increase the chances of early death. The study also found that damage on all levels appears to be permanent.

More than 75 percent of those studied drank arsenic-contaminated water above WHO's recommended safe limits. About a quarter of deaths from chronic illnesses and a fifth of the total 407 adult deaths were attributed to arsenic.

Posted: 6/28/2010 4:26:00 PM

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Salvia and Spice ban goes Air Force-wide

From the Air Force Times:

The Air Force has banned two loosely regulated, mind-altering drugs (Salvia divinorum and Spice) — and anything “that is inhaled, injected, consumed, or introduced into the body in any manner to alter mood or function” other than alcohol or tobacco.

Posted: 6/17/2010 10:09:00 AM

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Money Flows for Spill Research

From The New York Times:

On Tuesday afternoon, 56 days into the spill, BP announced that a first installment of $25 million would flow soon to groups of researchers in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.  And the director of the National Institutes of Health told a House committee on Tuesday that the institutes will spend $10 million on research on the potential health impacts of the spill.

Louisiana State University will get $5 million of BP’s money. An additional $10 million will go to the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a consortium of 20 institutions with marine science interests in that state, including the 11 state universities. And a final $10 million will go to the Northern Gulf Initiative, a consortium led by Mississippi State University that includes four other institutions scattered across the Gulf Coast states.

BP pledged that more money would be coming beyond the $25 million. It appointed an expert panel that will make recommendations on which institutions will receive those funds, with Rita Colwell, one of the most respected names in American science, as chairwoman. Ms. Colwell, an environmental microbiologist who holds a degree in oceanography, formerly headed the National Science Foundation and is now a distinguished professor at the Johns Hopkins University.

As for the money from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis S. Collins, the institutes’ director, said it would go toward studying how cleanup workers and gulf residents were exposed to toxins from the spill — the “respiratory, immunological and neurobehaviorial effects,” as he put it.

As of June 5, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said it had received 71 complaints believed to be related to exposure to oil spill pollutants. Fifty of those complaints involved response workers, and eight of those workers were briefly admitted to hospitals.

Posted: 6/16/2010 1:20:00 PM

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Kids and adults turning to incense to get high


A certain type of incense is being used to get high.

K2 is a flavored incense that can be bought online or at some tobacco shops. The incense is laced with a chemical similar to marijuana. It's legal to buy, but some young people are smoking it to get high.

Some side effects of smoking K2 that have been reported include an elevated heart rate, mental health issues and even hospitalization.

Legislation has been proposed in several states around the country to ban the product.

Posted: 6/16/2010 1:17:00 PM

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Drug Improves Wakefulness on the Night Shift

From MedPage Today:

Night shift workers experiencing excessive sleepiness felt more awake throughout their shift when treated with armodafinil (Nuvigil), according to research.

In contrast, workers given the older, shorter-acting drug modafinil (Provigil) felt more awake only during the first half of the night shift, Kenneth P. Wright, PhD, of the University of Colorado in Boulder, and colleagues reported at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting.

Armodafinil is the R isomer of modafinil, and both drugs are approved to treat excessive sleepiness in shift workers.

The most common adverse event associated with both treatments was headache, which was seen in 26% of patients receiving modafinil and in 12% of armodafinil patients.

"What we have shown in this research is that armodafinil is able to improve both objective and subjective measures of alertness in these patients. They are not as alert as daytime workers, but they had an improvement in their wakefulness," Wright said.

Posted: 6/11/2010 3:02:00 PM

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Spice, K2 send users to ER

From WLFI (Lafayette, IN) :

It appears that a growing number of people between the ages of 15 and 30 are using Spice, but few are admitting to it.

Spice, and the related cannabinoid substance known as K2, can be found at gas stations or tobacco stores legally as incense. Warning labels state that K2 is not intended for human consumption but emergency room doctors said some people are ignoring that warning.

Jill Grant is an emergency room physician at St. Elizabeth Central. She said she has seen an increase in the number of Spice-related cases.

Dr. Grant said people ignore the warning because they are looking for a legal high.

She said the patients that come all complain of similar symptoms.

"Typically people will come in tachycardia, which is an elevated heart rate. They will come in and they are sweaty. Their blood pressure will be higher. I've actually had patients that are hallucinating. I've had individuals who have had seizures are a result as well," said Grant.

Long-term use can cause permanent harm to the body.

Posted: 6/11/2010 2:20:00 PM

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BPA Present in Most Canned Foods

From Reuters:

Four years ago, just after giving birth to her second child, the stay-at-home mom heard about BPA, a chemical inside some plastics that can leach into water or food slowly over time, potentially causing serious health problems like cancer. Unwilling to take any risks, she ran to Babies "R" Us, which had a program to exchange baby bottles containing BPA, and walked out with $100 in rebates.

If only life were so easy.

What Sprague didn't realize is that BPA, or bisphenol A, is ubiquitous. Simply put, just about anything you eat that comes out of a can -- from Campbell's Chicken Soup and SpaghettiOs to Diet Coke and BumbleBee Tuna -- contains the same exact chemical.

The exposure to BPA from canned food "is far more extensive" than from plastic bottles, said Shanna Swan, a professor and researcher at the University of Rochester in New York. "It's particularly concerning when it's lining infant formula cans."

BPA is the key compound in epoxy resin linings that keep food fresher longer and prevents it from interacting with metal and altering the taste. It has been linked in some studies of rats and mice to not only cancer but also obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Trade groups for chemical and can manufacturers say they stand behind the chemical, and point to some studies from governmental health agencies that deem BPA safe and effective for food contact. They also note that its use has substantially reduced deaths from food poisoning.

But in January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time expressed "some concern" about BPA. Propelled in part by recent independent scientific studies and also bowing to mounting concern from the public and consumer groups, the agency announced that it would tap $30 million in federal stimulus funds to study the chemical's potential effects on the human body.

Though it is not clear how economically stimulating the study will be, its results are anxiously awaited in industry and consumer circles. The report, due late in 2011, is being done in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health.

Posted: 6/10/2010 4:04:00 PM

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Look-alike, sound-alike drugs trigger dangers


Whether the drug mistake was caused by a garbled telephone message, a typing error or a computer problem, Shelley Sanders isn’t sure.

She just knows that her 62-year-old mother was supposed to get one kind of medication, a pain drug called Lyrica, but instead received another, an anti-epilepsy drug called Lamictal, and in an initial dose far higher than any doctor would recommend.

And she knows that within days of taking the 150-milligram pills, Linda Sanders, a soft-spoken Florida grandmother who went to YMCA aerobics classes three times a week, got a gun from the bedroom and shot herself in the head.

Only afterward did Shelley Sanders learn that suicidal actions are a known risk of Lamictal and that her mother’s death closely followed one of the more than 5 million wrong-drug errors that occur each year, including many caused by similar-sounding mixed-up names.

Whether it’s confusing the migraine drug Topamax with the blood pressure drug Toprol-XL, or the antihistamine Zyrtec with the antipsychotic Zyprexa, mistakes caused by drug name mix-ups continue to happen a decade after a groundbreaking Institute of Medicine report first declared that 7,000 people in the U.S. died from medication errors each year.

Today, some 1,500 drugs have names so similar they’ve been confused with one or more other medications, according to a 2008 report by U.S. Pharmacopeia, the group that sets standards for medications in this country.

Just last month, the international drugmaker Takeda agreed to change the name of its new heartburn drug Kapidex after reports of confusion with the prostate cancer drug Casodex. In some cases, women received a cancer drug intended only for men.

It's the first such name change since the federal Food and Drug Administration launched a new "Safe Use Initiative" last November aimed at curbing the number of medication errors.

U.S. outpatient pharmacies filled 3.9 billion prescriptions in 2009, according to most recent figures from Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions. Overall, the dispensing error rate is 1.7 percent, which translates into more than 66 million drug mistakes a year.

“On a percentage basis, they’re very rare,” noted Bruce Lambert, a professor in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Pharmacy. “If you’re among that small group, it’s cold comfort to you.”

Bad handwriting, workplace distractions, inexperienced staff and worker shortages all have been blamed for the problem. But Lambert says it’s even more basic than that.

“The names themselves are intrinsically confusing,” he said. “The way that the human mind is organized, we’re prone to confusing names that sound alike.”

Pharmacy technicians are most often involved in look-alike, sound-alike errors, with about 38 percent implicated in initial reports, according to the Pharmacopeia report. They were followed by pharmacists at nearly 24 percent and registered nurses at about 20 percent. Doctors accounted for about 7 percent.

Posted: 6/10/2010 3:54:00 PM

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Gulf spill workers complaining of flulike symptoms

From the Associated Press:

For days now, Dr. Damon Dietrich has seen patients come through his emergency room at West Jefferson Medical Center with similar symptoms: respiratory problems, headaches and nausea.

In the past week, 11 workers who have been out on the water cleaning up oil from BP's blown-out well have been treated for what Dietrich calls "a pattern of symptoms" that could have been caused by the burning of crude oil, noxious fumes from the oil or the dispersants dumped in the Gulf to break it up. All workers were treated and released.

Few studies have examined long-term health effects of oil exposure. But some of the workers trolling Gulf Coast beaches and heading out into the marshes and waters have complained about flu-like symptoms — a similar complaint among crews deployed for the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

BP and U.S. Coast Guard officials have said dehydration, heat, food poisoning or other unrelated factors may have caused the workers' symptoms. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is investigating.

Brief contact with small amounts of light crude oil and dispersants are not harmful. Swallowing small amounts of oil can cause upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. Long-term exposure to dispersants, however, can cause central nervous system problems, or do damage to blood, kidneys or livers, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

Dozens of complaints, most from spill workers, have been made related to oil exposure with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said spokeswoman Olivia Watkins, as well as with the Louisiana Poison Center, clinics and hospitals. Workers are being told to follow federal guidelines that recommend anyone involved in oil spill cleanup wear protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses and clothing.

Posted: 6/9/2010 10:30:00 AM

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