Health Highlights: March 15, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Meningitis Kills 1 of 3 College Students in Upstate New York

An 18-year-old student at an upstate New York college has died from what health officials suspect is a case of bacterial meningitis, the New York Times reports.

The death March 14 of Craig Schiesser, a freshman at the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oswego on Lake Ontario, was one of three bacterial meningitis cases reported on two upstate New York college campuses in the past week-and-a-half, the newspaper reports.

    • Meningitis Kills 1 of 3 College Students in Upstate New York
    • Breast Cancer Awareness Program Unites U.S., Mexico
    • Unique Factors May Help Spread Heart Disease in Developing Nations
    • Lubbock Has Worst Teeth in U.S.: Study
    • Microwave Popcorn Chemical Damages Airways: Study
    • Officials Investigating Possible CJD Deaths in Quebec

Two Cornell University students, a 21-year-old woman and a 19-year-old man, have been hospitalized, the Times reports, causing health to warn students that they may need to take medicine to prevent their contracting the disease.

This is particularly true of anyone who may have been in contact with Schiesser during the past 10 days, the newspaper said. Health and college officials were also investigating whether the three cases were connected through campus parties, because the two colleges are relatively near each other.

Earlier this year, two fatal cases of bacterial meningitis struck a high school guidance counselor and a 17-year-old high school senior over a 24-hour period and within a few miles of each other in the New York City suburban area of Long Island.

Bacterial meningitis inflames the outer membranes of the brain and spinal cord and kills a few hundred people nationwide each year, the Times reports. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms include a sore neck, headaches, flu-like symptoms and a high fever.


Breast Cancer Awareness Program Unites U.S., Mexico

The effort to expand breast cancer awareness went beyond United States borders this weekend as U.S. First lady Laura Bush joined Mexico's First Lady Margarita Zavala in announcing an alliance between the two countries for awareness and research into cures for the deadly disease.

The Associated Press reports that the U.S.-Mexico Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research was officially launched March 14, with Bush and Zavala speaking about ways to educate people not only about preventative measures but also in getting rid of stigmas associated with breast cancer.

"In Mexico, one out of every 258 women will discover they have breast cancer in the next 10 years," the wire service quotes Bush saying at the ceremony in the Mexico City. "The majority of these cases will be detected in their later stages, greatly reducing their chances of survival."

Eventually, the partnership will extend to Brazil and Costa Rica, the A.P. reported. And the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation create training programs in Mexico.


Unique Risk Factors May Help Spread Heart Disease in Developing Nations

Certain health issues may be helping the rapid spread of heart disease in developing nations, suggests a study that looked at 1,593 black and white cardiovascular disease patients in South Africa.

Many of the patients were obese, a recognized risk factor for heart disease. But the researchers noted other factors in these patients, including HIV infection and tuberculosis, late diagnosis, and a tendency to seek medical care only after consultation with a traditional healer failed to help, Agence France-Presse reported.

The study appears in The Lancet medical journal. An accompanying commentary noted that the study's findings are "relevant to many areas of the world that face similar threats and the emergence of epidemics of heart disease."

The commentary said that in "some developing countries, such as India, the epidemiological transition has been more rapid and the speed of transition will vary from country to country depending on the exposure time and competing causes."


Lubbock Has Worst Teeth in U.S.: Study

The best teeth in the United States are found in Madison, Wis., Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh, N.C., while the worst are in Lubbock, Texas. Three other cities in the Lone Star state -- El Paso, San Antonio, and Dallas -- are also in the bottom 15 cities, says an article in next month's Men's Health magazine.

The authors looked at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on the number of annual dentists visits, canceled appointments, regular flossers, and households using fluoride in 100 large cities, the Associated Press reported.

Some experts theorized that high level of fluoride in Lubbock's well water may be a factor. Too much fluoride in water can cause tooth enamel to become rough, leaving white or brown stains.

Others suggested that dental care is too expensive, which means low-income people can't afford regular checkups or education, the AP reported.


Microwave Popcorn Chemical Damages Airways: Study

Inhalation of a chemical used in microwave popcorn artificial butter flavoring damaged the airways of mice, which developed a condition that can lead to a life-threatening lung disease, says a study by researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Mice exposed to diacetyl vapors for three months developed lymphocytic bronchiolitis, a precursor to obliterative bronchiolitis (popcorn lung). None of the mice developed the more serious disease, said

"This is one of the first studies to evaluate the respiratory toxicity of diacetyl at levels relevant to human health. Mice were exposed to diacetyl at concentrations and durations comparable to what may be inhaled at some microwave popcorn packaging plants," study co-author Daniel L. Morgan, chief of the Respiratory Toxicology Group at the NIEHS, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues concluded that workplace exposure to diacetyl contributes to the development of obliterative bronchiolitis, but noted that more research was needed. The study was published online in the journal Toxicological Sciences.

Obliterative bronchiolitis has been noted in microwave popcorn packaging plant workers who have inhaled significant concentrations of artificial butter flavoring. Late last year, a number of leading popcorn makers said they planned to eliminate diacetyl from their products, said.


Officials Investigating Possible CJD Deaths in Quebec

Health officials are investigating whether two people who died in Quebec in the last few months had a form of neurodegenerative Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), CBC News reported.

The two deaths in the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region -- one in December and another in February -- are being treated with extreme caution by Canadian health authorities, who said it generally takes a few months to get test results in such cases. They refused to release any details.

So-called classic CJD appears only in humans, while variant CJD is believed to occur in humans who have eaten beef from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad cow disease. Both forms are fatal. Classic CJD kills one in a million Canadians each year.

The two Quebec cases were made public in a story first aired Wednesday by CKRS-FM radio in Chicoutimi, CBC News reported. The radio story noted that two patients have never died of CJD within such a short period of time in one area of Canada.