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News Archives, August 2005
Monday, 29 August 2005 11:04
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Expert warns of bird flu complacency
Britain leading expert on the bird flu virus has warned that government complacency over the risk of the disease is endangering as many as two million lives.

The H5N1 virus, which has killed 62 human lives and caused the slaughter of millions of birds in Asia, is believed to be travelling west with migrating birds. It is already thought to have reached Russia and Finland and caused the death of a Dutch vet.

The Department of the Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has maintained that the risk to Britain is remote but Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, believes the virus could take the lives of up to two million Britons.

Prof Pennington said in The Scotsman: "DEFRA is using the same word - 'remote' - it used before the BSE outbreak. It became its mantra and it turned out to be wrong.

"We don't yet know the risks [from bird flu], but we should be on 'amber alert'. There is a real prospect it will come here.

"It may, at the end of the day, have little effect on humans, but it would devastate the poultry industry.

"We don't know if the strain that arrives will have mutated to affect humans, but while we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst."

While the government’s official stance has been to maintain that the threat is “remote”, it is believed to have contingency plans including protecting health workers with anti-viral medicine and closing schools and public places.

However, there is a concern that an outbreak would still prove too great a challenge for the health service.

Prof Pennington added: Prof Pennington, who is also the president of the Society of General Microbiology, said: "This virus has proved itself to be good at hanging in there.

"Optimists say the affected birds die so quickly they do not get a chance to migrate, but there is a real possibility it will reach here. It could happen at any time.

"The virus H5N1 has mutated and it is quite different from all other bird flu because it has affected humans.

"DEFRA's words are not very wise and, while we must not scaremonger, we should not send out signals of complacency," he continued.

"[DEFRA] was complacent about BSE and foot-and-mouth disease when it was lurking in Asia. When it arrived, our plans to deal with it fell apart.

"The bottom line is we don't know if H5N1 will come here, but there enough dark clouds gathering to put us on alert.

"We must first of all assist Russia in surveillance and control. They are struggling and need help.

"We must also monitor the whole of western Europe for sick birds, to be on our guard."

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Monday, 29 August 2005 10:50
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Sunshine threat to redheads
The American Chemical Society yesterday revealed at a meeting in Washington that redheads run a greater risk of skin cancer because hair colour affects the chemistry of the skin and its production of cancer causing agents when exposed to ultra-violet light.

Blondes and redheads have a two to four times greater risk of developing skin cancer than people with dark hair.

A study led by Professor John Simon of Duke University, North Carolina, examined the melanin-containing structures (melanosomes) in human hair and measured the oxidation potential of the different pigmentations.

Oxidation potentials give an indication of the likelihood of chemicals creating oxygen radicals, which are known to be damaging to DNA and can trigger cancer.

The team measured the potentials by subjecting the melanins to ultraviolet laser light and the results confirmed that black pigments were less likely than red pigments to produce oxygen radicals.

However, the red melanin is thought to be an advantage to people in colder northerly climates by helping the skin to create vitamin D, thus reducing the threat from diseases like rickets.

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Monday, 29 August 2005 10:29
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Drink laws affecting health of young
The health adviser who warned the government about the effects on teenagers of the new licensing laws says that hospital admissions of young people suffering from chronic liver disease are already increasing.

Several hundred people in their early 20s are thought to be receiving treatment for liver disease and several have died in the last decade. Office of National Statistics figures show that between 2000 and 2004, deaths attributed to alcohol rose by 20 per cent from 5,525 to 6,544.

Dr Kieran Moriarty said: “I’ve seen five women in their twenties die of severe liver damage through alcohol. That’s very young for such a condition.”

Alcohol related disease normally affects older people as it takes around five years of heavy drinking to cause cirrhosis of the liver, the most common illness.

Other related illnesses include cancers of the liver, breast, mouth and oesophagus, as well as gastrointestinal conditions, and changes in drinking and licensing laws over the last 30 years have started to impact on people in their twenties.

Dr Moriarty said: “What’s not realised is that with so many in A&E because of alcohol, if you go in with other complaints such as heart attacks or strokes you are going to have to wait longer for treatment.”

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Sunday, 28 August 2005 12:27
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Blood procedure boost for transplants
London’s Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Trust has carried out the first transplant using a technique that allows patients to receive organs from donors with a different blood type.

The operation was carried out using a new procedure called antibody specific immunoabsorption, which removes antibodies from blood. These antibodies can cause organs from a different blood group to that of the patient to be rejected.

Barbara Churchill, who received a kidney from her partner, was given medication in the weeks before her transplant to stop her from producing A-type antibodies. Her blood group is O and her partner’s is A.

A machine was then used to remove remaining antibodies, and her blood then filtered through an immunoabsorption column as a final step.

The column filters out anti-A or anti-B antibodies but leaves behind other antibodies which are crucial to fighting infections.

Transplant surgeon Mr Nizam Mamode told the BBC News website: "Ten per cent of people who are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant could be helped in this way.

"The implications of this being successful are very significant for other kidney patients.

"Many have relatives who want to donate but are prevented from doing so because their blood group doesn't match.

"Although there are a number of other criteria a donor must meet before we perform a transplant, we hope that this new technique could help bring the benefits of a live transplant to more patients."

Chris Rudge, Medical Director at UK Transplant, said: "This is a significant development with exciting potential for the future.

"As more patients receive such a transplant and if the results continue to be successful, it should be an important step forward, allowing quite a lot more patients to receive a transplant from a living kidney donor."

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Sunday, 28 August 2005 12:05
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Illegal smokers targeted by smoking hotline
A hotline is to be set up in Scotland to encourage members of the public to report illegal smokers in a bid to enforce the ban on smoking in public places, The Sunday Herald has reported.

The “national compliance line” is being supported by the Scottish Executive after MSPs passed the new smoking legislation earlier this year.

Callers will pay a local rate charge for the call and complaints will be investigated, with fines of £50 for anyone caught smoking in bars, restaurants and similar establishments, and stiffer penalties for employers.

However, critics say the plan will turn Scotland into a ‘nation of grasses’ and turn families and friends against each other.

Neil Rafferty, the Scottish spokesman for smokers’ rights group Forest, said: “To encourage people to tell tales is a really sad development. A clipe line is about turning us against each other. This is about victimising smokers and making them feel bad about themselves. Not everyone is a health freak.”

But a spokesman for the Executive said hotlines had worked in countries where a smoking ban has already been introduced.

“We are in discussion with local authority environmental health departments with regard to proposals for a national compliance line,” he said. “No detailed decisions have been taken.

“However, we are aware that this was particularly successful when it was introduced in Ireland.”

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Sunday, 28 August 2005 11:42
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Vaccination disarray threat to elderly
Scotland’s winter flu vaccination programme is facing major disruption after the Department of Health warned GPs that the delivery of vital drugs will be delayed for a month.

The vulnerable sections of the population, most notably the elderly, will not receive their jabs until the vaccine is in stock.

The problems are reminiscent of last year when the withdrawal of one vaccine in Scotland led to a below average uptake among the over-65s.

Dr Jim McMenamin, of Health Protection Scotland, the government body that co-ordinates vaccinations, said in the Scotland on Sunday: "The Department of Health and the Scottish Executive are trying to minimise the impact of the delay in the production process.

"We have to wait and see whether everyone receives their vaccine on time. It is a complicated process."

Dr David Love, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, added that the delays would have a knock-on impact. "It is very disruptive and it instils a lack of confidence in the system."

The disarray comes as health experts warn that an outbreak of bird flu, and a possible resulting pandemic, could hit Britain at any time.

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Sunday, 28 August 2005 11:30
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Alcohol warnings for cans and bottles
Alcohol manufacturers are to print health warnings on the side of nearly all cans and bottles of beer and spirits after talks with the Department of Health on how to curb the spread of binge drinking.

Some 85 per cent of beer cans and bottles, as well as many spirits such as vodka, whisky and schnapps, will carry the warnings by the end of this year.

It is thought the health warnings may eventually dominate the packaging of alcohol in the same way they do with tobacco products.

Cigarette manufacturers first displayed small warnings on their products in 1971 but the writing has grown larger and the messages bolder over the years.

The British Beer and Pub Association said that the new labels would include a warning that people should “drink responsibly”, alongside the number of units contained in the drink.

A spokesman said: “The rapid expansion of unit labelling and responsibility messaging across British beer is just one example of the steps producers are taking to advance customer understanding of the risks of alcohol misuse.”

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Sunday, 28 August 2005 11:18
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Hope for Vioxx victims
Lawyers representing hundreds of people across the country who are planning to claim damages because they say the drug Vioxx caused them to have heart attacks and strokes, yesterday welcomed the manufacturer’s announcement that its willing to settle a number of the lawsuits.

US drug giant Merck is facing thousands of claims after a jury in Texas awarded damages of £140m earlier this month following the death of a man who used Vioxx.

Merck initially announced its intention to fight every lawsuit “tooth and nail” but relented on Friday with a statement saying it would look to settle the key cases.

Gerard Dervan, a lawyer with MSB Solicitors in Liverpool, said: “Merck appears to be going back on its stance of fighting every case. It is likely it will settle stronger cases and fight weaker ones.”

The success of the British claimants is likely to rest upon the outcome of tests being carried out in the US to establish whether there is a link between Vioxx and the health problems suffered by hundreds of people in this country.

However, British lawyers have warned that very few Vioxx users will ultimately receive compensation.

“It could be a very positive development,” said Sallie Booth of Irwin Mitchell law firm which represents several hundred clients who took Vioxx. “But it's too early for us to place a value on the decision. It's going to be interesting to see just which cases Merck thinks are capable of being settled.”

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Saturday, 27 August 2005 13:12
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Drinking guidelines to protect children
The Government has insisted that its controversial new Licensing Act that will extend drinking times will also protect children from the dangers of alcohol.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport made the statement after a recent survey revealed that 23 per cent of young people questioned had drank alcohol in the past week, with nearly half of them getting drunk.

The National Centre for Social Research found that average alcohol consumption among under –age drinkers had risen from 5.3 units per week to 10.7 units per week over the past 15 years.

And a quarter of youngsters admitted they had consumed more than 14 units of alcohol in the past week.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture Media and Sport said: A spokesman said: "Young people are putting their long-term health at risk by smoking and the excessive consumption of alcohol - this is an issue of great national concern. The reasons for this are many and complex.

"The Licensing Act, which does not take effect until November, creates a new set of protections for young people, to help solve this problem.

"It gives greater protection to children by removing outdated anomalies. For example it is currently legal for a five-year-old to drink whisky in a beer garden.

"And a child can currently go to a night club until 3am. It will also increase the fine for selling alcohol to under-18s from £1,000 to £5,000."

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Saturday, 27 August 2005 12:59
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Brain drug can beat tumours
Scientists from the University of Saint Louis have identified a chemical that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and treat brain tumours.

The barrier, which exists to prevent toxic substances reaching the brain, makes it hard to deliver drugs but researchers found that the chemical JV-1-36 could bypass the barrier to block the growth of tumours.

Researchers tested the procedure on mice with malignant glioblastomas, the most common brain tumours.

They then administered an intravenous injection of JV-1-36 which suppresses the effect of the hypothalamic growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH). GHRH normally helps children to grow but has been found to boost the growth of cancerous tumours.

The Saint Louis team said that JV-1-36 gets past the blood-brain barrier by dissolving into cell membranes and avoiding the P-gp system, which acts as an extra security measure for the brain.

Professor William Banks, who led the research at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, said: "The blood-brain barrier is set up to very carefully patrol what it lets into the brain and what it keeps out.

"It makes these decisions based on the physicochemical properties.

"Most of our drugs that fight cancers are toxic to cancer cells and to other cells too. That's why the blood-brain barrier locks them out of the brain."

He added: "There are times when there's a big difference between an animal model and the human condition.

"In terms of getting drugs across the blood brain barrier to fight cancer, there's not such a big difference.

"There's pretty much the same rules in any blood-brain barrier - be it mouse or human."

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