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News Archives, October 2005
Wednesday, 26 October 2005 11:57
BNN: British Nursing News Online ·
EU to issue chicken and eggs warning
The European Food Safety Agency is to warn the public to avoid raw eggs and undercooked poultry as a measure to prevent the spread of bird flu.

The EFSA said it “cannot exclude” the possibility that the deadly virus can be transmitted through foods, despite British advisors ruling out the possibility.

An official said: "[Cooking] protects from salmonella and other diseases. Avian flu is an added danger, even though there is no epidemiological data to prove it can be transmitted through food."

EFSA deputy executive director Herman Koeter said: "We don't have any evidence that the virus can be transmitted through food. But we can't exclude it, either. If you don't eat raw eggs and always cook poultry thoroughly, there should be no problems."

Health experts believe the highly pathogenic H5 and H7 strains of the virus are destroyed by high temperatures and acidic ph levels.

However, the UK’s Food Standards Agency insists there is no risk of contracting the virus through food. A FSA statement said: "On the basis of current scientific evidence, our advice is that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

"For people, the risk of catching the disease comes from being in close contact with live poultry that have the disease, and not through eating poultry".

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Wednesday, 26 October 2005 11:08
BNN: British Nursing News Online ·
Doctor accused of murdering patients
A Co Durham GP murdered three of his patients with morphine overdoses because he decided it was their time to die, a court has been told.

Howard Martin was accused of deciding the fates of Frank Moss, Stanley Weldon and Harry Gittins after police exhumed their bodies following a complaint from the Grittins family, the court heard.

Opening the case for the Crown, Robert Smith QC told the jury: "What the prosecution say is that Dr Martin was not dealing in the interests of his patients but had chosen to terminate their lives.

"Dr Martin made the deliberate and unlawful decision to end their lives because their time had come to die."

Mr Martin, 71, of Penmaenmawr, north Wales, has pleaded not guilty.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2005 10:57
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Doctors told to offer alternatives to the pill
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has called for women to be offered a wider choice of contraception to curb the UK’s high rate of unplanned pregnancies.

One in three pregnancies is unplanned, mostly because of errors in the usage of condoms and the contraceptive pill, and NICE believes it is time to offer women alternatives such as injections or coils placed inside the womb.

The injection is given four times a year and the coil can be effective for five years. Statistics suggest that if 7.7 per cent of women opted to switch from the pill to one of the long-term methods, unplanned pregnancies in England would be reduced by 70,000 a year.

However, these methods do produce side effects including weight gain, acne and short-term infertility after coming off the treatment.

Toni Belfield, of the Family Planning Association, which supports the guideline, said many GPs and sexual-health clinics offered women only the pill. She said: "There is a choice of methods but they are not being told about it. That is what women tell our helpline every day. In the high street you have a choice of fridges or washing machines, so why should contraception be dealt with differently?

"Most abortions occur in the 20-plus age range. Unplanned pregnancy is an issue for all women, not just teenagers. Good communication between healthcare professionals and women is essential."

Chris Wilkinson, consultant in sexual and reproductive health and leader of the NICE Guideline Development Group, said: "The current limited use of [long-acting methods] suggests that healthcare professionals need better guidance and training so that they can help women make an informed choice. Health providers and commissioners also need a clear understanding of the relative cost-effectiveness of long-acting methods compared with other methods of contraception."

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Wednesday, 26 October 2005 10:45
BNN: British Nursing News Online ·
Hewitt backs breast cancer drug
The health secretary yesterday effectively ordered NHS managers to pay for the drug Herceptin to be given to women with an aggressive form of early stage breast cancer.

Patricia Hewitt said the administration of the drug must not be refused solely on the grounds of cost - £21, 800 a year – if a patient’s doctor supports the treatment.

She also took the unusual step of endorsing the widespread availability of a drug that has not yet been licensed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

Trials published last week suggest that the drug can reduce the risk of cancer returning by 20 – 30 per cent among women whose illness is linked to the HER2 protein.

Herceptin is presently only licensed for use in cases of late stage breast cancer.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2005 10:34
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Government plans mass cull of poultry
Officials from the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs are meeting to discuss a mass cull of poultry in the event of the H5N1 bird flu virus reaching the UK, The Guardian has reported.

UK farms hold around 182m hens and broiler chickens and a further 5m turkeys and Defra are said to be talking to some of the contractors involved in the disposal of cattle, pig and sheep carcasses during the foot and mouth epidemic.

Arthur Ruttle, of Ruttle Plant Hire, told the newspaper that officials had met his company several times in the last few weeks.

"Nothing has been finalised yet and obviously I can't go into all the details of what they are planning," said Mr Ruttle.

"As yet they haven't decided whether to bury or burn the poultry carcasses, but what is clear is that any cull of poultry would be easier than cattle, the logistics are much easier because they are smaller animals."

Bob McCracken, a poultry expert and former president of the British Veterinary Association, welcomed the news that Defra is planning ahead following the mistakes made during the foot and mouth outbreak.

"When an outbreak is confirmed it's rather late in the day to run around trying to find contractors able to do the work," he said.

"Hopefully what this means is that if it is detected in domestic poultry it will be spotted early and that should actually reduce the need for a mass cull."

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Wednesday, 26 October 2005 09:42
BNN: British Nursing News Online ·
Checks could cut bowel cancer in high risk families
A study by Cancer Research UK suggests that by screening people with a family history of bowel cancer could cut rates of the disease by about 80%.

Study author, Professor Peter Sasieni of Cancer Research UK explains: "We now know that screening with colonoscopy prevents the majority of bowel cancers in people with a family history. The study also shows that screening isn't necessary before the age of 45 and, even then, it only needs to be performed every five years or so.

"This is good news for people with a family history because it means they can dramatically reduce their risk of cancer by going for occasional screening.

"It's also good news for hospitals because, in most cases, this will mean less intensive screening and less of a drain on resources”.

Cancer Research UK carried out their study at the family cancer clinic at St Mark's Hospital, Middlesex.

Over 1,600 people with at least one close relative diagnosed with bowel cancer took part.
They were screened regularly and monitored for up to 16 years.

The number of cancers found was compared to the number of cancers expected in a similar, unscreened population.

A small proportion of people with bowel cancer have a fault in a specific gene which leads to a condition called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), but the majority of cases have no known genetic fault. HNPCC families are currently screened with colonoscopy every two years from the age of 25.

The new research says this should continue, as screening reduces cancer deaths in this group by an estimated 70%.

The Government is introducing a national bowel screening programme in across England from April 2006. Men and women aged between 60 - 69 years old will be invited for stool sample screening every two years.

Professor John Toy, Cancer Research UK's Medical Director, says: "With the introduction of a national screening programme for bowel cancer due to begin next year, we anticipate a major increase in the number of people referred for colonoscopy.

"This research is important because it shows how most cancers can be prevented in people with a family history.

"It also indicates how resources can best be used and helps to minimise unnecessary colonoscopies for people”.

A spokesman for the charity Bowel Cancer UK said: "Bowel Cancer UK actively encourages anyone with a family history of the disease to inform their GP and ask to have a colonoscopy if they haven't already done so in the last one to two years.

"We will also be encouraging as many eligible people to take part in the national bowel cancer screening programme, when it rolls out next year, as this will also significantly increase the numbers of people diagnosed with the disease”.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2005 09:30
BNN: British Nursing News Online ·
£8.1m boost to fight neglected diseases
A team of scientists at a Scottish university have been awarded a record £8.1 million to develop a range of new drugs to treat some of the world's most neglected tropical diseases, responsible for claiming thousands of lives each year in the Third World.

Medical charity the Wellcome Trust has awarded the grant to six researchers at Dundee University in a bid to develop vaccines to treat against a range of killer diseases including sleeping sickness, Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis.

Professor Mike Ferguson, a leading member of the research team, said: "No vaccines exist to prevent these debilitating and often lethal infections.

"Many of the current drugs have serious side effects and would not meet current standards for safety and efficacy. Others are either too expensive or becoming less effective because of resistance”.

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Tuesday, 25 October 2005 13:09
BNN: British Nursing News Online ·
Schizophrenics see illusions better
People suffering from schizophrenia may be better able to spot visual illusions than those without the illness, a study has found.

People with schizophrenia can experience hallucinations as a result of their conditions but volunteers taking part in a study appeared more able to spot “real” visual illusions than others.

The University College London researchers said it might be down to a difficulty in dealing with context, as people with schizophrenia take less account of the prevailing circumstances in a given situation, used by most people to interpret events.

Dr Steven Dakin, of UCL's Institute of Ophthalmology, said: "We often think of people with schizophrenia as not seeing the world the way it really is. But we have shown that sometimes their vision can be more accurate than non-sufferers."

Participants were asked to identify one of eight peripheral patterned disks that best matched the pattern of a central disk located in the middle of a larger “distracting” patterned circle.

Twelve of 15 volunteers with schizophrenia made more accurate judgements than the most accurate volunteer in a control group of 33 non-schizophrenic participants.

Dr Dakin said: "Our findings may shed some light on the brain mechanisms involved in schizophrenia.

"Normally, contextual processes in the brain help us to focus on what's relevant and stop our brains being overwhelmed with information.

"This process seems to be less effective in the schizophrenic brain, possibly due to insufficient inhibition - that is, the process by which cells in the brain switch each other off."

Paul Corry, of the charity Rethink, said: "We welcome any new research or progress into understanding the causes of schizophrenia, but it would need to be checked before it would make a difference to the thousands of people living with severe mental illness in the UK.

"In the meantime, reaching people early with the right care and treatment is the best way of recovering a meaningful and fulfilling life."

The researchers said the findings could go some way to explaining the brain mechanisms involved in schizophrenia.

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Tuesday, 25 October 2005 12:37
BNN: British Nursing News Online ·
HIV risk reduced by circumcision
A South African study has found that circumcision can reduce the rate of HIV infections among heterosexual men by around 60 per cent.

Researchers found some of the 3,280 young men who took part in the study were protected from HIV through circumcision.

Cells under the foreskin are believed to be vulnerable to the virus. When the foreskin is removed, the surrounding skin becomes less sensitive and so less likely to bleed, reducing the potential for infection.

The trial, carried out in Johannesburg’s Orange Farm area, involved 3,280, sexually active, uncircumcised, heterosexual young men, who were offered the chance to be circumcised and then monitored for sexual infection.

Just under half chose to be circumcised. The participants were then to be tested for infection at three, 12 and 21 months. However, after 18 months there were 49 new cases of HIV in the uncircumcised group, compared to 20 among those who had opted for the procedure.

The researchers decided to halt the study at this point on ethical grounds so that the uncircumcised men could be offered circumcision.

Keith Alcorn, of the National Aids Manual, said: "Although this study showed that men who were circumcised were less likely to become infected with HIV, it must be stressed that circumcised men did become infected in this study, and that circumcision does not provide total protection against HIV.

"I don't think that any country will be moving towards promotion of circumcision for HIV prevention on these results alone.

"Two further studies in Kenya and Uganda have yet to be completed, and will give us more information."

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, added: "There is a danger that people who have been circumcised will feel that they are fully protected from HIV when they are not.

"We need more research and clear guidance, as circumcision can never be a substitute for condom use."

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Tuesday, 25 October 2005 12:25
BNN: British Nursing News Online ·
Malaria gene protects mosquitoes
US scientists may have discovered the gene that stops mosquitoes from developing malaria even though they carry the disease.

The John Hopkins University team believe a gene called SPRN6 allows mosquitoes to defend themselves from the malaria parasite and hope the discovery will help fight human cases of the illness.

Scientist Dr Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena told Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "More research is needed, but we plan to apply this knowledge in the development of new approaches to control the disease."

Researchers now hope to develop a chemical spray that encourages the switching on of the gene in infected mosquitoes. This would reduce the threat to humans because the insect would no longer be able to transmit the parasite.

To find out the function of SPRN6 in two types of mosquito - Anopheles stephensi and Anopheles gambiae - the team looked at what happened when they forced the gene to stay switched off when the mosquitoes became infected with the malaria parasite.

The number of malaria parasites increased three fold as the process by which gambiae mosquitoes rid themselves of malaria was delayed.

Dr Alister Craig, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: "Having multiple ways of stopping malaria is important. This type of research is really helpful in that area. It's nice to use mosquito immunity as well as other approaches, such as bed nets and anti-malarial drugs, to beat the disease."

Professor Paul Eggleston, professor of molecular entomology at Keele University, said: "This latest piece of work offers new and important insights into the mechanisms by which mosquitoes deal with malaria parasites.

"However, it remains to be seen whether manipulating the activity of SRPN6 in Anopheles gambiae could play a role in controlling transmission of the human disease.

"These organisms have had millions of years to refine their game-play and we, as scientists, must expect to be equally ambitious in our attempts to outwit them."

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