Thursday, January 4, 2007

Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Pet Rodents

Hamsters and other rodents kept as pets were linked to about half of human infections during a recent outbreak of salmonella, according to a study being published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 28 cases of human infection during a salmonella outbreak from December 2003 to September 2004. In 13 cases, patients had handled pet hamsters, rats or mice, and another two had contact with someone who had touched rodents.

Salmonellosis is usually caused by contaminated food. About 1.4 million Americans are infected and 400 people die each year from it.

"These animals should be considered cute, but potentially contaminated," said co-author Stephen Swanson, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Other animals, including snakes, chicks and kittens, are potential carriers of a salmonella strain, he said.

Symptoms of a salmonella infection in humans include stomach cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Normally healthy victims are sick for about a week and often recover on their own.

Heart-Valve Risks Cited In Parkinson's Drugs

The risk of heart-valve damage from two drugs for Parkinson's disease may be far greater than was known, new research suggests.

The drugs are not the main treatment for Parkinson's, but one is also sometimes used to treat "restless legs" syndrome.

A study by Italian researchers found that about one-fourth of Parkinson's patients taking pergolide or cabergoline -- sold as Permax, Dostinex and other brands -- had moderate to severe heart-valve problems. Another study, by German doctors, found that users of either drug were five to seven times more likely to have leaky heart valves than those on other types of Parkinson's medications. Both studies were reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

"This is an extraordinarily high risk," said Bryan Roth, a pharmacology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It's a bad side effect." Valve-replacement surgery is the only solution, he said.

Pergolide is also used to treat restless legs syndrome.

Did Weak Monsoons End the Tang Dynasty?

Weak summer monsoons originating in the Pacific Ocean between the years 700 and 900 may have contributed to popular uprisings against both the Tang Dynasty in China and the Classic Maya in Central America, a study said.

Reduced rainfall from the monsoons may have caused crop failure and famine that spurred the overthrow of the two regimes on opposite sides of the Pacific, a group of scientists led by geologist Gerald Haug wrote in the journal Nature.

The study of the magnetic properties and titanium content in the sediments of Lake Huguang Maar in China over the past 16,000 years yielded evidence of feeble summer rains between 700 and 900. The titanium records from the Chinese lake and the Cariaco Basin off the coast of Venezuela showed similar features, the article said.

"It is intriguing that the rise and collapse of the Classic Maya coincided with the golden age and decline of the Tang Dynasty in China," said Haug's article, being published today.

-- From News Services

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