Promising Technique Tried For Severe Back Pain

Early trials of a technique to relieve pain-causing nerve pressure in the back without surgery have been successful, doctors in Texas report.

The technique is used to treat a condition known as sciatica, in which pain shoots down the leg. Sciatica occurs when the jelly-like filling of a spinal disk leaks out, or herneates, and presses on the sciatic nerve. If other therapy fails, the disk can sometimes be surgically removed in a procedure called a laminectomy.

The new technique, called "percutaneous lumbar diskectomy with aspiration probe," uses a hollow needle to remove part of the disk with suction.

So far about 50 patients around the country have been treated with the technique, according to Dr. Vert Mooney of the University of Texas, one of a handful of centers using the technique.

The patient is sedated but must remain conscious to help the doctor avoid touching a nerve. X-ray images guide the needle, which removes tissue from the center, not the herneated part, of the disk. The herneated portion should then retract.

The technique cannot be used if bone matter also needs to be removed. In such cases, a laminectomy is required, Mooney said.

Cleaning Solutions Eliminate AIDS Virus in Contact Lenses

The common solutions used to clean contact lenses are effective in eliminating AIDS virus, a study has found, and ophthalmologists say that should reassure patients that the disease cannot be transmitted during lens fittings.

There has never been a case of AIDS transmission through tears, although the virus has been detected in tears and most other body fluids. Still, in response to the discovery of minute quantities of the virus in one AIDS patient last year, the Centers for Disease Control devised strict lens-cleaning rules.

Those rules include washing the lenses with hydrogen peroxide or heating them for 10 minutes.

The study by Dr. Markis W. Vogt of Massachusetts General Hospital found that intentionally contaminated contact lenses were no longer infected after washing them with commercial lens cleaner and rubbing them with gloved fingers.

"There is no evidence that AIDS can be transmitted through ocular procedures such as the fitting of contact lenses," Dr. Denis M. O'Day of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. But he said doctors must "take every precaution for the safety of our patients." Implanted Contraceptive Works But Has Side Effects

A long-term contraceptive implant was 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy in a study of almost 400 women, but a significant number complained of problems with menstruation or headaches and had the implants removed.

The contraceptive capsules, which slowly release a synthetic hormone similar to progesterone into the bloodstream, are placed under the skin of the arm or shoulder.

The study of 389 women in Colombia, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, tested one brand of contraceptive implant, the Norplant, made by a Finish firm.

In the first year, 6 percent of the women complained of menstrual difficulties and had the implants removed. At the end of two years, a total of 14 percent had had the implants removed for that reason, and 6.4 percent for other medical reasons, mainly headaches.

Despite those difficulties, the implants were well accepted by most of the women, according to the research team, headed by Dr. Guillermo Lopez of the Hospital San Juan de Dios. They concluded that the implants are "an important addition to the contraceptive armamentarium."

Frontiers of Medicine: 'Bowl-Game Embolism'

Doctors in Massachusetts have discovered an unsettling medical problem with which to usher in the football season: "bowl-game pulmonary embolism."

It happened last January to a 40-year-old bartender, according to Dr. Christopher Walsh of Massachusetts General Hospital and his colleagues in a letter to The New England Journal of Medicine. The man, a football fan, spent 40 hours doing nothing but watching bowl games, eating and sleeping starting on New Year's Day.

The next day, while standing at work, he suffered the sudden sharp pain of a pulmonary embolism -- a blood clot arriving in the lung.

The doctors theorized that the clot prob- ably formed in a vein during his 40 immo- bile hours in front of the television.

"Hence, 'Bowl-Game pulmonary embolism' needs to be considered in the . . . diagnosis of chest pain during appropriate high-risk seasons," the doctors conclude.

On the Pulse

Cats are a bigger rabies risk than dogs, Johns Hopkins University experts warn, because they roam more and their owners often fail to get them immunized. As of Aug. 1, fewer than 500 cases of rabid animals, wild or domestic, had been reported in Maryland and the District, indicating that the current wave in the Mid-Atlantic area is remaining fairly steady . . . The food seasoning monosodium glutamate (MSG) is rarely if ever to blame for so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome, a Virginia dermatologist concludes. The chemical has often been cited for the flushed face and headaches that some diners complain of. Dr. Jonathan K. Wilkin, writing in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, tested MSG on six healthy men, and found "no flushing of the face in anyone we tested." He said 1 to 2 percent of the population may be adversely affected by MSG . . .