Rare Blood Infection

Surfaces in Soldiers

An unexpectedly high number of U.S. soldiers injured in the Middle East and Afghanistan have acquired a rare, hard-to-treat blood infection in military hospitals, Army doctors reported yesterday.

A total of 102 soldiers were found to be infected with the bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii. The infections occurred among soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and three other sites between Jan. 1, 2002, and Aug. 31, 2004.

Although it was not known where the soldiers contracted the infections, the Army said the recent surge highlighted a need to improve infection control in military hospitals.

Eighty-five of the bloodstream infections occurred among soldiers serving in Iraq and the areas around Kuwait and Afghanistan, the Army said in a report published yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Military hospitals typically see about one case per year.

Army investigators said they did not know whether the soldiers contracted the infections on the battlefield, in medical treatment on the front line or following evacuation.

A. baumannii, which is found in water and soil and is resistant to many types of antibiotics, surfaces occasionally in hospitals, often among patients in intensive care units.

Class of Painkillers

Can Harden Arteries

Painkillers suspected of causing fatal heart disease may act by starting the process of hardening the arteries, researchers said yesterday.

The drugs, known as COX-2 inhibitors, include Merck and Co.'s Vioxx, which earned the company $2.55 billion a year but was pulled off the market Sept. 30 after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Tests on mice suggest COX-2 inhibitors might be especially dangerous to younger women, who are normally protected by biology from heart disease.

The research, published today in the journal Science, supports the theory that there could be a "class effect," meaning that all brands of COX-2 inhibitors could raise the risk of heart disease.

A team led by Garret FitzGerald, a cardiologist and pharmacologist at the University of Pennsylvania, found that a fatty acid made by the cyclooxygenase-2, or COX-2, enzyme protects female mice from hardening of the arteries. Shutting down COX-2 long term may kick-start atherosclerosis, FitzGerald said in an interview.

Caesareans Increase

For Some Pregnancies

First-time Caesarean births for women with no identified medical risks or complications have risen sharply in the United States, according to research published today.

Eugene Declercq, of Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts, said first Caesareans for mothers considered "no indicated risk" rose by 67 percent between 1991 and 2001. About 5.5 percent of first-time mothers with no indicated risk had a Caesarean.

Declercq said the trend could be worrying because women who have a Caesarean with their first baby are likely to have it with subsequent children, which can increase the risk of complications.

Declercq and his colleagues analyzed U.S. birth certificate data on about 4 million births each year and created the new "no indicated risk" category to look at Caesarean births in these women.

-- From News Services