Originally created 08/14/97

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Comic error

On Saturday, July 26, and Sunday, July 27, the legendary comic strip physician, Rex Morgan, M.D., demonstrated that even he is fallible.

On those dates, he broke with modern medical practice and mistakenly gave a small baby with a slight cold a single dose of baby aspirin. In recent years, aspirin of any kind has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but sometimes fatal disease that attacks mostly children and young people after viral illnesses such as influenza and chicken pox.

Reported cases of Reye's syndrome have dropped in the United States to fewer than 20 annually. However, physicians' and nursing groups advise that aspirin should not be given to children younger than 15 for anything resembling cold symptoms. It is also recommended that teens should be educated on the dangers of self-medication when such symptoms occur. Dr. Morgan's mistaken prescription was the result of writer/editor error.

"I apologize to our readers and family of newspaper clients for any errors in Rex's medical judgment," says Rex's script writer, Woody Wilson. "We try to make Rex Morgan, M.D. the best and most accurate comic strip of its kind in syndication today. This oversight was a lapse in our otherwise thorough editing procedures.

"We also want to thank the dozens of knowledgeable physicians, nurses and parents for writing to voice their concern over Rex's questionable judgment. As Rex's script writer, I take full responsibility for the error. Additionally, I want to make it clear that our readers should never use the medical opinions or treatments illustrated in Rex Morgan, M.D. as a substitute for a visit to a qualified medical professional."

For more information on Reye's syndrome, readers should consult their medical practitioner, write the National Reye's Syndrome Foundation at P.O. Box 829, Bryan, Ohio 43506, or visit its Web site at www.bright.net/reyessyn.

Disorders linked

People who have insomnia in their 20s are more likely to develop depression decades later, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have followed more than 1,000 men who were medical students at the university from 1948 to 1964. Men who reported insomnia or problems sleeping under stress during medical school were about twice as likely eventually to suffer from depression than students who didn't report sleep problems. The researchers found that the increased risk could last at least 30 years.

However, the findings don't mean that insomnia is a sure sign of depression later on. "If you have insomnia in your 20s, don't start to get wild and woolly that you'll be depressed later," said Dr. John Rush, a psychiatrist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

The study, published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, focused only on men - mostly Caucasian - because most of the medical students at the time were white men.

Physical and psychological abuse have long been linked to the development of borderline personality disorder.

Now a study of 467 inpatients indicate that four risk factors stand out: female gender, sexual abuse by a male non-caretaker, emotional denial by a male caretaker and inconsistent treatment by a female caretaker, said Mary C. Zanarini of the Harvard Medical School.

"The results suggest that sexual abuse is neither necessary nor sufficient for the development of borderline personality disorder and that other childhood experiences, particularly neglect by caretakers of both genders, represent significant risk factors," she reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Skipping two to three hours of sleep a night for a week or longer can seriously alter a person's mood and hamper their alertness and performance, according to a University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study.

When 16 healthy male and female volunteers got only five hours of sleep nightly for eight days they complained of memory problems, confusion, unhappiness and stress David Dinges reported in the journal Sleep.

The findings are particularly worrisome for people who chronically function on reduced sleep, such as nightshift workers, medical personnel and patients with sleep problems, he said.

Americans don't follow health guidelines

When it comes to understanding what a healthy diet is and actually following one, most Americans have a way to go. Even though most people surveyed agree with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid that fruits and vegetables are good for them, consumption of these foods have increased only slightly over the last 25 years, said Linda E. Cleveland of the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Riverdale, Md.

Consumption of breads, cereals, rice and pasta, which form the base of the pyramid, increased 40 percent, although most Americans weren't aware that these products were healthy products, she reported in the USDA's Quarterly Report.

Estrogen, which is often prescribed for women after menopause, may help reduce brain damage from stroke. David Farb, chief of pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a report in the journal Brain Research that laboratory studies indicate that estrogen quiets brain cells following a stroke, thereby reducing the chemical panic that leads to excessive cell death.

Bolstering the currently recommended syphilis treatment with additional antibiotics is unnecessary, say scientists from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as health departments and universities across the country.

The researchers, including three from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, used the CDC's recommended treatment of penicillin G benzathine to treat syphilis in HIV patients and in patients who are HIVnegative. About one-half of the patients were also given the antibiotics amoxicillin and probenecid, said Dr. Justin Radolf, professor of internal medicine and microbiology at UT Southwestern.

The research was published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine.

While scientists had generally hypothesized that HIV patients did not respond as well to treatments because of the patients' compromised immune systems, the symptoms of patients in both groups suggested that their responses were similar regardless of HIV status or whether they received the extra treatment, Dr. Radolf said.

However, blood tests showed that antibodies against syphilis decreased faster in patients without HIV than in HIV patients, indicating that the HIVnegative group did indeed have a better response to both the traditional and the bolstered treatment.

In January, Stanford University scientists reported that a gene named TSG101 might be involved in the growth of breast cancer cells. But now, two different research teams say they can't see any sign of the gene contributing to the disease.

The initial report, published in the journal Cell, noted that the gene was disrupted in several breast cancer tumors.

But scientists at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and Guy's Hospital in London report in the latest issue of the journal Nature Genetics that among 46 breast cancer tumors, they couldn't find any similar cases of gene disruption. Scientists from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore searched 72 breast tumors and also came up empty-handed, they reported in the latest issue of the journal Cancer Research.