Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Summer Books 2002," July 7, 2002

Vaccine vindicated?

There's no link between the popular vaccine MMR and autism or bowel disease, according to British experts. They looked at five decades of research and concluded that no connection exists. Lead investigator Dr. Anna Donald said the research covered 2,000 separate studies involving millions of children. The British Medical Association commissioned the review after the number of British toddlers receiving the vaccine for mumps, measles, and rubella began dropping. "The science is very rigorous and this really does give a green light to MMR," she said. The battle over vaccinations isn't over, however. What some call a global panic continues, particularly in the United States and Britain. Autism has skyrocketed in recent years and many blame vaccines. The condition affects 1 in 250 children, according to the National Institutes of Health. Rep. Dan Burton called for more research funding to prevent the statistic from "becoming 1 in 25 children." The CDC's Roger Bernier testified that about 97 percent of school-age children have had the MMR vaccine. As a result, only about 100 measles cases are reported annually.

Reined-in free radicals

Antioxidants may reduce the risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease. Two studies suggest that nuts, leafy green vegetables, and other foods rich in vitamin E and other nutrients could help fight off dementia. The studies appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and researchers say more definitive work lies ahead. Antioxidants like vitamin E block the effects of oxygen molecules, which damage cells. Such "free radicals" have been linked to cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Martha Clare Morris of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, who led one of the studies, described a high vitamin E diet: whole-grain cereal for breakfast, a sandwich with whole-grain bread for lunch, and a dinner including a green leafy salad sprinkled with nuts. Alzheimer's is on the rise, along with an aging population. The Alzheimer's Association has predicted that over 14 million baby boomers will have the disease by mid-century.

Broken hearts

After the St. Louis Cardinals found pitcher Darryl Kile was dead in a Chicago hotel room on June 22, a preliminary autopsy revealed that the 33-year-old athlete had died of a treatable heart ailment. His death has given new prominence to a common health problem. Most Americans who die of heart disease are 65 or older. Yet researchers say 80 percent of heart-disease deaths in younger people occur during the first attack. Half of such sudden-death cases had no previous symptoms. "A very substantial proportion of patients with heart disease never have a clue, and he might have been one of them," said cardiologist Eric Topol, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. In Mr. Kile's case, an autopsy showed the ballplayer had 80 percent to 90 percent narrowing of two of three main arteries to his heart. (His father died at 44 following a heart attack and blood clot in the brain.) But such extensive blockage in a 33-year-old man is considered unusual, Robert Bonow, president of the American Heart Association said; the problem itself is not. Atherosclerosis kills more than 15,000 Americans each year, according to the group, and contributes to nearly three-fourths of all U.S. deaths from cardiovascular disease. Dr. Topol said Mr. Kile may have been a good candidate for daily aspirin and drugs called statins to keep his cholesterol down and his arteries clear. Both are relatively inexpensive treatments and millions of people use them. The cardiologist also said Mr. Kile's life could have been saved with an angioplasty and stent procedure. "This is happening every day, but it's just that people are not as visible as Mr. Kile," Dr. Topol said. "We have a lot of work to do to get the medical community and the patients to heighten awareness and to get the appropriate diagnostic workup-and not just once" for people with strong risk factors. Mr. Kile's death sent the entire baseball world into public mourning. He leaves a wife and three young children.

Ask but don't tell

United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest have come up with a novel way to flout their denomination's law that bars "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from serving as pastors: Hear and see no evil. It all began at an annual church conference last summer when the Rev. Mark Williams of Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle declared for the record that he was "proudly" a "practicing gay man." He was living with a partner. Pressed by conservative pastors to enforce the law, Bishop Elias Galvan months later filed formal charges against Rev. Williams. But not until this spring did the bishop's nine-member investigating committee start its inquiry. The committee confronted Rev. Williams with the obligatory question that he declined to answer. With that, the committee dismissed the charges, saying there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a trial. The decision could not be appealed. Rev. Williams remains a pastor in good standing. The episode left many United Methodists wondering whether church law can ever be enforced anywhere its opponents are in charge. | Edward E. Plowman

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