HealthWeek No. 123
Funding for HealthWeek is provided by the Howard Heinz
Endowment and the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: Today on
HealthWeek... Toxins in our waterways. They've killed millions of
fish, and now they're making some people seriously ill. What can be
done to keep us safe? It's different. It's daring. And it may also
be dangerous to your health.
IRA PAPEL, MD, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL
OF MEDICINE: "They are performing invasive procedures on
the human body, and we have no idea under what kind of conditions
these are being done."
SHARYL ATTKISSON: A look
at the downside of body piercing. And come along on a tour of a
house that's designed with your health in mind.
Hello. I'm Sharyl Attkisson. Welcome to HealthWeek.
we begin with a story about a new threat lurking in our coastal
waterways, a threat that's concerning everyone from boaters to
people who eat seafood. Our "Behind the Headlines" segment looks at
toxic microbes in the water. They're becoming such a big problem
that federal health experts held a special meeting in Atlanta this
week to chart a battle plan. One organism that's recently surfaced
has affected fish and even some people, who are coming down with
skin sores and serious memory problems.
HealthWeek's Bettina Gregory reports.
BETTINA GREGORY: This dawn
finds Ray Maddox and Tommy East crabbing at the mouth of Maryland's
Pokomoke River because the river itself is closed. A microorganism
known as Pfiesteria killed thousands of fish this summer -- but a
year ago, Ray and Tommy knew something was wrong.
RAY MADDOX: What we first
started seeing on the catfish looked just like somebody had taken a
pair of skinning pliers or something and pulled some of the skin
off. It was raw and bleeding.
BETTINA GREGORY: Then
these men, who have fished these waters their whole lives without
any problem, got sick.
RAY MADDOX: I had a fever
for about three weeks of and on. It seemed like every night when
you'd lay down it would go up to about 103. And during the night it
BETTINA GREGORY: Tommy was
hospitalized with double pneumonia. His lungs are fine now, but he
still suffers from short term memory loss.
TOMMY EAST: I can be
working on something and right in the middle of doing it and knowing
what I am doing, and then I stop and then I'm wondering what I'm
doing. I mean I've never been like that before.
BETTINA GREGORY: Memory
loss seems to be the common link among those complaining of illness
after exposure to Pfiesteria -- according to the doctor who's
investigating the outbreak.
J. GLENN MORRIS, MD, UNIVERSITY OF
MARYLAND MEDICAL CENTER: We saw 13 patients. We did
comprehensive neurocognitive testing on 11 of those patients and
indeed we were able to show that there was a very clear, almost
isolated, defect in terms of their memory abilities and their
BETTINA GREGORY: Even
researchers studying Pfiesteria have been affected. Howard Glasgow
is the director of the laboratory where Pfiesteria was first
identified ten years ago. Glasgow got lesions -- just like fish -
from a splash of water containing Pfiesteria.
HOWARD GLASGOW, NORTH CAROLINA STATE
UNIVERSITY: And those lesions can develop almost
instantaneously. It's just like an acid burning your skin.
BETTINA GREGORY: Glasgow
and his colleagues treat Pfiesteria with great respect -- wearing
protective gear and respirators. They work in a special lab to avoid
exposure to the fumes given off by this tiny microorganism. Before
their precautions were perfected, five months of exposure to
Pfiesteria fumes from these tanks caused Glasgow to suffer.
HOWARD GLASGOW: Complete
loss of ability to read, inability to do math, inability to
communicate orally and understand conversations -- fortunately all
that came back over a period of time -- but I did end up having to
take lessons to learn to read again.
BETTINA GREGORY: The
problem appears to be spreading. Once word came that Pfiesteria had
been discovered in Virginia waters, the Congress stepped in and
voted 7 million dollars for research. But some scientists say they
already think they know what's causing the toxic outbreak.
DONALD BOESCH, PhD, UNIV OF MD CENTER
FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES: We add nutrients to soil to
grow plants and there's run-off, there's loss of those nutrients
from fertilizers into the surface waters. In addition, of course, if
we have dense aggregations of be it chickens or hogs, they produce
wastes which are rich in these nutrients and they are therefore lost
to the surface waters. There is scientific information that would
suggest that nutrients can indeed be a problem in causing these
organisms to grow.
BETTINA GREGORY: The first
known toxic outbreak of Pfiesteria occurred on the Neuse River in
North Carolina six years ago. It killed one billion fish. Now it's
been found all over the Eastern Seaboard.
Scientists have learned Pfiesteria has dozens of different forms
-- benign and toxic.
HOWARD GLASGOW: In its
most toxic form, it is generally the shape of a basketball with a
whip-like flagellum that it uses to propel itself through the water.
BETTINA GREGORY: What
makes Pfiesteria toxic, no one yet knows. But it is just one of many
poisonous microorganisms assaulting coastal waters nationwide. For
example: billions of single-celled organisms form so-called red
tides that kill manatees off Florida's beaches, decimating these sea
mammals. Other microorganisms form brown tides that have killed
shellfish and birds from the Gulf Coast of Texas to Long Island, New
York. And from Maine to the West Coast, people have gotten severe
illness from eating shellfish poisoned by microorganisms.
DONALD BOESCH, PhD: They
produce toxins and seem to be on the rise in many parts of the
world. So this is a sort of signal, a global signal of some change
BETTINA GREGORY: So far,
no one is known to have gotten sick from eating fish affected by
Pfiesteria. But experts aren't sure how big an impact this and
similar microorganisms will ultimately have on human health.
Scientists agree this will not be an easy problem to solve.
HOWARD GLASGOW: As we
begin to look at it even more closely from a national standpoint,
we're probably going to see an increased incidence of Pfiesteria and
Pfiesteria-like species and fish mortalities associated with that.
BETTINA GREGORY: Something
that will affect all of us, especially the watermen whose survival
depends on the health of the fish they catch.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: Among
those tackling the Pfiesteria problem at the national level is the
Environmental Protection Agency. Joining us now to discuss this
issue further is EPA Administrator Carol Browner.
This has not affected, as we've heard, a huge number of people
yet, but the prospects seem pretty frightening. How big of a problem
do you think it is?
CAROL M. BROWNER, EPA ADMINISTRATOR:
Well, I think it's a wake-up call. It tells us that while
we've made tremendous progress in cleaning up the pollution in
rivers and lakes across the country, the job is not done. There are
emerging threats, and we need to be vigilant in our efforts to
protect our water resources.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: How safe
is seafood? Do we know that there is no threat posed by the seafood
that we get at restaurants that may come from areas that are
CAROL M. BROWNER: Well,
first of all, healthy fish are safe to eat. The fish you get in a
grocery store, the fish you get in a restaurant, it's come through a
commercial process. It's been tested. It's been observed, and I
think you can feel great confidence in the safety of those fish and
SHARYL ATTKISSON: How
about recreational activities? Because we heard in the story that we
just saw that one researcher who was splashed with Pfiesteria got
lesions on this skin. Is it safe to go in the water as far as we
CAROL M. BROWNER: Well, in
the case of Maryland, they have now closed portions of some of their
rivers. Obviously if the river is closed, people should not be
recreating there. Where rivers are open, people should feel very
confident that those waters are safe, they're being tested, and they
can enjoy an outdoor activity.
Pfiesteria isn't the only toxic microbe that's in the
water, as we heard. How big of a problem nationwide is this? You
mentioned that it was growing, but is this something that's going to
be a serious, serious problem in the coming years?
CAROL M. BROWNER: Well,
based on what we've seen, what the scientists tell us, there is a
growing number of these microorganisms. You mentioned earlier red
tide, brown tide, the Pfiesteria outbreak. Again, it is a call to
all of us that we have to remain vigilant in our efforts to protect
our water resources. These are resources that become our drinking
water. They give us the fish we like to eat and they are places we
like to recreate. We need to protect them.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: Is this
considered something that's being handled on a state-by-state basis,
or is there something specific the EPA, as a national agency, can
and is doing?
CAROL M. BROWNER: Well,
we're working very closely with the states where these issues have
arisen. We've provided research dollars. We come in on an emergency
basis. It's going to take all of us, federal, state, local
government, citizens, fishermen, working together to prevent the
pollution that causes these kinds of problems.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: State
livelihoods depend in some cases on the industries that may be
affected by problems like this. If you're talking about human and
animal waste runoff being a cause, does the Federal Government have
ultimate authority to step in if it's not working at the state
CAROL M. BROWNER: Yes. We
have authority, and we are using that authority to look at all of
the sources of increased nutrients in our water supplies. It may be
coming from air pollution, runoff, both urban and rural runoff,
looking at all of those sources of nutrients and how best to reduce
the nutrient levels that may be contributing to these problems.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: EPA
administrator, Carol Browner, thank you for the information.
CAROL M. BROWNER: Thank
DR. NANCY SNYDERMAN: Hello, I'm Dr. Nancy Snyderman
with this week's Healthful Hint.
Your mother probably told you to always wash fresh fruits and
vegetables before taking a bite. But did she tell you the right way
to wash them? Although it's smart to wash dishes in hot, soapy
water, there's no need to use soap on your fruits and veggies, even
if the soap is sold specifically for washing produce. Besides
leaving a bad taste on items like berries and mushrooms, soap
residue may upset your stomach. And forget about hot-water soaks. A
stream of cool, running water is usually the best way to shake those
germs loose. For tough dirt or getting rid of that waxy covering on
things like apples and cucumbers, try a vegetable brush and a little
elbow grease. The humble vegetable peeler can also come in handy,
especially when you pare the skin off things like cucumbers, carrots
or other produce. You could also remove bacteria and pesticide
residues. Finally, never assume that those bags of cut-up lettuce
and other vegetables have been washed. Even if they have, it can't
hurt to give them another rinse under your watchful eye. With
Healthful Hints, I'm Dr. Nancy Snyderman.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: If a doctor tells you that you have
high blood pressure, it can mean you have to make major changes. You
might have to lose weight, change your diet or even take medicine
that can have unpleasant side effects. But what if the doctor is
wrong and you really don't have high blood pressure? A new study
indicates that may happen more often than you think. HealthWeek's
Robert Davis has details.
ROBERT DAVIS, PhD: It's
quick, easy, and painless. But for some people, getting their blood
pressure taken at the doctor's office can, well, send their blood
THOMAS PICKERING, MD, NEW YORK
HOSPITAL - CORNELL MEDICAL CENTER: "It's very difficult
for the doctor to tell if the blood pressure is genuinely high all
the time or if it's just high for that period while the patient's
making the visit. And for this reason, we think it is extremely
helpful for the doctor to get readings taken outside the physician's
ROBERT DAVIS, PhD: That's
often accomplished through so-called ambulatory monitoring, in which
a portable device automatically records blood pressure over a
24-hour period, while the person goes about normal activities. The
monitor stores the readings, which the doctor can then analyze.
THOMAS PICKERING, MD:
"This display shows the complete blood pressure recording
for 24 hours. And probably when the patient goes back from work, it
goes down in the evening, and then when the patient goes to sleep,
it's quite low. And then when they get up again the following
morning, it increases."
ROBERT DAVIS, PhD:
Jeanette Lorde's blood pressure was measured this way.
JEANETTE LORDE: "It was
really no problem. I was able to do my work. I drove home. I
prepared dinner. I went to sleep. And the only problem I had was not
being able to have my shower."
ROBERT DAVIS, PhD: Now a
Belgian study, in the current Journal of the American Medical
Association, finds this test may help some people avoid blood
pressure medication: 26% of patients who got ambulatory monitoring
were able to go off medicine, compared with only 7% whose blood
pressure was measured just in the doctor's office.
THOMAS PICKERING, MD: "I
think it has potentially quite major implications because it could
mean that about 20 percent of people who are on treatment for their
high blood pressure in fact probably don't need it. They just need
to have their blood pressure monitored."
ROBERT DAVIS, PhD: So why
isn't ambulatory monitoring used for everyone with high blood
pressure? Well, for one thing it's expensive, $150, and insurance
generally doesn't cover it. Plus it requires several extra trips to
the doctor to have the device put on and removed. So, as an
alternative, some doctors recommend home test kits like these.
THOMAS PICKERING, MD: The
home readings are a very useful supplement to the office readings,
particularly when the doctor is starting the patient on treatment.
And many of my patients monitor their pressure, and I find it much
easier to see how well the treatment is working.
ROBERT DAVIS, PhD: That's
what Jeanette does, and as a result, she now has her blood pressure
SHARYL ATTKISSON: If your
doctor thinks that home testing might be a good option for you, you
need to go shopping for a home blood pressure monitor. Pharmacist
Dan Albrant has some tips on how to find the right one.
DAN ALBRANT, PharmD, AMERICAN
PHARMACEUTICAL ASSOC: There's a number of different
outlets for home blood pressure monitoring kits. The easiest and
most successful is probably the local pharmacy. But also the home
shopping networks and even the internet now can offer direct
mailings from companies for home blood pressure monitoring devices.
The one that we recommend is an automated device that goes on the
bicep without use of a stethoscope and then it inflates and deflates
automatically and gives a reading for the blood pressure. I think
people can find a decent monitor that's reliable for right around
$50 cost. They can pay a lot more but they won't get any better
service or better outcome from the monitoring device. One of the
things people can do to make sure once they've purchased a
monitoring device that it's accurate and reliable is take it in the
first time to the physician's office. Have the physician or the
nurse check their blood pressure both with the office monitor and
then with their own monitor and make sure that they correspond very
SHARYL ATTKISSON: For more
information on home blood pressure monitoring, or any other
HealthWeek story, you can call our toll-free number shown at the end
of the program.
Until age 55, blood
pressure is generally lower in women than in men. After that, it's
about the same.
Many parents wouldn't bat an eye if their teenage
daughter wanted to get her ears pierced. But what if she wanted to
go a bit a bit further, maybe pierce her eyebrows or her nose? While
you may worry about what it will do to her looks, perhaps an even
bigger concern ought to be the impact on her health.
HealthWeek's Andrew Holtz has more from Portland, Oregon.
ANDREW HOLTZ: It's
spreading, all around the ears, to lips and eyebrows... even
tongues... and far beyond.
And body piercing isn't just kids' stuff anymore.
BODY PIERCER: "Have you
thought about where on your nose you want it?"
JEAN WAYNE: "Uh, I think
BODY PIERCER: "Usually
right in that crevice is a really good spot.
ANDREW HOLTZ: Jean Wayne
got the urge after seeing women with pierced noses in Nepal.
JEAN WAYNE: I think it's
beautiful, and I want to do it, and I guess I want to be different.
I'll be the only 50-year-old with her nose pierced, in my county.
ANDREW HOLTZ: But what
health risks may come with a visit to a body piercer?
DR. IRA PAPEL: "You have
two on this side."
PATIENT: "I have two on
DR. IRA PAPEL: "And only
one gives you trouble?"
PATIENT: "Only the one."
ANDREW HOLTZ: Plastic
surgeon, Ira Papel, says he already sees enough problems from common
ear piercings, including scars called keloids that can grow out of
The spread of piercing concerns him.
IRA PAPEL, MD, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL
OF MEDICINE: They are performing invasive procedures on
the human body, and we have no idea under what kind of conditions
these are being done.
PAT GLAZIER, FAMILY NURSE
PRACTITIONER: "Did the ache extend beyond your breasts,
or was it more all-over body aches, or was it just primarily at the
ANDREW HOLTZ: Tina Brinton
had her nipples pierced to mark her 21st birthday. It's a gift she
had to return.
TINA BRINTON: I cleaned
them every day, I'd clean them twice a day sometimes, I even started
like every so often using antibiotic ointment, and they would just
continually get infected.
ANDREW HOLTZ: She healed.
Once the rings were removed.
College nurse Pat Glazier sees infected piercings every school
PAT GLAZIER, FAMILY NURSE
PRACTITIONER: Most of the time, if they are treated with,
if they need antibiotic therapy, it does the trick, and you just
teach them how to take care of it.
ANDREW HOLTZ: But if the
tools used by body piercers are not sterile, the consequences can be
far more serious.
Here in Oregon, concern about the possible spread of diseases,
including hepatitis-B or AIDS, prompted the state to become the
first in the nation to regulate piercers. Now, shops need licenses,
and state inspectors can make surprise visits.
INSPECTOR: "I would like
to see your client records, I'm talking about completed client
BODY PIERCER: "I keep the
tray liners are right here for that."
LARRY PECK, OREGON HEALTH DIVISION:
The main things we're looking for are of course the
safety and the sanitation part of it and disinfection.
ANDREW HOLTZ: The Oregon
regulations include: patient recordkeeping to help track any
problems; A ban against the piercing of minors, unless a parent is
present, and standards for equipment and sanitation.
Some piercers here supported and even helped write the rules.
AHNA EDWARDS, PROFESSIONAL PIERCER:
We basically maintain the same regulations and the same
criteria as a dental office; we have to do the same kind of
sterilization, the same kind of protection for us and the client.
ANDREW HOLTZ: All piercers
must be registered, and some shops, including this one, require
employees to go through apprenticeships. But there are no state
training requirements, and so no guarantees of a piercer's
BODY PIERCER: "There you
go. All done."
PATIENT: "Thank you."
ANDREW HOLTZ: Most states,
unlike Oregon, don't regulate the growing number of piercings. So
some doctors worry there could be a growing number of problems that
no one is keeping track of.
IRA PAPEL, MD: We don't
know exactly what type of people are doing these procedures. We
don't know how many they are doing. We don't even know what parts of
the body predominantly they are doing this on.
ANDREW HOLTZ: But Josh
Tagliere has a vital tip for people with freshly pierced nipples.
JOSH TAGLIERE: The problem
that occurred after that was the seatbelt, of driving, it was
completely rubbing right against it, so I had to wear it, like, in
the improper position to make it comfortable to drive.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: That's
not how we celebrated birthdays when I was a kid. No matter what
body part you're getting pierced, even if it's just your ears, you
can play a big role in preventing complications. Here's some advice
on how to care for new piercings: Always wash your hands before
touching your piercing; clean your piercing two to three times a day
with a disinfectant solution, like Bactine, that contains the
chemical benzalkonium chloride; during the cleaning, remember to
rotate the jewelry back and forth so the solution reaches the inside
of the piercing; avoid using perfumes, lotions, and other cosmetics
near your piercing. All of those can cause extreme irritation. And
here's one other thing you might not have thought of: If you've just
gotten your ears pierced and you're using the phone, place a clean
tissue between your ear and the receiver to reduce the risk of
ASK THE DOCTOR
BOY: "I have heard recently on the news that
low cholesterol can be unhealthy for you. Does that mean that we
should all go out and eat a steak?"
DR. BRUCE DAN: Not so
fast. There are a few things to consider before you reach for the
You may have heard about studies linking low cholesterol levels
with cancer. But most researchers, after carefully analyzing the
data, now believe cancer caused the low cholesterol levels and not
the other way around. Studies have also found a slightly higher risk
of a bleeding stroke among people with very low cholesterol. But
that applies to only a tiny percentage of people. For the vast
majority of us, a much bigger concern is high cholesterol. Doctors
know that a high cholesterol count is strongly associated with heart
disease, the number one killer in the United States. And don't think
you're immune because you're young. Cholesterol build-ups have been
found in the arteries of teenagers. If you typically eat a
healthful, low-fat diet, one steak won't kill you. But remember,
moderation is the key. It's not eating an occasional steak but a
steady diet of fatty foods that can send your cholesterol level
sky-high. With "Ask the Doctor," I'm Dr. Bruce Dan.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: When
you're shopping for a home, the "wish list" seems to stretch on
forever. Nice neighborhood. Big kitchen. Stone fireplace. Maybe even
good air quality? For more and more people, it's becoming important
that "home sweet home" also be "home healthy home." With that in
mind, the American Lung Association of Virginia recently teamed up
with a power company and a local contractor to build a special kind
of model home. HealthWeek's Jim Slade walks us through.
JIM SLADE: This may look
like an ordinary house, but in reality, it's quite different. Like
all energy efficient buildings, it's sealed up tight. But new
technologies and products have been added that keep its inside air
as clean as a whistle. And that's one big reason Gary and Renae
Thompson decided to buy it:
GARY THOMPSON: We liked
the idea that it has air recirculated and it is filtered and fresh
air comes into the house.
RENAE THOMPSON: We get a
lot of colds, and knowing that the air is clean and that some of
that bacteria is being killed is a real plus for us.
JIM SLADE: The Thompson's
home is a disparate collection of new products pulled together by
Virginia builder Dick Collier.
RICHARD COLLIER, R.E. COLLIER
BUILDERS: Well, it was a challenge at first. It really
just took a lot of time and research before we started the house
because, actually, the products are available; however, it is a
matter of locating and finding them.
JIM SLADE: Interior paint
is a special formula.
RICHARD COLLIER: It is a
paint that has been developed for the healthy house in that the
paint does not give off any volatile organic chemicals.
JIM SLADE: Rugs are
recycled nylon with no chemical effect from the adhesives.
"Wow, this is a beautiful kitchen. Are you here to tell me this
is healthy too besides what good cooking we're going to see here?"
RICHARD COLLIER: "Oh,
JIM SLADE: There is no
particle board in the counters or cabinets to release fumes, and
tile on the floor is chemical free. But the real secret to improving
air quality is two machines in the basement: the first circulates
air in and out of the house ...
SLATOR TURNER, ENERTEC CORP:
The other integral part is the Hepa shield air filtration
system and that's a high performance. It keeps about 99.7% of all
the particulate matter out of the air.
JIM SLADE: But for it to
do that, the house, including all of its ductwork, has to be sealed
as tight as a drum. Does it work?
Kathy and Howard Burnette just moved into their healthy house
because Kathy has asthma.
HOWARD BURNETTE: We're
planning on being in this house until we go to the graveyard, so we
wanted to have a very efficient home and then also one that would
deal with her asthma.
KATHY BURNETTE: The air
just seems lighter and easier to breathe.
JIM SLADE: Bottom line --
how much more does is cost to build?
RICHARD COLLIER: It runs
about 1.5% of the cost of the house to achieve the indoor air
quality and probably another 1.5% to get the high efficiency.
JIM SLADE: Or, in this
case, an extra $4500.
RICHARD COLLIER: However,
the silver lining is that the cost of doing this is actually paid
back over three to four years with the energy savings on the house.
JIM SLADE: Gary and Renae
Thompson think it's worth it. They can't wait to give it a try.
SHARYL ATTKISSON: Well, if
you can't move into a brand-new house, the American Lung Association
says one of the best things you can do is improve the ventilation in
your home. Open windows whenever possible, leave doors between rooms
open for better air circulation, and install exhaust fans in the
bathrooms to remove moisture and fumes from hairspray and cleaning
That's all for this week. Remember you can visit us throughout
the week at our site on the World Wide Web. To reach the HealthWeek
home page, go to PBS ONLINE at the Internet address on your screen.
That address is www.pbs.org. Next time on HealthWeek, we'll look at
the often-secret problem of urinary incontinence and tell you why
it's no longer necessary for women to suffer in silence. We'll also
give you the lowdown on a new "high-tech" treatment for cellulite
and introduce you to a guy whom medical students consider the
"perfect patient." Until then, I'm Sharyl Attkisson. Be well!
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Program No. 123.