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Young Children and Cough and Cold Medicines; What Can Be Done to Stop the Superbug?; When the Earth Suffers, Our Health Suffers; More Info About Breast Cancer

Aired October 20, 2007 - 08:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Thanks, guys. This is HOUSE CALL. The latest on an FDA recommendation to ban cough and cold medicines for children under the age of 6. We're going to update you all show on what every parent needs to know.
Also, the antibiotic-resistant superbug found in some schools. What can be done now to stop it?

Then, when the earth suffers, our health suffers. I'll give you a preview of my special called "Planet in Peril."

And you may think you know everything you need to know about breast cancer, but there is something new to help you think pink.

First up, though, a drug-resistant infection shut down an entire school system in Virginia this week after one student died. The mother of 17-year-old Ashton Bonds says he died after being diagnosed with MRSA. It's an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. Health officials say similar infections have spread through schools across the nation over the past few weeks.


JULIE GERBERDING, DR., CDC DIRECTOR: This is a very serious problem. And I understand why people are so concerned about it, but it's important to appreciate that many of these infections are the same infections moms have been dealing with for decades. They're very preventable. They're not going to cause the kind of serious complications that are in the news right now. And there are a lot of things that we can do to prevent them.


GUPTA: And for more, we're joined by Judy Fortin, who's been covering this story all week. Judy?

JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Sanjay, as a doctor, I know you worry about staph infections in a hospital setting, but I go to see first hand how the concerns extended to the public.

I spent time some in the Georgia Tech athletic training room. Now the school is taking an aggressive approach to preventing the spread of MRSA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FORTIN (voice-over): When Georgia Tech's head athletic trainer isn't wrapping ankles, he's wiping down tables to prevent infection, especially staph infections.

JAY SHOOP, HEAD ATHLETIC TRAINER, GA. TECH.: You always worry about it. No one totally gets totally - gets away from it. You try your best to prevent it, but sometimes, you know, you still get that one germ that gets in there. And you can't control it.

FORTIN: Athletes who have cuts and abrasions may be vulnerable to a superbug called Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA. It's a staph infection that knows how to outwit most antibiotics. It may start as a simple boil, and in more serious cases, cause pneumonia and blood, bone, or joint infection.

ANGELO GALANTE, DR., GA. TECH. FOOTBALL TEAM PHYSICIAN: It can become an abscess. When we're talking about deadly staph infections, it means it's become ingrained.

FORTIN: Athletic facilities and locker rooms are particularly susceptible.

GALANTE: It has too do with perspiration, skin contact, hygiene. I mean, it's -- you have so many people through an area.

FORTIN: Whirlpools that aren't properly chlorinated, dirty towels, and even astroturf are conduits for MRSA. Players are told to wash their hands frequently, not share towels, clothing, or equipment, and tell the team doctor if they see any suspicious lesions on their skin.


FORTIN: Now that common sense advice applies not just to college and professional athletes, but really to anyone who participates in sports and shares workout facilities.

Now Sanjay, you're around hospitals all the time. What should hospital patients be doing to protect themselves?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's a good question. I think the common sense probably applies here, as well, Judy. When you talk about some of the common sense things, such as washing your hands, but also things like washing equipment.

So if there's equipment that's going to be used on you, whether it's something simple like a stethoscope or something more complicated, those need to be washed as well. And also just the catheters. You know, there's catheters that are sometimes required in hospitals. That can be a conduit for some of these infections, as well, Judy. So making sure those are clean.

FORTIN: Really raises the question, though, Sanjay, who is most susceptible? Who should really be worried about this?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's interesting, because we heard about this 17-year-old boy, young man who died. So obviously, he was probably a healthy man who died. But typically people who have weakened immune systems, people who are older, and men for some reason appear to be more at risk for this. Why these groups specifically, we're not exactly sure why, Judy.

FORTIN: All right, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Important story. We'll certainly going to keep on top of that. Thank you, Judy. Great piece. Appreciate that.

And infections and illnesses can be spread in many ways. As I researched the CNN special called "Planet in Peril," I discovered our environment may be making us sicker than ever. I travelled to China to see firsthand the most polluted rivers anywhere in the world and they could affect the most populated country in the world and all of us as well.


GUPTA (voice-over): Many of China's polluted rivers are outside of the big city in the countryside. It's there where crops are irrigated by these rivers and people are getting sick.

When we stopped to talk to farmers just beyond the banks of the Duoxin (ph) River, we got a quick introduction into how touchy the topic of pollution is around here. We were almost immediately stopped by the police. They wanted to see our passports and find out what we were doing. After 10 minutes of tense questioning, they let us go.

(on camera): We're not too far away from where we just got stopped by the police and had to show our passports. We finally made our way into the field, trying to ask some people about their concerns regarding the dirty water and the irrigation of crops. What we're hearing is pretty much the same thing, not much. We're finding out it's really tough to get answers.

(voice-over): We finally made our way into the fields and asked this man about the water here.

The water here is so dirty. I mean, how do you irrigate all the crops? But before he could answer, he got a phone call from a passenger in a car that had been following us. "There are some foreigners here asking about the water," he says. "How should I answer?"

It didn't take us long to find out. "We've been doing a lot of things to improve the environment here," he says. "So while the water might look scary, it's actually OK."

But, in fact, the Duoxin (ph) has tested as one of the most polluted rivers in this region. And it's that kind of toxic water that's dangerous to people's health.


GUPTA: And for more about the environmental crisis, tune in to the CNN special "A Planet in Peril." That's this Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

Also, make sure to check out for the very latest on the issues covered in "Planet in Peril", plus special videos and blogs that are going to be available only online.

Now organic food may be good for the environment, we're talking about that, but it could be even better for you. A naturally healthy diet may help you lose weight quickly and easily.

Then the story you most wanted to see on HOUSE CALL this week -- cold medicine and your kids. What you need to know. And finally...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the women that are out here and there's men, too. Keep it up.


GUPTA: We'll take you on an emotional journey for breast cancer survivors. That's the topic of our "quick quiz" coming up in 60 seconds.


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You probably know that by now. It's also the topic of our "quick quiz." So which of the following is not a risk factor for Breast Cancer? A, age, B, gender, C, breast injury, D, drinking alcohol, or E, race. The answer and a lot more on breast cancer, a minute away.


GUPTA: Before the break, we asked, which of the following is not a risk factor for breast cancer? Take a look at the list there. Well, the answer is C, breast injury.

Bruises and other injuries are not going to make you more likely to develop breast cancer.

Now if you are a woman over 40, you are at risk of breast cancer. You should get a mammogram today, now. Fighting breast cancer is a passion for many people who participate in the Susan G. Komen Foundation event. Participants walk 60 miles over three days to raise money for breast cancer research.

We joined that journey in Atlanta.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We salute your courage in facing an uncertain future. Your belief in a world without breast cancer. Let that be ours.

(CHEERS) JESSICA: I'm Jessica. I'm 30-years-old. I'm a mom of one, soon to be two. (INAUDIBLE). I feel like I should do something important, be a hero to someone. If I can be here for my daughters, that's good enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we are walking into camp. It's been 20 miles. I did the whole way. I didn't get picked up by a van. I'm really proud of myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm here on day two. I've been up for an hour, got up, got dressed, brushed my teeth, ate some breakfast. I'm sore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the second year I'm walking the breast cancer three-day for a total of 720 miles in 12 cities. In May of last year, a friend of mine who (INAUDIBLE) lost a fight to breast cancer.

WENDY STEWART, BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR: All the women that are out here, and there's men, too, keep it up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all right. We're on day three. I'm achy. My knee hurts. My ankle hurts. I'm tired. But I'm going to do this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She died of cancer in '97.



KRISSA QUILL, PARTICIPANT: Yes, she was a two-time survivor, and then it came -- of breast cancer. Then it came back in her lungs like seven years later.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are the heroes who said it is not enough for me to survive. I must help save the lives of thousands to come.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will never give up!


GUPTA: Wow, really powerful stuff there. Now, if you're a breast cancer survivor with a story to share, we want to hear from you. Go to We're going to be compiling those stories. And we're going to post them next week as well.

Now there is some great news about breast cancer. More women are living with breast cancer instead of dying of it. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society in this week's "Empowered Patient," CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen looks at how breast cancer patients can empower themselves to get the best treatment.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, for this week's "Empowered Patient" segment, we talked to women who survived breast cancer. And they answered the question, how do you be an empowered breast cancer patient? What are some things you should do right from the time of diagnosis?

I spoke with several survivors, including Jaclyn Smith and Olivia Newton-John. And these two women had a piece of advice that I found so surprising, but when you hear it, it actually made sense.

They said don't always trust your first instincts. Jaclyn Smith said that her first instinct when she was diagnosed was to say I want a mastectomy, just take off my breast, I want it off. And she said that cooler heads prevailed, that her husband, who's a physician said, you know what? A lumpectomy is probably a better choice. That's what your doctors want you to have. Let's do a lumpectomy. And that's what she ended up doing.

Olivia Newton John said that in her case, she toyed with the idea of not having chemo. She was scared of chemo. She thought about not having it. And she said again cooler heads prevailed. Her friends said to her, you need to have chemotherapy. It's the right choice. It's what you need to do right now. And she went ahead and did it. And she said it wasn't nearly as bad as she thought.

So that's one of the tips, Sanjay, in our "Empowered patient" segment this week.

GUPTA: That's really interesting. I mean, you say cooler heads prevailed. So does that mean that both these women obviously had support, that they didn't do it alone, right?

COHEN: That's right, Sanjay. Olivia Newton John, and Jaclyn Smith, and other survivors said to me, you have got to have support. You should not be going to the doctor's office alone. You should have someone right there with you.

And they also said girlfriends are really, really crucial at this point. You're going to need people to lean on. You're going to need people to talk to, to hash out some of the choices you need to make. Jaclyn Smith said that she had a very close friend who was a nurse, who was a breast cancer survivor, and that this woman was absolutely indispensable to her during this time.

GUPTA: You know, I mean, obviously, those are ways to empower yourself to fight breast cancer. What about preventing the disease to begin with, Elizabeth?

COHEN: That's right, Sanjay. Of course, prevention is always best. And there's actually some disturbing information coming out from the American Cancer Society. And that is that fewer women are getting mammograms. I was so surprised by this because the message has been out there.

Women need to get regular mammograms starting at age 40, but apparently some people just aren't hearing it. It's so crucial to get those regular mammograms, to do the breast exams on yourself, and make sure that your doctor or your nurse practitioner does breast exams also.

GUPTA: Thank you so much. And no question, obviously, prevention is best. For more on breast cancer, check out Elizabeth's column on this topic at You know, every week, she writes about ways you can empower yourself to get the most out of your health care. Really important stuff.

Now before you give your child cold medicine, there is something you need to know.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think these products have any role in helping little kids get over colds.


GUPTA: Wow. One mother's story, and how you can protect your children as well.

And later, eat naturally, and you, too, could have an organic waistline. I'll tell you what that means coming up on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. Kids under 6 and cold medicine. This week, we found out that could be a deadly combination. It was a hot topic on And it's the topic viewers voted to see this week on HOUSE CALL. Thanks to all those who voted.

We turn now to Elizabeth Cohen with more.


COHEN (voice-over): When Dimitria Alvarez's baby got a cold, she did what any good parent would do. She took him to the doctor.

DIMITRIA ALVAREZ, MOTHER: He just started coughing. And it was just in his chest. He had a little bit of a fever. And so I took him to the doctor. And the doctor told me to give him the medicine.

COHEN: The medicine was an over-the-counter cough syrup. What happened to Devin Melburg Alvarez when his mother gave it to him shook his family forever.

JOSHUA SHARFSTEIN, DR., BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: You're talking about millions of dollars spent convincing parents to buy these drugs, that they need these drugs, when in fact, they're not safe or effective.

COHEN: Dr. Joshua Sharfstein says the cough and cold medicines we see on drugstore shelves are dangerous for children under the age of 6. The irony, he says, is these drugs don't even work for kids under 6.

SHARFSTEIN: I don't think these products have any role in helping little kids get over colds.

COHEN: The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents manufacturers of these drugs, says, "They're safe and effective when used as directed, and most parents are using them appropriately."

Dimitria Alvarez said she did exactly what her pediatrician recommended. She gave her son an over-the-counter cough medicine, put him down to sleep. And seven hours later, she found him dead.

ALVAREZ: He was just -- just beautiful. And I just -- I miss him so much. And I loved him so much.

COHEN: On Devin's death certificate, Dextromethorphan intoxication. Dextromethorphan is a key ingredient in cough medicines, like the one his mother gave him before he died.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, reporting.


GUPTA: Wow, what a sad story there. And on Friday, an FDA advisory panel recommended parents and caregivers not give over-the- counter cough and cold medications to any children under the age of 6. This decision comes a week after many drug manufacturers voluntarily withdrew more than a dozen of these products for infants and babies under the age of 2. The FDA advisory panel also voted to standardize dosing on product labels, as well as on such devices as cups, spoons, or syringes, which sometimes come with the medications.

Now parents with children under 6 should consult with their pediatrician if their child gets sick, as always. And if you plan to give these medications to older children, remember, to make sure only to give the child the prescribed dose, even if the medication doesn't appear to be working. Don't keep giving it. Use the measuring dispenser provided with the medication. If there isn't one, ask your pharmacy for one. And never use adult-sized teaspoons or tablespoons to give that medication.

There's much more to come on HOUSE CALL. Here's a question: could plastic water bottles be bad for your health? Curious about that? I'm going to have the answer in our "Ask the Doctor" segment.

And going organic and getting thing, how eating naturally grown foods could help you lose weight right now. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL.

Organic foods are becoming more popular than ever. You've seen them everywhere, but losing the chemicals in your food may actually help you lose weight faster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA (voice-over): We all know that organic foods are good for our environment. Grown without the use of conventional pesticides and fertilizers, they keep the balance of the earth's soil intact. So, is eating organic healthier?

ANDREW WEIL, DR., "EATING WELL FOR OPTIMUM HEALTH": Eating organic is wise on a personal level because you're reducing your intake of potentially harmful compounds.

GUPTA: Now some scientists say that removing chemicals from certain foods can actually help people lose weight. That's because the toxins in non organic foods are broken down in the liver, which is a key organ in the weight loss process. It's the largest fat burner in the body. If the chemicals aren't in the system, the liver can do a better job of burning fat, keeping weight down.

But food watch dog groups say it's more than just getting rid of chemicals. It's really up to individuals to change the way they eat all together. And if organic foods helps them, all the better.

MICHAEL JACOBSON, CTR. FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: To solve this obesity epidemic, people are going to really have to radically switch their diets to much more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

GUPTA: Experts caution that organic foods are often more expensive than their counterparts because of costlier regulations and smaller harvests. But even getting a few organic items into the diet can cut out dangerous pesticide residue in the body and help the environment at the same time.


GUPTA: Something to think about there for you. Now drinking water is good for the body and the mind, but could water in plastic bottles do more harm than good? We ask the doctor. I'll have the answer, straight ahead.


GUPTA: It's time for our segment called "Ask the Doctor." Well, this week, we decided to dip into our mail bag to find out the medical questions that are on your mind. Here's a question from Rhonda in Virginia. She asks this. "Is it true that bottled water should not be placed in the freezer or left in a hot car all day because severe temperature changes cause the plastic bottle to break down and emit carcinogens?"

Carcinogens are those things that could cause cancer. Good question, Rhonda. Many people wonder about this. First of all, freezing water actually stops the release of potentially dangerous chemicals because they have a harder time diffusing as easily in cold temperatures.

The claims that bottled water stored in cars or other warm environments from these chemicals link to cancer are simply not true. We investigated that. You're more likely to suffer from the adverse effects of dehydration if you simply don't drink enough water than from the minuscule amounts of chemicals and plastic if you drink from the bottle.

Hope that helps. Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN starting right now.