Return to Transcripts main page


Latest Information on Salmonella Outbreak; New Concerns About Radiation Exposure From Popular Heart Test; Autistic Child Out of Control: The Intervention; Laid Off: What Tests to Take Before You Lose Your Insurance

Aired February 7, 2009 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Good morning. Welcome to HOUSE CALL, the show that helps you live longer and stronger.

The salmonella outbreak has left hundreds sick and sparked a criminal investigation now. We've got the latest.

New concerns about radiation exposure from a popular heart test. We're going to answer this question, and even need the test.

Plus, an exclusive report -- a child with autism is out of control. Her family needs help. We're there for the intervention.

We start, though, with a troubling turn in the nationwide salmonella outbreak. FEMA is warning that some of its emergency meal kits handed out to ice storm victims in Kentucky and Arkansas may contain recalled peanut butter. Believe it or not, the warning comes as the Senate Agriculture Committee looks into the outbreak.

Abbie Boudreau of CNN's "SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT" looks at how this could have happened.


ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATION UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeff Almer didn't think he needed to worry about his 72-year-old mom eating a peace of peanut butter toast.

JEFF ALMER, MOTHER DIED FROM SALMONELLA: (INAUDIBLE) I was going to be home tomorrow for Christmas, you know, it just didn't seem real.

BOUDREAU: Shirley Almer's death is one of eight now linked to the outbreak nationwide. Only after she died did Minnesota health officials start piecing together the puzzle.

ALMER: And they said that your mother had a stool sample tested and she tested positive for salmonella. We were just -- like, what? How? How could that have happened?

BOUDREAU: National Food Safety experts tell CNN it happened because the system in place to protect the public from bad food is seriously broken. Experts say, in this case, the government failed to regulate the safe production of peanut products from this Blakely, Georgia plant. And also, it failed to rapidly detect the source of the outbreak. So far, more than 500 people have become sick. WILLIAM HUBBARD, FMR. FDA ASSOC. COMMISSIONER: It's an embarrassment. In the United States, in the 21st century, we have 76 million people getting sick from food-borne contamination each year, 325,000 of them will be hospitalized, and 5,000 will die.

I was at FDA for 27 years.

BOUDREAU: Food safety expert, William Hubbard, who testified today before the U.S. Senate, says outbreaks like this one highlight the first basic problem. There's virtually nothing in place to stop companies from shipping contaminated foods.

HUBBARD: American food processors are able to essentially make anything they want, any way they want. And the burden is on the FDA to find a problem and correct it. It should be the other way around.


GUPTA: It's amazing. And Abbie Boudreau is here with us.

So, where do things stand? It seems like it's been spiraling over the last couple of weeks.

BOUDREAU: I mean, it really has. Right now, the Peanut Corporation of America now faces a federal criminal investigation into the outbreak. And, Sanjay, we're also expecting company officials from that company to testify before Congress this coming Wednesday. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended Peanut Corporation of America from participating in government contracts, programs, for at least one year. So, a lot going on there.

GUPTA: Yes. And so, if you're a consumer out there and like so many of our viewers are, and you're worried about this, how do they find out what might be contaminated or recalled or what?

BOUDREAU: Well, that's really easy. I mean, you can go to; you go to the FDA's Web site. They have a full list. So, if you're wondering, am I buying the wrong thing? What can I buy? What can't I buy? It's really easy to find out. The lists are there, they exist, go to them.

GUPTA: All right. We encourage our viewers to check that out for sure so they can keep safe.

Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it. Welcome to HOUSE CALL.

BOUDREAU: Thank you.

GUPTA: This week, a popular heart scan comes under scrutiny. Two studies showing a cardiac CT scan can expose you to 600 times the radiation of an average chest x-ray? So, is it worth it?

Well, it's important to note that a standard stress test puts out the same amount of radiation as the scan and no one sees cardiac CTs as a screening test for the general public. Instead, they might be used in an emergency or if you have a strong family history of heart disease. We wanted to show you what it is that we're talking about.


GUPTA (voice-over): You may wonder what condition your heart is in. I did. And for the first time, ever, I got a chance to see my own beating heart. Truth is, I'm pretty healthy, but a strong family history of heart disease makes me worry.

So, my doctor told me to have two types of testing done. First up, drawing blood, looking for all sorts of things, like genetic markers that might put me at a especially high risk for heart disease. Also, markers of inflammation like C-reactive protein, too high a number and your risk of heart disease skyrockets. And finally, cholesterol and any other fat that might be accumulating in my arteries.

(on camera): So, most people get their blood work done, as you saw, I did. But another step might be to get my heart looked at, actually looking at the blood vessels that go to my heart. The question is: Do I have some disease right now? And the more important question is: Is there something that can be done about it?

I decided to have this done because of my own family history. Let's see what we find.

(voice-over): What I'm about to undergo is called a CT angiogram, using this sophisticated x-ray machine, that takes 10 pictures between each heartbeat. The test itself doesn't take very long, just about 10 minutes. But all of these x-rays are used to check out different things in my heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're looking for is there any calcification in the arteries. So far, there's no calcium.

GUPTA: And the health of the arteries. This is what the CT angiogram does so well. It provides a 3D image of the heart, without having to use any invasive measure.


GUPTA: Luckily, a good-looking heart there, some good news for me. And you know what? CT scans have moved beyond what I had there, a 64-slide scan. Now, there's 320 slice CT scan as well, which takes less time to scan the heart and exposes you to less radiation. Now granted, the machine also costs hospitals about $2.5 million.

Up next: This week's medical headlines. What's leading so many soldiers to commit suicide? The army has released some new numbers. They are deeply concerned. Stay with us.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL.

Taking a look at this week's medical headlines. The army says 24 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in January, that's nearly six times as many as the same month last year. And just last week, the army reported 143 suicides for all of 2008, and was also a record. Army officials call the new numbers terrifying and say they do not know what is going on, but have plans to conduct training to identify soldiers at risk.

Also -- an estimated 4 million children will have access to health care insurance under SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program. President Obama approved legislation that expands the program by more than $32 billion over the next five years. SCHIP covers children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but who can't afford private insurance.

And organizers for this weekend's National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day are focusing efforts in 18 cities where they say the epidemic is picking up steam. The rate of AIDS diagnosis for the black community is 10 times the rate for whites. This weekend's activities mark the ninth annual observance.

Now, a teenage girl has autism. And her family suffers. We take look inside an intervention to help give a family some hope.

We're back in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL.

You know, dealing with teenagers can be difficult enough. But what happens when a teen has autism and is out of control? Well, for one family in California, it took some tough love and the help of experts.

CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, has the first part of a CNN exclusive report on one autism therapy program.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Marissa Bilson, like many 13-year-old girls, she loves to play on the computer, eat junk food and shop. But in other ways, she's very different.


COHEN: Marissa has autism, diagnosed when she was a toddler. She has fits like this every day, several times a day.

(on camera): Do you think people who don't have a child with autism, do they get how tough it can be?

MARY BILSON, MARISSA'S MOTHER: I don't think so, no. It's not the same.

COHEN (voice-over): To cope, the Bilson family, Mary, John, 15- year-old Britney and six-year-old Brennan, basically let Marissa do whatever she wants. (on camera): Who runs the house?

MARY BILSON: Marissa does because everything we do revolves: is Marissa going to get upset -- yes.

COHEN (voice-over): She gets to use the family's only computer for hours on end.

MARY BILSON: Let's go cook.


COHEN: She's allowed to wander around the house at will, going into her sibling's rooms and taking their stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to take those outside?


COHEN: And every night, she drags luggage stuffed with toys outside as her parents desperately try to stop her.

MARY BILSON: Marissa, get yourself out of the street.

COHEN: Taking her to a store becomes a public nightmare, because she doesn't get that candy she wants.

MARY BILSON: Come here.


COHEN: Desperate to make changes, the Bilsons invited the group Autism Partnership into their home to help determine if Marissa and their family can be saved. The program is similar to the popular TV show, "Nanny 911," it involves having a therapist spent a week in the Bilsons home using one type of approach which focuses on modifying some of Marissa's behaviors. It's not cheap, it costs $2,500 a day and most interventions last about a week.

The Bilsons can't afford that, so Autism Partnership is doing it for free, so we could capture just how this type of intervention works.

(on camera): Why did you need it so much?

MARY BILSON: Well, she's getting older. And 13, you know, her tantrums are louder, longer. She'll be an adult soon. She can't be behaving this way.



SCHROEDER: Markers. Don't touch, can't touch until we're ready to go. You want to look? I'll show you, but no touching, OK? MARISSA BILSON: OK.

SCHROEDER: Can you touch?


SCHROEDER: OK, hands back. You got to follow the rules.

COHEN (voice-over): It's all about rules. Marissa has always had free rein at home because her parents try to avoid her fits. So on day two, the therapist, Rick Schroeder laid down the law. If she behaves, Marissa gets rewards; if she doesn't, she gets nothing.

SCHROEDER: These are for working, OK?


SCHROEDER: So, no grabbing, OK?

COHEN: They start slow. The first task: stay out of her big sister Britney's room for 20 minutes. Rick even sets a timer. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Marissa loves to go into Britney's room and take her stuff.

SCHROEDER: Got to relax, Marissa.

COHEN: In the end, success.

SCHROEDER: There's the bell, go turn it off.

COHEN: Marissa gets her reward.

SCHROEDER: Marissa, nice job. All 12 dolls. What do you get?


SCHROEDER: Banana laughy taffy -- fantastic.

COHEN: But changing Marissa won't happen fast.

SCHROEDER: Marissa's behavior is like a big chunk of granite, right? Hard rock, right? You can't just smash it with one swing. You take a chisel and you just chip away each day, little bit.


GUPTA: Wow. So, what happens of the rest of the week? Can they stop Marissa's fits? Stay tuned for part two of Elizabeth's intimate look at autism is still ahead.

And also, yoga for the Type A personality. Is it any less intimidating? We're going to take you inside a studio that's got a unique approach. Stay with HOUSE CALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: Struggling with autism, families may allow the bad behavior of children with autism to go on and on. Why? Because it's easier not to force a change or maybe because they don't know how to change it. Here now, the conclusion of our exclusive report on trying to help a family and the child cope.

Once again, here's Elizabeth Cohen.


COHEN (voice-over): There are many approaches to helping children with autism. Therapists Rick Schroeder uses the behavior modification technique. He spent the week helping Marissa change to make her life and her family's life better.

SCHROEDER: Are you happy? (LAUGHTER). Good.

COHEN: There have been successes.

(on camera): Do you think she's proud of herself that she's learned how to obey these rules?

SCHROEDER: I think she really loves the system. It's seems like it's comforting to her.

COHEN (voice-over): But some behavior can't be changed. Every night, Marissa has a ritual. She drags her toys outside and doesn't want to come back in.


COHEN: Schroeder says there's no way to change this because it's more than behavior, it's become an obsession.

SCHROEDER: Once the obsession starts, it's tough as nails to stop because she's got -- that's what defines an obsession, right? It has to get done.

MARY BILSON: So, then, just get rid of the toys?


COHEN: With the toys gone, there's another problem for the Bilsons to solve, an even bigger one -- taking Marissa out of the house is still a nightmare. Here's a fit she had when her favorite candy wasn't at the store.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can have purple skittles.


COHEN: That was on day four of the intervention. On the fifth and final day, they try again.

SCHROEDER: Remember the rules, no touching.

MARISSA BILSON: No screaming.

SCHROEDER: No screaming.

MARISSA BILSON: No stealing.

SCHROEDER: No stealing, OK. No ice cream, either, OK?

COHEN: This time, Marissa manages to follow the rules.

MARY BILSON: Great job, Marissa.

COHEN: They leave the store triumphant.

MARY BILSON: I am very happy. (LAUGHTER). Yes.

COHEN (on camera): Do you think they'll do OK?

SCHROEDER: I think they'll do OK.

COHEN: Do you think they've learned something?

SCHROEDER: Absolutely.

COHEN (voice-over): But will it last? Marissa will never be like most other girls. All her family can do is hope to make the best life possible for her and for them.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Seal Beach, California.


GUPTA: All right. It's time to "Ask the Doctor" -- our chance to answer the medical questions that on your minds.

Our first question is from Bella in New York. She says this, "I eat healthy, I do cardio every morning, my blood pressure is 90 over 60. I am often dizzy. Is this a problem?"

Well, first of all, great job staying healthy, Bella. That's good news for you and for a lot of people out there. Low blood pressure is somewhat common for people who are in good shape, that's the first point.

Now, if you're readings are consistently low, it's probably not going to be an issue. But severely low blood pressure can deprive your brain of oxygen and your body of its nutrients. So, tell your doctor if you ever experience sudden drops in blood pressure, accompanied by fainting, blurred vision, nausea or rapid shallow breathing. Good luck, Bella.

Next question comes from E. Jones in Arizona. She writes, "I'm in my 60s and I experience hot flashes which awaken me three to four times nightly. I also have difficulty maintaining my weight. Is there a connection between sleep interruption and weight?"

Well, thanks for the question. Studies do show there is a connection between sleeplessness and weight gain. In fact, studies show less than five hours of sleep on a regular basis and you pretty significantly increasing your chances of weight gain. Seven hours or more and you're going to fare a lot better.

And it's also interesting (ph) as you mentioned that hot flashes can interrupt your sleep, as you know. So, we want to give you some tips to minimize those episodes. First of all, try to avoid spicy or acidic foods especially right before bedtime. Eating foods rich in soy can help instead. Use a fan or A.C. for better air circulation in your bedroom. And exercising for 20 minutes, three times a week can significantly reduce hot flashes as well. Hope that helps, hope that helps you get your sleep and your weight back on track.

Well, straight ahead -- laid off, losing insurance. Learn what health test you should and should not have if it happens to you.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL.

You know, job losses continue to top the headlines and hundreds of thousands of people were laid off in January. Many of them are trying to cram in as much medical care as possible in the short time they have left. Elizabeth Cohen has been looking into this and joins us to explain.

Tough for a lot of this people, Elizabeth. So, let's say you do have just a month left. What do you think about? Should you start making as many appointments as possible and try to see the doctor as much as possible?

COHEN: Well, that certainly, I think, is people's instincts, Sanjay. You find out that you've been laid off. You have, let's say, four weeks left of health insurance. And I've been talking to folks who this just happened to them and they said, "I signed up for every test I could possibly think of. Get it done while someone else is paying for it."

But I've been talking to experts who say that is not necessarily the right approach. Of course, you want to take care of your health issue, but there are some tests where if these tests show that you have some kind of disease or condition that could make it hard for you to be insured later on, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. You have to talk to your doctor and think it through. Do I really want a condition revealed now when I'm about to lose my health insurance?

GUPTA: That's tough line to walk, right? If on the one hand, you want to make sure, as you said, taking care of yourself. Finding out things that might be problem later on but you don't want to get yourself into a pre-existing condition. So, you have more costs later. I mean, how do you make that decision?

COHEN: OK. Well, I asked several doctors, Sanjay. Here is one put it. He said, "Look, if a woman finds a lump's in her breast and she and her doctor are worried, she should definitely get that biopsy. I mean, that could be a matter of life or death.

But let's say you've been, you know, having a snoring problem for six months. You maybe needing to get it checked out. You're going for that sleep test. Maybe you don't want to have the sleep test. It might show something that's not life threatening but something that would make an insurance company reluctant to give you coverage. Maybe you want to wait to get that sleep test until you have secured insurance.

GUPTA: So, there are some things that maybe it makes sense not to get it now. Is there a sort of a checklist of dos, you know, tests that you should get done before your insurance runs out?

COHEN: Yes, there are a couple of things that you should do. First of all, while someone else is paying for your prescriptions, you should get your prescriptions filled.


COHEN: Even if it's too early to do that, you're supposed to wait until next month, see if you can work it out that you can get them filled now.

And secondly, what you want to do is you want to negotiate these with your doctors while you're still seeing them as an insured patient. So, one woman I know, she knew she was about to lose her insurance and she said to her pediatrician, "We love you, we want to send our kids to you. But I can't -- we're not on insurance. And I don't have any money." And the doctor said, "Look, $40 a visit that's all I'm going to ask for you."

And I've been told that a lot of doctors are doing this. They understand the terrible situations that a lot of people are in.

GUPTA: All right, Elizabeth. Good segment, a timely segment as well. Safe travels, by the way back to Atlanta.

COHEN: Thank you.

GUPTA: All right. Thanks, Elizabeth.

And be sure to read the rest of Elizabeth's tips on mistakes you don't want to make if you lose your job. You can visit her Web site:

And up next: Find out why this yoga instructor's innovative twist led to hate mail. Yes, believe it or not, hate mail. She has a fresh approach to busy people. We're going to show you the moves.


GUPTA: And we are back with HOUSE CALL.

Do you like the idea of yoga but you are intimated by all the confusing poses and maybe the chanting as well? Well, this class isn't for hippies. It's better suited for yuppies and a part of our Fit Nation.


GUPTA (voice-over): This isn't your mother's yoga. This is the new face of yoga -- irreverent yoga.

KIMBERY FOWLER, FOUNDER, YAS YOGA: My tag line, "No chanting, no Granola, no Sanskrit."

GUPTA: Kimberly Fowler, the founder in YAS Yoga in Venice, California, says, the Om is out, and new yoga for the Type A busy professional is in.

FOWLER: To the beginner, you walk into a class and the teacher's teaching Sanskrit and wrapping themselves up in pretzels and you just go, "OK, not for me." It's a shame to have that experience.

GUPTA: Combining traditional yoga poses with fast-paced modern music and stretches designed to help athletes develop better stamina, Fowler's style of yoga is developing quite a following.

LUIGI LOPRESTI, YAS YOGA PARTICIPANT: Yoga for a lot of people is kind of, I don't want to say weird, but, you know, intimidating. This place has always been super-welcoming and allows people to kind of come in and do their own thing, and work at their own pace.

STEPHANIE ARCULLI, YAS YOGA PARTICIPANT: It's open enough that I think everyone can take what they need out of it.

GUPTA: If this popular YouTube video isn't proof that the traditions of yoga are falling by the wayside ...


GUPTA: ... Fowler says her seven brand new franchise locations might be.

FOWLER: When I first opened YAS, I got like hate mail. Now, everybody's trying to do yoga for athletes.

GUPTA: Or the Type A in all of us.

FOWLER: It calms you down and gives you energy at the same time, which is a huge benefit.



GUPTA: You know, we're going to come out of that piece now, I was going to be standing here contorted like a pretzel. We decided not to do that.

Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. If you miss any part of today's show, be sure to check out my podcast on Remember, HOUSE CALL is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Doctor Sanjay Gupta.

More news on CNN starts right now.