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HOUSE CALL WITH DR. SANJAY GUPTA

Updates on the Year's Biggest Health Stories.

Aired June 25, 2005 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now with the news, a massive search ends in a horrible discovery. Three boys missing in New Jersey since Wednesday are found dead in the trunk of a parked car. A father discovered their bodies. Medical examiners spent the night doing autopsies to determine if the deaths were criminal or accidental.
Five suspects in Aruba go before a judge in the case of missing Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway. A judge will decide if the men, who have not been charged, can be detained longer. Also today, a search team from Texas, including dogs and divers, joins the hunt for the Alabama teenager.

You can experience the power of CNN video on your computer. Log on to CNN.com. Click on the video link and browse the video you want to see whenever you want.

I'm Tony Harris. HOUSECALL begins right now.

SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning and welcome to a special edition of HOUSECALL. We're bringing you updates today on some of the biggest stories of the year so far, from heartbreaking devastation to the possibility of a flu pandemic, as well as popular painkillers being pulled from the shelves.

We start, though, in Southeast Asia. Six months after a tsunami brought death and destruction, within moments to several countries around the Indian Ocean. This is how it looked from the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: Well, it's been about two weeks since the disaster wrapped itself around this part of the world. And surely you've heard about the heartbreaking number of dead.

But today, we want to talk about survivors. There are tens of thousands who are injured. And they are overwhelming clinics as well as the services of volunteer doctors.

Paula Hancocks has a story of one doctor who's trying to help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taking off from Amsterdam with $30,000 worth of essential medical supplies, Dr. Jonathan Fine has taken leave from his hospital in Connecticut to help the Sri Lankan tsunami victims. 20 hours later, he touches down in Colombo with U.S. aid agency Americas. He has a day to acclimatize, as the medicine clears the overwhelmed Sri Lankan customs.

A seven-hour drive to one of the places America believes the medicine is needed most. Hambatota (ph) on the southern coast of Sri Lanka is where the real work starts for Dr. Fine. Locals estimate between 3,000 and 10,000 people lost their lives here. The injured are countless.

The hospital was inundated with casualties. Dr. Fine's job is not only to deliver basic medicine now, but assess exactly what's needed in the coming days and weeks. On a tour of the hospital, he sees first hand the type of injuries Sri Lankan doctors are struggling with.

JONATHAN FINE, DR.: You see the victims there lying in their bed, lying there staring at us, and wondering what their stories were, how they'll ever learn to cope with this, and what they've seen, what they've lost. It's been totally overwhelming.

HANCOCKS: Traveling along the damaged coastal road, he has time to absorb what he's seen.

FINE: I try to be objective. I think I fight back tears just like everybody else does.

HANCOCKS: One doctor he spoke to was not able to fight back his tears as he talked about his experiences.

FINE: Saving the lives of babies, fleeing for his own life, and then his own inability to sleep now. His head hurts. He can't eat. He, himself, is traumatized.

HANCOCKS: When I asked if he would consider volunteering for disaster relief again, he replied simply, it would be an honor.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Hambatota (ph), Sri Lanka.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: In Phuket, Thailand there's a wall filled with photos and names. Some 6,500,000 people there are missing. Many of them are tourists.

Matthew Chance has a story of one man who has a search as well as grief.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're lost faces of the tsunami. Not confirmed dead, but as good as. These are some of the many swept from hotels and beaches in southern Thailand, mainly tourists. Recovery efforts go on, but the sea may never surrender thousands it engulfed.

Thomas Zumbuehl was in Thailand from Switzerland with his wife Berty when the tsunami hit. He searched hospitals and morgues to find her with no luck. THOMAS ZUMBUEHL, LOST WIFE: She's a tall and a strong lady. And for the moment, she's pregnant, five months. So she would have a big stomach. And she's really correct and woman and somebody - when she is somewhere, she make everything to contact me. That, I know.

CHANCE: From the air, the full scale of disaster is overwhelming. This is what's left of the luxury resorts of Kaolak (ph); 30,000 people were here when the waves hit.

We went with Thomas back to the ruins of the Sofitel, the resort where he and his wife were guests and where hundreds died in panic.

ZUMBUEHL: My wife and me, we are running here. And I lose my shoes so I can't run. I can't follow her. The last thing that I see is she was perhaps over there. And me, I go behind this pillar here.

CHANCE: This very pillar?

ZUMBUEHL: It was exactly this pillar, yes. And at this moment, I don't know nothing. And it was the water coming.

CHANCE: It's a story of random survival and tragedy repeated countless times here. Who knows why some lived while so many died?

ZUMBUEHL: I feel empty. I feel -- I don't know what I do now when I come home. I have to begin a new job, but I don't -- I can't do that now. And I feel also all these -- I lose all these things, clothes and things -- and cameras and jewelry and -- but all these things are nothing and have no value, finally when you see all these dead people. Because when you go to your last trip, you take everything with you.

CHANCE: The hard truth so many stricken with grief now have to bear.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Phuket, Thailand.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And Berty's remains were eventually identified. And she was buried in France. Now while Thomas did start his new job in Switzerland, he still visits her grave every few weeks.

Just three months after the deadly tsunamis, the area was rocked by another earthquake, this one measuring 8.7 in magnitude. This great quake killed hundreds on the small islands over the coast of Indonesia.

And then there are the after shocks as well. In Indonesia alone, residents experienced more than 100 every month. Recently scientists discovered that December's earthquake was much stronger than originally thought. It was the second largest quake on record, releasing more energy than 30,000 Hiroshimas.

Coming up on HOUSECALL, how safe are your drugs? The controversy over some popular pills, all of that when HOUSECALL continues. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First, it was Vioxx, then Bextra pulled from the shelves. Then questions about other painkillers. How worried should we be? A safety update after the break.

First, take today's daily dose quiz. When was the first COX-2 inhibitor approved by the FDA? That answer coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Checking the daily dose quiz, we asked when was the first COX-2 inhibitor approved by the FDA? The answer, in 1998, the FDA approved Celebrex for the treatment of arthritis.

GUPTA: The FDA and the public are still struggling with what to do about the painkillers known as COX-2s. It's been show that they have heart risks. Vioxx was pulled from the shelves because of those risks. But these drugs are also some of the best out there for killing chronic pain. So what do you do?

Well, earlier this year, the FDA charged an advisory panel with determining if these COX-2 inhibitors were safe enough to remain on the market.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): It took three days of hardcore science and gut wrenching emotion for the FDA Advisory Committee to decide after extremely close votes that the popular painkillers should remain for sale in the U.S., despite known heart risks. But that decision won't change the minds of some patients who will always believe these medications are too risky and too deadly.

Like Nancy Corran. She says her husband Jack lived an active life. His minor back pain was controlled with Vioxx until at age 64, he died suddenly of a heart attack.

NANCY CORRAN, HUSBAND DIED ON VIOXX: My husband could be alive right now if it wasn't for Merck. And I feel that he was murdered.

GUPTA: We can never know for sure that Vioxx actually caused his heart attack. Although studies had previously shown the increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, Merck didn't take it off the market until September. The research was similar on all three painkillers.

ALASTAIR WOOD, DR., CHAIR, FDA ADVISORY COMMITTEE: We've got data on Vioxx, on Bextra, and on Celebrex, from randomized controlled trials that show an increase cardiovascular risk.

GUPTA: But still, to some like Betsy Stuart-Chaney, sidelined with pain after years of sports, the risks are worth taking.

BETSY STUART-CHANEY, TAKES CELEBREX: I'm here to say, would you all pick up your elbow and whack your funny bone and feel that pain that stops you in your tracks from doing what you're doing? All you want to do is say a bad word. Well, I have cracked vertebraes in my neck. And without Celebrex, I start to lose the feeling in my hand. And I can't grasp a paper. I can't hold on to something. I can't do things around my house. I'm willing, for my quality of life, to take those risks.

GUPTA: The committee says in allowing these drugs to stay on the market, the warnings to doctors and patients must be made very clear. They're recommending the strictest warning a drug can have. A black box on the label. And advertising will be limited as well. So look for fewer commercials.

Simply put, doctor, is this class of drugs just too dangerous?

CHRIS GHARIBO, DR., DIR., NYU PAIN MANAGEMENT CTR.: I do think that there is a certain element of cardiovascular and stroke risk with this class of medications. But then again, the same thing can apply to many other different types of pain medications, as well as other approved drugs as well.

What needs to happen is that we need to scale back our use of these drugs and more appropriately select in which patients they're indicated for.

GUPTA: Is there ever an appropriate situation where it's willing to go ahead and expose someone to the risk of a heart problem to try and take care of their pain?

GHARIBO: Some of the chronic pain patients that I have can simply not function and live the life that they want to live. And what's important to keep in mind is that the heart problems and the stroke problems that we saw were duration related, as well as dose related. So in the appropriate patient, we can certainly scale back the dose of the COX-2 inhibitor, such as Vioxx or Celebrex, and give it for a shorter duration of time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Well, admittedly it is pretty confusing. In fact, since we aired that show, the FDA has taken some action. Another drug in that same class, Bextra, was pulled from the shelves in April. In the same announcement, the FDA decided to keep the last remaining COX- 2 inhibitor, Celebrex, on the market. However, they have added the toughest labeling available, a black box warning.

Meanwhile, the makers of Vioxx, who were the first to pull their drug, are in talks with the government about putting it back on pharmacy shelves. Got all that? Well, the FDA does stress no matter what anti-inflammatory you take, keep it at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time.

When HOUSECALL returns, experts are keeping an eye on a deadly virus. The question is this, should you? Stay tuned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could a deadly flu strain become the world's next pandemic? We asked the head of the CDC and get up to date on a possible vaccine. But first, this week's medical headlines in the pulse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Recently, some pharmacists have refused to sell the morning-after pill or refer patients to other druggists, citing moral beliefs. Now the American Medical Association will support legislation saying all patients should have access to the medication. The AMA says if pharmacists are going to refuse to fill valid prescriptions, they must make immediate referrals to drugstores that will.

And taking antibiotics to cure a cough caused by bronchitis is probably not necessary. That's according to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which found patients with lower respiratory infections fared no better with antibiotics. The average sickness lasted nearly 12 days either way.

Christy Feig, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL, a very special one. We're bringing you up to date on some of the biggest medical stories of the year.

The flu made news this year on several fronts, from not having enough vaccine, to ending up with a surplus. And then, there's that Avian or bird flu, a deadly strain that experts fear could spread out of control.

Elizabeth Cohen looks at whether this new flu, confined to Asia for now, could become the world's next pandemic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to imagine now.

KAREN WILBUR, FLU PANDEMIC SURVIVOR: She said it was so bad that many of the houses had the caskets lined up on the porch, one, two. And some even had to make their own caskets.

COHEN: Karen Wilbur was a tiny baby just a few weeks old when the 1918 flu epidemic hit.

WILBUR: Well, I was very young when she told me the whole story. And she said it was terrible. Most people -- most houses were afflicted with at least someone getting the flu.

COHEN: Wilbur was lucky. Half a million Americans lost their lives during the 1918-1919 flu pandemic. Some 40 million people died worldwide.

KANTA SUBBARAO, DR.: The 1918 pandemic was the most significant infectious disease event in the last century.

COHEN: In just a few months, more people died of the flu than in all four years of World War I. The deaths mounted from October through January. 851 people in New York City died of the flu in one single day. And now the World Health Organization warns another pandemic is on the way. It's only a matter of time.

These big global epidemics occur on average about four times every century. There was the 1918 Spanish flu. Then the 1957-'58 Asian flu, which killed 70,000 Americans. Then the 1968-69 Hong Kong flu, which killed 34,000 Americans.

A flu pandemic happens when a virus appears that's genetically different from previous viruses. People's immune systems have never seen anything like it.

Scientists around the world are always on the lookout for these viruses, like the Avian flu. First recognized in 1997, the virus usually jumps from birds to humans. It's a virulent bug. Some 70 percent of those who get infected die.

Luckily, there's been only one confirmed case of human-to-human transmission. But as scientists work on a vaccine for the next possible flu outbreak, this year's vaccine problems point out one of the system's weaknesses, flu readiness. Even if scientists did come up with a vaccine fast enough, could it be manufactured and distributed in time to save lives?

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Thanks, Elizabeth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And as we heard at the top of the show, researchers are saying the deadly Avian or bird flu can likely be spread between humans. So is another flu pandemic inevitable and are we prepared? Answering tough questions about this morning, the head of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Julie Gerberding.

Welcome again, doctor.

JULIE GERBERDING, DIR., CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: Thank you.

GUPTA: Does this -- this Avian flu thing kind of scares me. I got to tell you, when you hear the numbers, you hear - you know, in 1968, 34,000 people died of the Hong Kong flu. And then every 30 years or so, another epidemic occurs. Are we due? Is this going to happen?

GERBERDING: You know, we are due. And I think we're watching the situation with the Avian flu very carefully, taking the steps that need to be taken now to help prepare and most importantly, detect the transfer of that virus into people. But it is a very worrisome situation.

GUPTA: What do we do? Are we preparing a vaccine against the Avian flu if it starts to spread from human to human?

GERBERDING: Well, no, the strain that's there right now is not being efficiently spread, but we are making a stockpile of vaccine for it just in case. A small amount of vaccine will be entering clinical trials. And we'll have it on hand to hopefully contain the initial round of spread if it does move into people.

But it's also possible that that virus could evolve and not necessarily respond to the vaccine that we have. So we're also stockpiling drugs to help treat people and also to prevent flu from spreading.

GUPTA: And that's an important point. You know, in the past, we look at the numbers that died. And we are a very different society back then in terms of the way we took care of people, in terms of our technology, our resources. How deadly could a flu pandemic/epidemic be again today?

GERBERDING: Well, the good news is that our medical care has improved. And we do have drugs. And we have the capability to at least scale up the vaccine supply over time. But the worrisome part of this is that the world has changed. We have much more migration of people, much more connection between people in one community and another. And the opportunity for this to spread overnight to the globe is something we learned with SARS. And we have to take that very seriously.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And after that show aired, medical experts testified before Congress about the dangers posed by the Avian flu. What worries them is China. The virus has gotten into migrating Chinese geese. And experts say if it gets into the chicken population there as well, the virus could spread more quickly.

Plus in Vietnam, health officials are concerned that this deadly bug is adapting better to humans, meaning it might be easier to spread. However, we are starting to make progress. Researchers working on a vaccine have finished the first phase of their trials, as they struggle to find a way to inoculate against this virus.

More HOUSECALL after the break. Stay tuned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From berries to beans, make room on your plate for the new power foods.

Stay tuned to find out which foods pack the most antioxidant punch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. Looking for foods that can help you live longer? Well, our bod squad checks out the USDA's top power foods rich in disease fighting antioxidants.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLLY FIRFIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We know fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants. Natural plant chemicals that help our bodies fight off things like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and Parkison's disease.

Researchers at the USDA looked at more than 100 different kinds of foods and found antioxidant in some places they really didn't expect. Turns out beans pack powerful antioxidant punch.

LIZ WEISS, HEALTH MAGAZINE: Well, they found that red beans ranked number one, followed by wild blueberries, red kidney beans, pinto beans, and cultivated blueberries. So these foods were the top five foods for antioxidant power or activity.

FIRFIR: Other foods that ranked high for antioxidant activity included blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, plums, apples, like Granny Smith, red delicious and Gallo, nuts like pecans and walnuts. Artichokes and black beans also made the top 20 list.

Researchers say you can enjoy the benefits of these foods raw or cooked.

Holly Firfir, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: All right, Holly, thanks. Well, we've run out of time for this morning. Make sure to tune in next weekend and every weekend at 8:30 in the morning for another edition of HOUSECALL.

Also, e-mail us your questions or your comments at housecall@cnn.com. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.

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