Sunday, February 8, 2009

Solo Travel Tips from One Woman’s Nicaraguan Journey

Cartoon Girl’s Face“You are here, but another place is your husband?” My new friend’s English wasn’t the best, but his confusion was clear.

I was a woman, traveling alone. I was of a certain age, yet there was no evidence of a spouse.

In a culture where nearly every adult was paired up and producing children, a happy bachelorette, seeing the world by herself, was an anomaly.

And it’s not just the perceptions of foreign men.

When I related my recent adventures to a female friend back in the States, her first question wasn’t “What did you do? What did you see?” or even “Did you drink the water?” It was “Who did you go with?”

A lot of people subscribe to the Noah’s Ark view of travel. They believe that at the very least, you must do it in pairs.

But while it’s nice to share your travels with a friend or loved one, it’s also fun to experience another culture on your own.

I liken it to the difference between camping in the woods and in an RV. If you’re staying in an RV, you can enjoy nature, yet have a familiar bed, refrigerator and TV. And if that’s your idea of being in the great outdoors, more power to you. But you’ll never really feel the close presence of the trees, wildlife and fresh air the way you would if you were sleeping under the stars.

Woman aloneTravel on your own, and it’s just you and your surroundings. Walking the streets of an unfamiliar place, you’re fully there. You’re not diverted by worrying about your companion’s comfort, or making conversation about familiar things. You’re totally involved in a new experience.

When you’re not reflecting off of anyone familiar, you learn new things about yourself. If you’re so inclined, you can even be someone else. You can present yourself in a new light to people who don’t know you. Try new things. Nobody knows your usual habits. That’s a real vacation from yourself.

Whether or not you’re naturally gregarious, it’s easier to meet people when you’re sightseeing on your own. Strangers are more apt to start a conversation when they feel that they’re not interrupting one.

Afraid you’ll be lonely? The trick to avoid feeling adrift is to plan a vacation with some structure. That doesn’t mean you have to buy a package tour and schlep through your vacation on a bus full of tourists.

Woman CartoonSign up for classes, join special interest groups, or take a volunteer vacation. This provides a ready made group of new friends with whom you’ll have something in common. You can sightsee with them, but you can also go off on your own.

Travel with a purpose, and you’ll come home with more than pictures. You’ll return with new knowledge, maybe even a new skill.

You don’t need to go where your friends have been. The Internet gives you better information than they can, and it’s easy to do your research. Google new places, look at their Web sites, and then read the reviews. Check the place’s local, not only to find cheap lodging, but also to get tips on interesting events.

I’m interested in learning Spanish. In New York City, where I live, group classes cost $40 an hour and up. That’s enough to pay for a day’s worth of classes, plus room and board in some Latin America countries. So last December, with no holiday plans, I decided to make my own special celebration—in Nicaragua.

Baby ocelotWhy there? For starters, I’d never been there. I’ve loved other parts of Central America that I’ve visited in the past. Years ago, while I’d been marveling at the beauty of Costa Rica, a more seasoned traveler told me that I hadn’t seen anything until I’d been to Nicaragua: mountains, beaches, volcanoes, lakes, colonial cities, great-looking people, etc.

At the time it was politically unstable, scary even for the Nicaraguans. But things have changed in recent years. Nicaragua is now considered to be one of the safest places to travel in Latin America. Couple this with their clear accent, and it seemed like the perfect place to mejorar mi espanol.

Roving around the internet brought me to La Mariposa Spanish School and Eco-Hotel ( The Mariposa is nestled in its own private jungle. Their hot water and electricity come from solar power. The building and furniture are made of sustainable wood. Recycling is a priority.

Best of all, they not only provide Spanish classes, but feature an animal rescue program. The world’s happiest dogs walked in and out of our classrooms.

More baby ocelotMonkeys grabbed coffee beans from our hands. I even got to play with a baby ocelot (at left).

Eating alone is one of the harder parts of traveling alone. But in a structured group, you’ve always got the option of joining others. The Mariposa served meals to the all the guests at once, and conversation was lively. The food was healthy, plentiful and locally grown. And the dining “room” was open air.

Classes were in the morning. Afternoons were set aside for activities. Sometimes I’d join the group, as we piled into the camioneta and headed off to see the sights. Sometimes a few of us would go horseback riding up a nearby mountain ridge.

But some afternoons, I wanted to go off on my own. I explored the nearby villages, navigated the buses, and I practiced my Spanish with whomever I could. I spoke with shopkeepers. I asked for directions on the street. And when a friendly guy on the bus wanted to strike up a conversation, I went for it.

Traveling by yourself can be fun. And there’s no better way to practice some Spanish than trying to explain that, yes, you are in exactly the right place, with no husband.

Tips for traveling on your own…

  • One of the hardest parts of traveling alone is that you can’t rely on a companion to pack anything. Make lists so you don’t forget your bug spray, travel clock, tissue packets, etc.
  • If you lose your wallet, there’s no one to borrow from. So keep a few dollars under the inner sole of your shoe and use a leg wallet for your passport and cards.
  • If the first place you’ll be staying offers airport pick-up service, splurge. Once you’re oriented to your new surroundings (and different money), it will be easier to take buses and taxis.
  • Unless you’re already a nun, dress more conservatively than you would at home. Traveling is not a fashion show. Especially if you’re in a poor country, dress clean, but simply.
  • Here’s something I discovered by accident: I didn’t want to put a lot of money into a daypack, and the cheap one I bought had terrible, hard-to-work zippers. Not only did I not have to worry about being pick-pocketed, but even airport security gave up after opening the first one.
  • Single? Do as I did on a previous trip, and set up a blind date through an international dating site. It can be a fun way to see a place like a local. You’ll meet someone new, and maybe even have a love connection. Naturally you have to use caution. For safety’s sake, tell someone at the hotel about it. (It’s actually less embarrassing than telling a friend!) You can even have your date meet you in the lobby. Believe me, the hotel staff will be more than happy to check him out!
  • Be aware, and use your good judgment about situations. It’s not culturally biased to listen to your gut feeling if someone strikes you the wrong way. You don’t have to smile and be nice to everybody. Sometimes it’s better to be rude and safe.
  • There’s no need to broadcast your solo status. Some single women wear a wedding ring when they travel. I’ve never done that. But years ago, during a solo trip to a little Mexican village, I got a lot of unwelcome attention. So I told the town gossip that I was a recent widow. It was, thankfully, not true. But word spread, and for the rest of my stay, everyone treated me very nicely.

By Julie Manis

Original here

Top 10 Moments Caught on Google Maps Street View

Jessica Amason

We've all seen the embarrassing Google Maps images flying around the Web and, well, there are just too many to deny.
In this Web 2.0 world, the cameras are always rolling and the net is always ready to advertise our absurdity. So in the spirit of open information -- we've compiled our Top 10 Moments Caught on Google Maps!

Prepare to be exposed.


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FDA: Peanut plant knew product was tainted with salmonella

(CNN) -- The Georgia company whose peanut products have been blamed for a nationwide salmonella outbreak shipped some products even though they had tested positive for the bacteria and no other tests indicated they were safe, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

The FDA confirmed Friday the Peanut Corp.'s Blakely, Georgia, plant shipped tainted product without retesting.

The FDA confirmed Friday the Peanut Corp.'s Blakely, Georgia, plant shipped tainted product without retesting.

Previously, Peanut Corporation of America had said it shipped products only after subsequent tests on them came back negative. Items made with its peanut products have been linked to more than 500 cases of illness, including eight deaths.

The agency said the company's management told FDA inspectors last month during an inspection of the plant that they shipped products that first had tested positive for salmonella, but only if they later had tested negative.

But, it said, "FDA determined that certain information provided by PCA management during the inspection was not consistent with the subsequent analysis of the company's records."

As a result, the agency amended its report Thursday.

"In some situations the firm received a positive salmonella test result, followed by a later negative result, and then shipped the products," said the FDA report, which was included in an e-mail to CNN. "In some other situations, the firm shipped the products [which had already tested positive] before it had received the [second] positive test results."

In some cases, it said, "no additional testing appears to have been done."

No one from the company returned a call seeking comment.

Federal authorities have initiated a criminal investigation into the company.

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Pharmaceuticals Sold In Sweden Cause Serious Environmental Harm In India, Research Shows

Many of the substances in the most common medicines are manufactured in India and China. Some of these factories release large quantities of antibiotics and other pharmaceutical substances into the environment. There is an obvious risk of these releases leading to resistant bacteria.

Research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that Sweden is a major consumer of pharmaceutical substances from factories that fail to adequately treat their wastewater. As it is difficult to find out where the pharmaceutical substances are manufactured and how much is released, it is impossible at present for consumers to avoid contributing to this environmental harm.

These findings are presented in the medical journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. The research of the Swedish group recently became headline news in New York Times, Washington Post and Times of India.

”We used to think that pharmaceuticals that ended up in the environment mostly came from the use of the medicines and that the substances were dispersed through wastewater. We now know that certain factories that manufacture substances release very large quantities of active substances," says associate professor Joakim Larsson of the Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg,Sweden, one of the research scientists behind the studies.

The water from the pharmaceutical industries is highly toxic

Joakim Larsson has visited the industrial zone near Hyderabad, India, an important centre for the manufacturing of pharmaceutical substances. Here his research team has taken samples of the water discharged from a treatment plant that treats wastewater from around 90 pharmaceutical factories before it is released.

”We have previously shown that the "treated" water contained exceptionally high levels of various pharmaceutical substances, including several broad-spectrum antibiotics. We estimated that the treatment plant released 45 kilograms of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin in one day, which is equivalent to five times the daily consumption of Sweden,” says Larsson.

Such high levels of antibiotics in the water are a cause for alarm as there is an increased risk of spawning resistant bacteria, an issue of global concern. This can lead to those antibiotics that are invaluable today becoming ineffective sooner and not killing the bacteria of tomorrow. In addition, the environment is affected locally by the pollution; In another study by Larsson’s team, published this week in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, they show that effluent diluted as much as 500 times strongly inhibit the growth of frog tadpoles.

The substances manufactured in Hyderabad are sold in Sweden

Where the active substance in a pharmaceutical product is manufactured is not public information, but the Swedish Medical Products Agency can grant exemptions for research purposes. The researchers analyzed data from the Medical Products Agency for all 242 products on the Swedish market that contained any of nine specific substances*. They found that 123 products contained substances from India and for 74 of the products, 31 per cent, the active substance was manufactured by one of the factories that send their wastewater to the treatment plant outside Hyderabad that was studied.

”The analysis shows quite clearly that a large number of medicinal products on the Swedish market is made by manufacturers that send their effluent to a treatment plant that does not treat their water satisfactorily,” says Larsson.


” Sweden, which is reputed to have some of the strictest environmental legislation in the world, like other western countries therefore bears a shared responsibility for the environmental problems the medicines we consume cause in India, for example,” says Larsson.

But it is impossible for the individual consumer to know today whether a substance in a medicine he or she needs to take may have caused environmental problems in manufacturing.

”It is therefore important that the production chain is made transparent. If consumers are given an opportunity to choose pharmaceutical products they know to be produced in an environmentally friendly way, this could encourage manufacturers to become more environmentally friendly,” says Larsson.

* The selected substances were: cetirizine, ciprofloxacin, citalopram, levofloxacin, losartan, metoprolol, norfloxacin, ofloxacin and ranitidine

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Marijuana Cuts Lung Cancer Tumor Growth In Half, Study Shows

The active ingredient in marijuana cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread, say researchers at Harvard University who tested the chemical in both lab and mouse studies.

They say this is the first set of experiments to show that the compound, Delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), inhibits EGF-induced growth and migration in epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) expressing non-small cell lung cancer cell lines. Lung cancers that over-express EGFR are usually highly aggressive and resistant to chemotherapy.

THC that targets cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 is similar in function to endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoids that are naturally produced in the body and activate these receptors. The researchers suggest that THC or other designer agents that activate these receptors might be used in a targeted fashion to treat lung cancer.

"The beauty of this study is that we are showing that a substance of abuse, if used prudently, may offer a new road to therapy against lung cancer," said Anju Preet, Ph.D., a researcher in the Division of Experimental Medicine.

Acting through cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, endocannabinoids (as well as THC) are thought to play a role in variety of biological functions, including pain and anxiety control, and inflammation. Although a medical derivative of THC, known as Marinol, has been approved for use as an appetite stimulant for cancer patients, and a small number of U.S. states allow use of medical marijuana to treat the same side effect, few studies have shown that THC might have anti-tumor activity, Preet says. The only clinical trial testing THC as a treatment against cancer growth was a recently completed British pilot study in human glioblastoma.

In the present study, the researchers first demonstrated that two different lung cancer cell lines as well as patient lung tumor samples express CB1 and CB2, and that non-toxic doses of THC inhibited growth and spread in the cell lines. "When the cells are pretreated with THC, they have less EGFR stimulated invasion as measured by various in-vitro assays," Preet said.

Then, for three weeks, researchers injected standard doses of THC into mice that had been implanted with human lung cancer cells, and found that tumors were reduced in size and weight by about 50 percent in treated animals compared to a control group. There was also about a 60 percent reduction in cancer lesions on the lungs in these mice as well as a significant reduction in protein markers associated with cancer progression, Preet says.

Although the researchers do not know why THC inhibits tumor growth, they say the substance could be activating molecules that arrest the cell cycle. They speculate that THC may also interfere with angiogenesis and vascularization, which promotes cancer growth.

Preet says much work is needed to clarify the pathway by which THC functions, and cautions that some animal studies have shown that THC can stimulate some cancers. "THC offers some promise, but we have a long way to go before we know what its potential is," she said.

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FDA OKs 1st drug from genetically altered animals

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration made history Friday as it approved the first drug made with materials from genetically engineered animals, clearing the way for a new class of medical therapies.

GTC Biotherapeutics said regulators cleared its drug ATryn, which is manufactured using milk from goats that have been scientifically altered to produce extra antithrombin, a protein that acts as a natural blood thinner.

The drug's approval may be the first step toward new kinds of medications made not from chemicals, but from living organisms altered by scientists. Similar drugs could be available in the next few years for a range of human ailments, including hemophilia.

The FDA cleared the drug to treat patients with a rare hereditary disorder that causes a deficiency of the protein, putting them at higher risk of deadly blood clots. The injectable treatment will be marketed in the U.S. by Deerfield, Ill.-based Ovation Pharmaceuticals

About 1 in 5,000 people don't produce enough antithrombin protein, according to Framingham, Mass.-based based GTC. As a result, their blood is more likely to stick together, occasionally causing clots that can travel to the lungs or brain, causing death. Pregnant women with the disorder are at higher risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, because of blood clots in the placenta.

Patients with hereditary anithrombin deficiency are currently prescribed conventional blood thinners, like Plavix from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis. That will not change with the new approval. ATryn is only approved for use when patients are undergoing surgery or having a baby, times when the risk of dangerous clots is particularly high. Those patients would receive the drug by intravenous infusion for a limited time before and after their procedures.

To make the drug, scientists at GTC put DNA for the human antithrombin protein into single cell embryos of goats. Goat embryos with the gene were then inserted into the wombs of surrogate mothers who gave birth to baby goats that produce the protein-charged milk.

Genetically engineered animals are not clones but rather animals that have had their DNA changed to produce a desirable characteristic.

Amid growing questions about the technology, the FDA last month issued guidelines for how it will regulate products made from genetically altered animals.

FDA said it will not allow any such products to be sold without first submitting them to scrutiny by independent advisers at a public meeting. The agency's panel of blood product experts recently concluded ATryn was safe and effective.

But consumer groups said the FDA's long-awaited policy will not require all genetically engineered foods to be labeled as such. And they said the government has not done enough to examine the potential impact of genetically engineered animals on the environment, particularly if some escape and begin to mate with animals in nature.

The drug received European approval in 2006.

Shares of GTC Therapeutics rose 5 cents, or 5.5 percent, to 87 cents in midday trading.

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Judge orders return of man’s marijuana

BARSTOW • M.J. Somers said he wanted to live by the law — and that’s why he got his medical marijuana permit.

“I know it sounds weird, but I went for the weed license because I try to be a law-abiding citizen,” said the 27-year-old Helendale resident. “I’m not a fiend for marijuana that gets it from the corner or the streets. I just need to smoke because I have health problems — and that’s it.”

But Somers, who has a doctor-issued license to carry up to eight ounces to treat chronic what he calls “chronic muscle pains and seizures,” said he felt like criminal when he was stopped by Barstow sheriff’s deputies on Route 66 in early January. During the traffic stop, deputies confiscated close to an ounce of medical-grade marijuana Somer said he had just purchased from a clinic in Los Angeles.

In a Barstow courtroom on Jan. 29, Judge Steve Mapes ordered the marijuana’s return after Somers presented his legal permit. Somers said Mapes cited a similar case in Garden Grove in 2005 where a district court ordered the return of one-third of an ounce of marijuana police had confiscated in a traffic stop. An appeal by Garden Grove officials was refused by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.

Mapes could not be reached for comment.

Somer’s case highlights a conflict for county law enforcement agencies, according to Lt. Rick Ells, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The county is currently challenging a state law that requires it to issue legal identification cards to medical marijuana patients, claiming that doing so would violate federal law that prohibits marijuana use.

“Our deputies ... [that] are sworn to uphold both federal and state laws are faced with a dilemma as to which law to enforce,” Ells said.

San Bernardino and San Diego County filed their case on Jan. 16 with the U.S. Supreme Court, which will accept or reject it later this year. Until the case is decided, Ells said the county will continue to uphold federal law prohibiting marijuana use, “until we receive clarification from the courts.”

Ells said he could not comment on Somers’ specific case because he had not yet seen a copy of the court order.

People stopped by county deputies in possession of the drug will have it seized and receive a citation, Ells said. Deputies will document the existence of the medical marijuana card in the report they send to the district attorney, who decides if the case will be pursued, he said.

The resistance to medical marijuana at local levels of government and law enforcement is dwindling, according to Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, the Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group that represented the Garden Grove man.

“There are a few hostile counties like San Bernardino that still stand against medical marijuana,” Hermes said. “But landmark rulings like the Garden Grove case are helping us fully implement and see enforcement of state law.”

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4126 or

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Jellyfish protein helps regrow joint cartilage

The finding may provide a beneficial use of the jellyfish, also known as echizen kurage, which have been a damage-causing plague to the nation's fisheries.

The curative effect of the protein nearly doubles when it is mixed with hyaluronic acid, a chemical usually used for the treatment of osteoarthritis, according to the results of experiments on rabbits undertaken at Tokai University and the Institute of Physical and Chemical Science.

The results of the research are scheduled to be officially reported at a meeting of the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine to be held in Tokyo in March.

Kiminori Ushida, head of the institute, and his team succeeded in extracting the protein from the jellyfish.

The research team eroded cartilage in the knee joints of rabbits to induce symptoms of osteoarthritis and later injected hyaluronic acid mixed with mucin into the worn joints. When they examined the rabbits 10 weeks later, the worn-down cartilage had almost totally regrown.

The recovery rate was about 1.6 to 2.6 times higher than in rabbits that received shots of only hyaluronic acid, according to the team.

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Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis Is Grim

by Joanne Silberner

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg takes part in a swearing ceremony at the State Department.Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent surgery Thursday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In this January 2005 photo, she takes part in a swearing-in ceremony at the State Department in Washington.

Cancer of the pancreas strikes more than 38,000 Americans each year and kills 34,000, according to the National Cancer Institute. It's the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Here's a bit more on this type of cancer:

What is the pancreas, and what's pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas is a 6-inch-long, pear-shaped organ wedged deep in the abdomen. It secretes digestive enzymes and insulin and other hormones. Cancer develops when defective pancreatic cells arise and multiply, crowding out healthy cells.

What's the typical prognosis?

There's no way around this: It's not good. The prognosis varies depending on the stage of the tumor at diagnosis, and whether the patient gets treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. That said, about 5 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are alive five years after diagnosis. It's a little better if the cancer is discovered when it can be removed. About 10 to 30 percent of people who have had surgery are alive five years after diagnosis.

Who can get surgery?

The cancer is discovered early enough for surgery in only about 1 in 5 cases. And the surgery itself is a difficult one. In various reports, death rates range from 1 to 16 percent.

Why is pancreatic cancer so lethal?

Early pancreatic cancer has few symptoms, so it tends to be discovered after it's already progressed. The cancer spreads easily out of the pancreas because the main functions of the pancreas are to produce enzymes and hormones that are pushed out into the bloodstream and digestive system. The cancer cells have easy access to the rest of the body.

Are there any good treatments?

Surgery, if the cancer is discovered in time, can add months or more to life. There are a number of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that extend life, as well. There are a lot of clinical trials of new drugs, some of which have been shown to extend life by weeks or months.

What are the risk factors?

Smoking. Obesity. Being over 60 years old. A history of colon cancer. A family history of pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis or certain rare genetic conditions. Jewish and black people are at a slightly higher risk. Chemists and coal, gas and metal workers are at higher risk as well.

What are the symptoms?

At first, there's very little — just mild abdominal pain. As the cancer progresses, there's more pain, jaundice, loss of appetite and depression.

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Venus Rising

For years now, Viagra-fueled couples have frolicked across the television promising near-immediate relief from male erectile dysfunction. Many women have no doubt wondered, Where is the blissfully happy pill for us? After all, it’s been more than a decade since Viagra burst onto the market. Turns out that drug companies have been racing to create something similar for the opposite gender. What they’ve stumbled upon validates something a lot of people already know: When it comes to sex, women are more complicated.

Tricky biology hasn’t stopped a Lincolnwood-based pharmaceutical company, BioSante, from trying to devise its own version of the little blue pill. LibiGel, its product, is a topical testosterone gel aimed at boosting the libido of post-menopausal women; research indicates that testosterone has a modest, but positive, effect on a female’s sexual desire. The drug is in the final stage of testing, and if all goes well, the company expects to submit its application to the Food and Drug Administration in 2010. They hope to launch LibiGel about a year later, despite some experts’ concerns that such a product may be unnecessary—or unsafe.

Still, BioSante has high hopes that LibiGel will outsell Viagra, which did a whopping $1.8 billion in sales in 2007. “We think the market for women is even bigger,” says the company president and CEO, Stephen Simes. Such optimism may sound over-the-top for a tiny enterprise with revenues of half a million dollars in 2007. (Its primary product is Elestrin, for menopausal symptoms.) But consider that in the same year, doctors wrote two million “off-label” testosterone prescriptions for women, aiming to boost their natural testosterone levels with medications that the FDA has approved for men.

BioSante is racing at least one much larger company, Procter & Gamble, to be the first to offer such a drug, but the road to approval has been rocky. For one thing, the FDA requires testosterone drugs for women to meet a standard of effectiveness different from those for men. A decade ago, all the manufacturers had to show was that a pill could give men an erection; basically, if a man looked turned on, he was. In contrast, women can show physiological signs of arousal, such as lubrication, but that doesn’t mean they are actually in the mood. To meet the FDA’s standard, a testosterone product for women must lead to more sex—and test subjects must rate the sex as “satisfying.” Pfizer gave up trying to meet the standard with Viagra; meanwhile, Simes touts BioSante research that found that LibiGel subjects went from happily doing it 2.5 times a month to 7.5 times.

Proving the safety of the product has been the other major hurdle, particularly in the wake of the 2004 debacle with Vioxx, the arthritis drug yanked from the market because long-term use led to heart attacks and strokes. “The whole [safety] paradigm changed,” Simes says, though exactly how has been a murky issue. A year ago, the company finally came to an agreement with the FDA over what would constitute adequate safety trials: Currently, BioSante is tracking cardiovascular health and breast cancer incidence in 3,000 postmenopausal women who are taking LibiGel (or a placebo) for 12 months. (Simes says the company will apply for FDA approval after a year but will continue to follow the women for another 48 months.)

Cheryl Newman, 54, an Oak Park resident, is one of the women in the trial. She says that, after menopause, she quit making overtures to her husband. “I would respond to him,” Newman says, “but not with the enthusiasm that I had before. It was distressing to me and distressing to him.” While LibiGel hasn’t made her feel the way she did in her 20s, she says, it most definitely has renewed her libido and made her, and her husband, very happy. “The sooner we can get this product out and known to women, the better everyone will be.”

Not everyone agrees. That LibiGel may make it onto the market trailing a single year’s worth of safety data troubles Leslie Schover, a sex therapist and researcher at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Schover wrote a recent Fertility and Sterility review of the published studies on testosterone and women’s health, because, she says, “I thought the people prescribing testosterone were really ignorant of the risks.” The studies indicated that breast cancer risk was significantly higher for women with high levels of naturally occurring testosterone as well as for women taking hormone replacement regimens that included testosterone.

Last fall, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study on Procter & Gamble’s product Intrinsa, which has been approved for use in Europe; the company is in talks with the FDA to enter the market here. In the group of 313 women receiving testosterone, four developed breast cancer, while none of the women in the placebo group did. (The treatment group reported two times as many “sexually satisfying events” as the placebo group.) Simes maintains that the four cases were not statistically significant, and the two that were diagnosed after such a short period were unlikely to have been caused by the testosterone. Schover, however, cautions that a full five years’ worth of data is needed to accurately determine risks. “I believe [women] are risking their lives to gain a very modest increase in sexual desire.”

Are testosterone products for women simply a solution in search of a problem? The New View Campaign, a national coalition of feminist social scientists and health-care practitioners, contends that pharmaceutical companies like BioSante are medicalizing women’s sexuality, making them think they have a problem where none exists. Domeena Renshaw, a psychiatrist and director of Loyola University’s Sex Therapy Clinic in Maywood, says the reasons for low libido have little to do with testosterone levels: “I tell my residents, ‘If you scratch a desire disorder, there’s often [another] symptom underneath.’” Poor communication with her partner, too much stress, even lack of education about how her body works can all negatively affect a woman’s desire for sex.

Simes says he actually agrees with these critics—up to a point. “If you have an issue in your relationship, counseling is a wonderful thing,” he says. “And if a woman doesn’t care [about low libido], she shouldn’t be treated. But if she cares, if she has distress, then she should have options. Help and choices are coming.”

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Ecstasy 'not worse than riding'

Ecstasy tablets
The panel will review the latest evidence before making its decision

Taking the drug ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse, a senior advisor has suggested.

Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), outlined his view in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The council, which advises the government, is expected next week to recommend that ecstasy is downgraded from a class A drug to a class B one.

Ministers have outlined their opposition to any such move.

Professor Nutt wrote: "Drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life. There is not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy."

Organ failure

The professor said horse-riding accounted for more than 100 deaths a year, and went on: "This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others such as drug use."

Professor Nutt's academic work does not prejudice that which he conducts as chair of the ACMD
ACMD spokesman

Ecstasy use is linked to around 30 deaths a year, up from 10 a year in the early 1990s. Fatalities are caused by massive organ failure from overheating or the effects of drinking too much water.

The ACMD last night distanced itself from Prof Nutt's comments.

A spokesman for the body said: "The recent article by Professor David Nutt published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology was done in respect of his academic work and not as chair of the ACMD.

"Professor Nutt's academic work does not prejudice that which he conducts as chair of the ACMD."

'No safe dose'

David Raynes, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, told the Daily Telegraph: "He is entitled to his personal opinion, but if his personal view conflicts so very strongly with his public duties, it would be honourable to consider his position.

"If he does not, the home secretary should do it for him."

Last September a Home Office spokesman said the government believed ecstasy should remain a Class A drug.

"Ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably. There is no such thing as a 'safe dose'," he said.

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World Running Out of Weapons to Fight Superbugs

People are dying from "superbugs" because our antibiotic arsenal has run dry, leaving the world without sufficient weapons to fight the ever-changing bacteria, warn infectious disease researchers at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

In an article in the current issue of "The New England Journal of Medicine," medical doctors Barbara Murray. and Cesar Arias evaluate the past, present and future response to preventing and treating "superbugs," organisms that are resistant to antibiotics.

Superbugs can evade antibiotics by by producing an enzyme that destroys the drug or creating a barrier to the drug, the doctors say. Or superbugs can pump out any antibiotic that reaches the bacterial cell or modify the target of the antibiotic so the drug cannot bind to it.

A colorized scanning electron micrograph of MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (Image by Janice Carr courtesy CDC)

"Most of the public has heard of MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] because it produces the most cases each year," said Murray, co-author and director of Division of Infectious Diseases at the UT Medical School. "However, they have not heard of other superbugs that can be far worse."

"The Gram-negative bacteria are the most antibiotic-resistant with fewer treatment options in life-threatening diseases, such as certain forms of pneumonia, bloodstream infections, gastroenteritis and even meningitis," said Murray. Gram-negative bacteria can release toxins created by their cell walls into the bloodstream, where it is harder to treat them, she said.

MRSA appears to be claiming more lives in the United States than HIV/AIDS.

According to an October 2007 report in the "Journal of the American Medical Association," 94,360 U.S. patients developed an invasive infection from MRSA in 2005 and nearly one of every five, or 18,650 of them, died. In the same year, 17,011 people died from HIV/AIDS.

Genomics is the study of an organism's genomes to chart its DNA sequencing. It was once viewed as a possible avenue to better weapons against superbugs, but Murray and Arias say that has not happened.

"We have run out of options. The promise of genomics has not panned out. Gene sequencing has not helped us find a better way to fight these bugs," said Murray.

The gram-negative bacteria Salmonella typhi infected peanut butter paste, causing the recall of dozens of products in January 2009. (Image by J. Michael Miller courtesy CDC)

According to a 2004 report, "Bad Bugs, No Drugs," by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, none of the 89 new drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were antibiotics. The report found that research on new antibiotics is drying up, due in part to the expense of bringing a new drug to market.

"Academics can't do it all. Pharmaceutical companies can't do it all. Everyone needs to work together to address this potential worldwide public health crisis," said Arias, co-author of the article and assistant professor in infectious diseases at the medical school.

Murray and Arias say people taking antibiotics without prescriptions or not following their prescriptions as directed allow the antibiotics to be exposed to a wide-range of bacteria in the body, both good and bad, giving the bugs an opportunity to find ways to beat the antibiotic weapons.

"This overuse threatens the effectiveness of these precious drugs," says Dr.Cindy Friedman, medical director of the Centers for Disease Control's program called Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work. "Doctors and patients are both part of the problem. Studies show that if a doctor believes a patient wants an antibiotic, he or she is much more likely to prescribe one, even if the patient doesn't really need one."

Most illnesses are caused by two kinds of germs - bacteria and viruses. Antibiotics work against infections caused by bacteria, like a strep throat. Antibiotics do not work against viruses like the common cold, the flu and the majority of sore throats and runny noses.

Delay in diagnosis is also an issue. Murray said even with advancements, it takes about 48 hours or more from the time a culture is taken to determine what a person may have contracted and to determine what antibiotics are likely to be effective.

The gram-negative bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae is responsible for the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea. (Image by J. Michael Miller courtesy CDC)

"It may not sound like a lot of time, but with some of these bugs you have to move quickly to save a patient. You don't want the bacteria to spread," Murray said. "Research needs to include finding new testing methods."

"MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bugs are one of the greatest threats facing health care today," said Stephen Prescott, M.D. president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, where researchers in November published the first visual evidence of a key piece in the puzzle of how superbugs spread antibiotic resistance in hospitals and throughout the general population.

"These infections are easily transmitted - they make their way into the body through breaks in the skin, even microscopic ones, and through nasal passages. They resist treatment with standard antibiotics, which makes them dangerous," said Prescott. "And they are particularly threatening in hospitals, because they attack patients whose immune systems may already be compromised."

The Division of Infectious Diseases at the UT Medical School is working toward solutions. It has now established the Laboratory for Antimicrobial Research, headed by Arias, within the Center for the Study of Emerging and Re-Emerging Pathogens, headed by Murray.

Supported with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the lab aims to investigate the clinical and molecular aspects of antibiotic resistance, attempting to understand the complex mechanisms by which bugs become resistant to antibiotics and then designing new strategies to combat them.

"We are struggling, really struggling, to treat patients around the world. If something isn't done soon, more and more bugs are going to gain the upper-hand. There are simply not enough new drugs to keep pace with antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections," Murray said. "We are sounding the alarm, and hopefully the world will hear it."

Click here for basic information on MRSA from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009.

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Chocolate-covered bacon? Yep, the state fair is back in town

By Jay Cridlin, Times Staff Writer

Pity those humorless souls who deride state fairs as carnivals for the overweight and undercultured, the simple and the soft. • Weep for them, for they will never know the exquisite joys of chocolate-dipped bacon. • Yes, the Florida State Fair returned to Tampa on Thursday, and with it came a new slate of exotic food fare on sticks, in bags and deep-fried. Here are three of this year's best. — Jay Cridlin

Chocolate-dipped bacon

If, for some strange reason, the thought of pig meat slathered in fudge doesn't give your stomach a tingle, then get with the times, man. In January, Time wrote about the proliferation of bacony delights on dessert menus in fine restaurants nationwide. Bacon ice cream has even popped up on Top Chef. Mark Boggs of Plant City saw chocolate-dipped bacon at another fair up north and tinkered in the kitchen with some recipes. He decided that freshly grilled Hormel applewood-smoked bacon worked best; for $5, you get four slabs with a cup of syrupy chocolate dipping sauce. Don't let the concept scare you — there is no meaty aftertaste, only a salty-meets-sweet flavor delivered via the peerless crisp-yet-chewy texture of bacon. Find it at Mavric's Chocolate Barn near Gate 2.

Photos by Daniel Wallace/tbt*

Photos by Daniel Wallace/tbt*

The Tornado Potato

It has hands-down the best name of any new fair food, but what exactly is it? Picture spiral-cut potato chips on a stick, and you'll get an idea. One of the few fair foods you can buy in bulk — they cost $3 apiece, 2 for $5 or 5 for $10 — they're hand-ground in a newfangled potato slicer, carefully speared on a stick and dropped into the fryer. Dust 'em with seasoning (barbecue, jalepeno, cajun or sour cream and chives) or drench 'em in ketchup or nacho cheese, and you've got yourself a crisp little snack. Words of the wise: The Tornado Potato can get messy, so it's best to eat yours sitting down, or at least with two hands. This is, after all, the state fair. Try to show a little class. You can get them in a booth near the paintball tent near Gate 4.

Deep-fried green beans

Another big-city export, deep-fried green beans come to the Florida State Fair thanks to Bill Lauther of Brandon, who encountered them on a menu in New York. His mind started clicking, and as soon as he returned home, he bought a bag of frozen green beans from Wal-Mart and started experimenting. His stand, Griff's Catering, already sold fried cauliflower, fried broccoli and fried pickle slices, but he decided that with a little ranch dressing, the beans ($5 per basket) are just as good. "The thing is getting people to try 'em," Lauther said. "They taste like French fries to me." Indeed they do — warm, crisp, unmistakably Southern and, while not exactly health food, certainly better for you than a deep-fried Twinkie. Griff's Catering is along the lake, near Kiddie Land.

Florida State Fair

The 2009 fair runs through Feb. 16 at the Florida State Fairgrounds, Interstate 4 and U.S. 301, Tampa. Gates open at 9 a.m. daily; closing time varies. Among this year's highlights: A live shark encounter in a 9,000-gallon tank; Jack Russell terrier races on Sunday; and a We the Kings concert on Feb. 16. Monday through Friday, admission is $10 for ages 12 and older, $5 ages 6 to 11. Saturday and Sunday, admission is $12 for 12 and older, $6 for ages 6 to 11. Five and younger free all days. Parking is free. For discounts, a complete schedule and more, see

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Papa John's pizza boss has 'Gerald Ratner' moment

By Murray Wardrop

The head of an international pizza chain made a Gerald Ratner style gaffe in a live radio interview by urging customers not to eat entire pizzas
John Schnatter, founder of Papa John's Pizza, risked the wrath of shareholders by warning diners that it was unhealthy to eat more than two slices

John Schnatter, founder of Papa John's Pizza, risked the wrath of shareholders by warning diners that it was unhealthy to eat more than two slices.

The 47-year-old delivered the advice, even though customers cannot buy less than a whole pizza at any of the company's 118 takeaways in the UK or 2,500 US outlets.

The blunder bears resemblance to the infamous comments by Gerald Ratner, the former chief executive of British jewellery company Ratners Group, in which he mocked his own products.

During an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Schnatter said: "Pizzas are healthy for you if you don't eat too much of it. You can't eat five or six slices.

"But if you eat one or two slices it's very nutritious. A slice or two is good for you."

The smallest Papa John's pizza, which costs £6.99, has six slices, the medium, at £8.99, has eight slices and the large, at £9.99, has 10 slices.

The comments came after the show's business presenter, Adam Shaw, asked whether Mr Schnatter was concerned about the government's anti-obesity campaign impacting on sales.

Mr Shaw then joked: "So don't eat a whole pizza is the advice of the chief executive of Papa John's?

"I'm not sure your investors would want to hear you tell people don't eat too much of our pizzas."

Mr Schnatter, who founded Papa John's in 1985, appeared on the programme to discuss how his company is successfully weathering the recession.

The restaurateur, from Jeffersonville, Indiana, said the firm posted a record sales increase of 13 per cent in January, and had a 60 per cent uplift this week alone.

He added that he was in London this week for an annual franchisee conference to urge more people to buy into his £1billion business, which is the third largest pizza delivery chain in the UK.

During his speech at the Institute of Directors in 1991, Mr Ratner branded one of his products as "total c---" and joked that some of the firm's earrings were "cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn't last as long".

The gaffe wiped £500million off the value of his business overnight as customers boycotted the chain.

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M&M's Valentine's Day "Cupid's Mix" Is 10% Lighter Than Regular M&M Packs

By Carey

Do you want to lose weight for Valentine's Day? Then M&M's special Valentine's Day Cupid's Mix is just for you! Since they're 10% lighter than M&M's usual holiday pack, they'll help you lose money too. More proof that M&M's Cupid traded in his arrow for the Grocery Shrink Ray after the jump...

Tipster Lee writes:

I probably buy too many M&Ms. I often buy the medium-sized bags when they're on sale (for $1.99 or less per bag). Perhaps I could get them cheaper if I bought larger bags from Costco, but it's more convenient if I buy them from one of the numerous drugstores I frequent in my neighborhood.

For quite a while now the medium-sized bags have been 14 oz. Yesterday I picked up a few bags of the Valentine Day theme M&Ms and I immediately knew that something was amiss. The bags seemed lighter. Indeed, the weight was listed as 12.60oz, which happens to be exactly 10% less than 14oz.

I suppose they could claim that only the Valentine M&Ms are like this, but previous "special" themes have always been 14oz (i.e. the Halloween and Autumn Mix bags shown below.) And at the store I was at, both the regular Medium bags (which are still 14oz) and the vday bags had the same "regular" price of $3.79, making people believe that they are basically the same amount of product. I believe that they're testing the shrink ray waters and will eventually shrink the standard Medium-sized bags (and possibly also the Small and Larger bags).

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