HIV HELP More hope on the AIDS front. A new study shows that adding the immune-system stimulant interleukin-2 to the usual brew of AIDS drugs can more than double T-cell counts in patients infected with HIV. Plus, in a surprise for researchers, blood levels of HIV dropped slightly too. Both findings are decidedly encouraging, though it's too early to know for sure whether revving up T cells this way will delay the onset of full-blown AIDS. And there's a price: the interleukin-2 was injected twice daily for five days every eight weeks, during which time patients felt feverish, achy and generally lousy.
FAMILY AFFAIRS After all the talk about whether birth order can influence a child's personality, researchers report that whether a child is born first, last or somewhere in the middle has no bearing whatsoever on at least one trait: IQ. Size of the family makes no difference either. What's more likely to influence intelligence? Other factors in a child's environment, such as schooling, and the parents' IQ.
THE PILL Don't base your decision about whether to take birth-control pills solely on this finding, but an analysis of 40 years of data shows that taking low-dose estrogen formulations nearly doubles the odds of suffering a stroke. Worse, women on high-dose estrogen face a nearly threefold increased risk. A worry to be sure, but not a big one: the odds of a stroke among women of reproduction age are tiny to begin with--about 5 in 100,000.
A MOUTHFUL Folks with problematic heart valves--those that leak, are too thick, too thin or have been replaced altogether--should be prescribed antibiotics before particularly bloody dental procedures so that bacteria in the mouth don't stray to the heart. Are doctors giving patients the proper pills? A study shows that while 90% of folks with artificial heart valves are prescribed antibiotics, only 60% of those with less extreme conditions are getting them. And unbelievably, 25% of people with a perfectly normal heart are given antibiotics. Advice: if an echocardiogram doesn't show a heart-valve problem, don't take antibiotics. If it does, demand them.
--By Janice M. Horowitz
Sources--Good News: Journal of the American Medical Association (7/12/00); American Psychologist (6/00). Bad News (1 & 2): JAMA (7/5/00)