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Tainted Chinese Food Products

Aired July 14, 2007 - 08:30   ET


REYNOLDS: Well, your next check of the headlines coming up at the top of the hour. But first, HOUSECALL starts now with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Thanks, guys. This is HOUSECALL. We're making the rounds this morning with some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week. What's the most prescribed medication in America? I bet you're going to be surprised. Then nurses as targets. It's a disturbing trend, and what's being done to help. And what you need to know about energy drinks before having one this weekend.

Finally, you might be doing more than making a call with your cell phone. You could be making yourself sick. We start, though, with a medical story that's making big news. And that's tainted Chinese food. From dog food to toothpaste. CNN's John Vause now with a look inside China's complex safety system, trying to discover why so many products keep getting recalled. The latest is the children's snack veggie booty, which the company says contains seasoning made in China.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest addition to a buffet of tainted and shoddy Chinese exports, from toxic toothpaste made with chemicals normally used in antifreeze, to Thomas the tank engines coated in lead-based paint.

Even so, the government here is now urging all countries to honor trade deals. A spokesman saying, "In principle, if you don't find any problem, Chinese goods should be allowed to be exported."

But so far this year, health inspectors here have closed 180 food processing factories because authorities say, formaldehyde, illegal dyes, and industrial wax were being added to candy, pickles, crackers, and seafood. The government says the vast majority were small, unlicensed operators employing fewer than 10 workers. Most of the country's one million food processing plants are small and privately owned. So to an estimated 200 million farms, tiny, about a third of an acre. And that, say experts, makes enforcing regulations an immense challenge.

HUI JIGUO, AGRICULTURAL UNIVERSITY (through translator): The small companies are the ones who have the problems. They have no standards. Sometimes they deliberately break the law.

VAUSE: And it's all made worse by overlapping agencies. HENK BEKEDAM, WOLRD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Nine major ministries have responsibilities in food safety. That pose instantly a coordination issue.

VAUSE: None of this is helped, say analysts, by the razor thin profit margins for many suppliers. The chemical melamine, for example, normally used to make plastics, was added to wheat gluten because it's a cheap way to fake high protein levels and increase the sale price and was not illegal here until dogs and cats began dying in the United States after eating pet food tainted with the chemical.

(on camera): In many ways, China is like the Wild West, a developing country still developing rules about how to deal with a booming food processing industry, which now has an image problem like never before.

John Vause, CNN, Beijing.


GUPTA: All right, John. Thanks.

The list is out of the most prescribed drugs in the United States. Not statins, not antibiotics. Instead, a surprising new number one, antidepressants. Elizabeth Cohen joins us now with more.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, this is the first time that antidepressants have topped the list of the most prescribed drugs in America.

Let's take a look at the whole list. As we said, antidepressants are number one. Number two are blood pressure drugs. Number three are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil and Aleve. Number four are cholesterol lowering drugs. And number five are nonnarcotic painkillers.

Now some psychiatrists who we talked to, they said this is terrific news. Americans are finally getting treatment for depression. For so long, depression was something that people hid and don't want to talk about. However, other experts I talked to said that they think antidepressants are overprescribed, that too many people are getting them for just mild depression when perhaps they could use other kinds of treatments instead of drugs. Sanjay?

GUPTA: Elizabeth, thanks. Really good points. The survey certainly raises some interesting questions.

Now to a disturbing trend. The medical professionals who often provide the most one-on-one care and support of patients are becoming targets. As Dan Lothian reports, experts say violence against nurses is on the rise.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They save lives and help patients heal, but this is the thank you some nurses get. KAREN COUGHLIN, PSYCHIATRIC EMERGENCY ROOM NURSE: I've been punched. I've been kicked. I've been spit at.

ELLEN MACINNIS, EMERGENCY ROOM NURSE: I had a patient grab my hand and dig her nails in and say to me, if you have children, I'll find them, and I'll kill them.

LOTHIAN: One survey conducted last year found 86 percent of U.S. emergency nurses reported being a victim of workplace violence over the past three years. 19 percent said it happens frequently.

You're supposed to be helping people heal, get better, and your life is being threatened.

COUGHLIN: Absolutely.

LOTHIAN: It became so routine that Boston area psychiatric emergency room nurse Karen Coughlin says her family began to worry for her safety.

COUGHLIN: My son asked me, did anybody try to kill you today, mom? And I was just -- I was so taken aback because my kids shouldn't have to ask me that.

LOTHIAN: The Massachusetts Nurses Association blames the sometimes hostile hospital environment in part on staffing levels, cut by shrinking budgets.

KAREN NELSON, MASSACHUSETTS HOSPITAL ASSN.: There aren't enough people to address the patients.

LOTHIAN: Do you see that, a shortage of nurses, as the problem?

NELSON: I see that actually as more of a knee jerk reaction to a solution that's not really the answer to what's really a societal problem.

LOTHIAN: In other words, an increasingly violent society that is spilling over into America's hospitals. In a state where some of the nation's leading healthcare facilities are located, some of Massachusetts hospital officials say they are focused on more effective safety solutions, like stepped up security and training for nurses. But Ellen Macinnis is backing a state bill that would put more pressure on hospitals to safeguard their workers.

MACINNIS: I'm in my 19th year of nursing.

LOTHIAN: Testifying at a hearing last month, she told her story of being splashed with HIV infected blood during a rigorous cocktail treatment, of being physically and mentally unstable and off the job for about two months. A dramatic account, but not everyone thinks a new safety law is the answer.

NELSON: It's pretty much exactly redundant with existing rules, regulations, standards.

LOTHIAN: Both of these veteran nurses continue to work at local hospitals. Macinnis pressed charges against her attacker.

MACINNIS: I felt my life had been threatened.

EVEYLYN BAIN, MASSACHUSETTS NURSES ASSN.: It's one of the things that we really encourage nurses to do because perpetrators should be held accountable for acts of violence.

LOTHIAN: It's what other nurses have don, too, as they fight for a safer environment to do what they love.

MACINNIS: Nurses aren't made, we're born. It's what we do. We take care of people.

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.


GUPTA: And I tell you what. Our hospitals simply could not run without those nurses. Thanks, Dan.

Also a quick note, make sure to read Elizabeth Cohen's article on antidepressants on She talks to the doctor who says unhappiness is now being medicated. Do you agree? Check it out.

Also on the health page, you'll find stories of weight loss success. Check out to read what works for some of's biggest weight losers.

A supplement designed to help you can actually increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes if you take too much of it. Get this. Researchers were studying Selenium, thinking it might be effective in fighting to Type 2 diabetes. Instead, they found people who took the nutrient every day had quite the opposite result.

Big caveat, though, here and it's important. The people in the study took a lot of Selenium, 200 micrograms a day. And we usually need about 55 micrograms a day. That's a big difference. The bottom line, Selenium is good for your health in recommended amounts. Could be bad for you, though, in high volume.

Now we turn now to energy drinks. The popularity continues to grow with Americans spending billions of dollars a year to boost their energy. What used to be a niche product is everywhere, being used by anyone looking for a quick pick-me-up. But as CNN consumer reporter Greg Hunter reports, there are things you should know before that first gulp.


GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the span of a week, 18 Doherty High School students in Colorado Springs reported becoming sick after drinking an energy drink called Spike Shooter.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went into the hospital. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ache in the stomach.

HUNTER: Principal Gale Martin became so alarmed, she banned the drink on campus and convinced the nearby convenience store to pull it off the shelves.

JILL MARTIN, DOHERTY HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: If this product is so potent that you have to read the instructions and consider whether to drink it or not, something is wrong.

HUNTER: The label warns those under 18 and anyone with health concerns should not use. The manufacturer of Spike Shooter called the Colorado cases "isolated incidents" of what they call abuse, of minors drinking too much Spike, and said they received zero complaints nationwide since then.

And they added, "Spike continues to be proactive in working with retailers to ensure that all energy drinks, including Spike, are consumed responsibly."

Most energy drinks contain significant amounts of caffeine, although some energy drinks, like Red Bull, have even less caffeine than a cup of coffee. An eight-ounce cup of coffee has anywhere from 80 to 130 milligrams of caffeine. An 8.3 ounce can of Red Bull, 80 milligrams. An 8 ounce can of Redline, 250 milligrams. An 8.4 ounce can of Spike Shooter, 300 milligrams of caffeine.

I try to work out three to four days a week.

HUNTER: I wanted to see what happened if I drank one can of Spike Shooter, which along with caffeine, has supplements like Yohimbine, thought by some to enhance sexual performance.

I drink a few cups of coffee every day. And I have a healthy heart history.

RAYMONDA RASTEGAR, DR., CARDIOLOGIST: Here's when I did a print out of your heart.

HUNTER: A heart doctor hooked me up to an EKG and measured my vital signs before and after drinking Spike Shooter. Before, normal. 45 minutes later.

RASTEGAR: Your blood pressure is certainly higher.

HUNTER: My blood pressure went up significantly.

RASTEGAR: We call them APCs.

HUNTER: A doctor also noticed I developed a slight irregular heartbeat.

RASTEGAR: In healthy individuals that may be able to tolerate it, people who have heart disease, it's not advisable.

HUNTER: The manufacturer of Spike Shooter declined to comment on our test. Some drinks have Yohimbine, Guarana, a natural type of caffeine, Torine (ph), and Ginseng, just a few of the herbal supplements not regulated by the FDA.

MOLLY MORGAN, NUTRITIONIST: We don't know how they truly affect your bodies.

HUNTER: Nutritionist Molly Morgan wants more research on the effects of these ingredients.

MORGAN: There's little to no information known about what's the threshold? How much is too much?

HUNTER (on camera): And one thing to point out. There are no laws like they have with tobacco and alcohol that stop underaged kids from buying energy drinks.

Greg Hunter, CNN, New York.


GUPTA: All right, Greg. Thanks. Interesting study there for yourself.

And more HOUSECALL, of course, just ahead.

Coming up, are men getting tests they don't need? A new study says yes. Find out if you're among them.

And later, we know about germy offices, certainly kitchens and bathrooms. How about your cell phone, though? That's right. It's a story you have to see.

Then how early is too early to start running? In the push to get kids active, are some going too far? That story as HOUSECALL continues.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. A new study finds doctors are using a popular screening method for some older patients that it won't really help. Aging male doctors are more likely to order prostate specific antigen tests in what researchers call prostate empathy. This extra testing can lead to biopsies or radiation, even surgical treatments that experts tell us aren't necessarily beneficial to men over the age of 75.

In fact, they can contribute to impotence and incontinence. The American Cancer Society recommends annual testing for most men over age 50.

For more of this week's medical headlines, let's check in now with Judy Fortin and "The Pulse".


The number of infants being tested for 21 or more life- threatening disorders has doubled over the past two years. That's according to an annual March of Dimes report. Highlighted here are the 10 U.S. states not required by law to screen for the minimum 21 number of recommended number of tests. Expectant parents can check with their state's health department for a list of required screenings.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports a major new finding when it comes to two breast cancer genes. Women with Braca 1 and Braca 2 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, but the study says their survival rate is about the same as those without the gene. The findings come after researchers analyzed 20 years worth of data from study participants.

And Sanjay, here's some food for thought. A new study links a Western diet to breast cancer in post menopausal Asian women. The study found women who ate diets high in meat, breads, and sweets increased their risk of breast cancer by 60 percent. The Asian women who ate diets high in vegetables and soy protein had no increased risk later on in life. Back to you.

GUPTA: Thanks, Judy. Further evidence, I guess, that eating your vegetables is really, truly good for your health.

Now don't go anywhere, though. Coming up on HOUSECALL, you may be doing more than making a call with your cell phone. You could be making yourself sick. We're going to have the lab results right after the break.

Then discover when running could do more harm than good. That's ahead on HOUSECALL.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. I've got a question for you. Which do you think has more germs? A toilet seat, your shoe, or your cell phone? If you picked toilet seat, that's the obvious answer. You'd be wrong. Gary Tuchman has the real answer. And it's a surprising one.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Your voice isn't the only thing being transmitted on your cell phone. Germs are being transmitted, too.

CHARLES GERBA, PROF., UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA: Usually, if it's your own germs, you don't have to worry. It's when you share cell phones with somebody else. You can move germs from one person to another. Particularly, ones that can cause skin infections or the flu virus, cold virus.

TUCHMAN: Professor Charles Gerba is a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. The man known as Dr. Germ has found cell phones can be a carrier of infectious diseases.

GERBA: Well, I've had incidents where people share cell phones in my own family, where they may have transmitted staphylococcus skin infections or MRSA.

TUCHMAN: MRSA, which is short for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Orius is a skin infection that is resistant to penicillin. When Dr. Gerba saw this infection on his niece, he tested her cell phone. It came up positive for MRSA.

This cell phone, we're going to check for germs. Is that OK?


TUCHMAN: Armed with a special germ meter, Dr. Gerba can determine roughly how much bacteria is on your cell phone. We put the meter to the test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to find out if you ever talk dirty on it.

TUCHMAN: The testing only takes seconds. All phones have bacteria, but the more there is, the better chances of getting someone sick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 195. You're really close to the limit.

TUCHMAN: Under 200 means hundreds of bacteria. When you get above 200 on the meter, it means thousands. Above 300 means tens of thousands. And above 500, hundreds of thousands of bacteria. Do you have a cell phone with you?


TUCHMAN: Melissa ended up with the highest number of all the cell phones we sampled, 336, which means the high, tens of thousands of bacteria. The professor's words were unsettlingly clinical.

GERBA: We're going to give you a relative idea. You've got about 100 times more bacteria than on an average toilet seat if you want a comparison.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I kind of thought my cell phone might be a little bit cleaner than that.

TUCHMAN: None of the people we stopped on the street regularly clean their cell phones.

GERBA: You're above 200. So that means we're in the thousand range. Up to 1000.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do I ever want to use my cellphone again?

GERBA: Well, maybe not -- cut your husband off. You never know.

TUCHMAN: I'm the husband. Always blame the husband.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a good idea.

TUCHMAN: Of the 11 phones we tested, 5 failed the germ meter test. Dr. Germ has some words for the wise.

GERBA: I think a good advice is any type of electronic equipment that you might end up sharing is you wipe it down with a disinfectant. You know, a disinfectant cloth or wipe, but don't spray disinfectants directly on to it. You could ruin your equipment.

TUCHMAN: So keep your phone clean, even if your conversations sometimes aren't.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.


GUPTA: Talking dirty on the cell phone. I love that, Gary. Thanks so much. I'm never going to let my daughters touch my cell phone now, though.

Just ahead on HOUSECALL, how early is too early to start running? In the push to get kids active, are some going too far? That's coming up in our "Fit Nation" report.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. Parents want their kids to be active. After all, we do have a childhood obesity epidemic. But how early and how hard should parents push their kids to do certain sports, like running? The experts weigh in in today's "Fit Nation" report.


GUPTA (voice-over): It's family run night at the Freehold New Jersey Running Club, where kids 2 and older are racing with their parents.

ISABEL KELLEY, FREEHOLD N.J. RUNNING CLUB: Running is fun. Running is for a lifetime. Running is healthy.

GUPTA: As childhood obesity rates rise, parents are looking for ways to keep their little ones active, like running, a sport that used to be reserved for teens and older. But as the number of young runners grow, so do the injuries.

Jenny Westerhoff began running in her early tweens, eventually joining her high school cross country team. And that's when the pain started.

JENNY WESTERHOFF, RUNNER: After a while, I could feel it like in my knee caps. And I would always want to stop.

GUPTA: The American College of Sports Medicine finds young female cross country runners have the highest rate of injuries, even over high school football players. That's because teenagers are still growing, and they're prone to injury.

WIEMI DOUOGUIH, DR., WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CTR.: Young girls that are in their pubertal phase, that are starting to develop hips, have anatomic changes which can predispose them to having knee pain.

GUPTA: The same applies to little kids. Doctors warn that starting a child runner too early can create shin splints, muscle pulls, tendinitis. They recommend no child run a race until they're in kindergarten.

DOUOGUIH: There's a lot of activities that involve running, that are not just running that may be more fun for the kids.

GUPTA: Like soccer or basketball. Best way to avoid injury, make sure your child has the proper pair of shoes and consider getting a coach. Proper form is essential for keeping young runners injury free.

(on camera): In these warmer summer months, keep in mind children sweat at a slower rate than adults, putting them at a higher risk of heat exhaustion. Experts recommend kids drink at least 64 ounces of water daily to prevent heat illness and try to stay in the shade during the hottest parts of the day.

Stay where you are. More HOUSECALL after the break.


GUPTA: On this week's podcast, I'm reporting on the latest treatments for stuttering. It affects so many people. And there's some new help. So check it. It's free at iTunes or

Also, make sure to check in next weekend. We're going to be talking about getting results from your insurance company. You want to see this. Our expert talks about the biggest mistakes people make when dealing with their insurance and what to do when they won't pay. E-mail your questions to Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.