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Emergency medical cards offer unreliable service

Consumers need to be wary about the emergency medical cards being aggressively marketed by several firms. These work like credit cards and claim to use computer technology to access medical records from anywhere in the world.

They come with annual fees starting at $40, with additional fees of about $30 for each family member included in the data base. The problem is that not all hospitals are equipped with compatible card readers, and if you are being treated in one that isn't, the card won't be of any use.

Another problem is that paramedics are trained to look for medical information on pendants or bracelets, and these new electronic cards are stuck inside your wallet, where they often go unlocated.

Rather than pay the high fees for spotty service, it may be easier to type up the pertinent information on a card, laminate it and wear it around your neck, says David Roth, whose company, Medic Alert, engraves jewelry with patient information such as "Insulin Dependent Diabetic" or "Asthma Sufferer" or "Allergic to Penicillin."

Epidemic survivors sought

The producers of the public television series The American Experience are planning a documentary on the killer flu epidemic of 1918-19 and have put out a casting call for survivors of the siege.

"We are looking for older people with clear memories of this traumatic winter," said producer Alla Savranskaia.

The deadly Spanish influenza outbreak came in the closing days of World War I. By the time the 1918-19 flu season was over, the epidemic had claimed 25-million lives worldwide and 600,000 in the United States.

"Open faced sneezers" were declared public enemies and people were arrested for spitting and coughing in public. In San Francisco, police raided hotel lobbies and arrested 400 people not wearing face masks. In Prescott, Ariz., it became a crime to shake hands.

The documentary's producers are looking for people with personal stories of the devastating flu season. Some may be invited to appear in the film.

If you have a story to tell, call Savranskaia at (800) 990-1918. Or e-mail her at

Noisy elders are grounded

Retirees in China's capital, Beijing, have a lot in common with teen rockers in any suburban basement in America _ they're just too noisy.

The Beijing Cultural Bureau has banned the city's elders from partaking of one of their most favorite nightly rituals: Yangko, a folk dance accompanied by drums and gongs. Officials say it contributes to the city's noise pollution, already a problem from too much traffic and construction.

Those who support the informal dance troupes say it's a great way for retirees to meet people and stay connected.

Yangko was created in China's rural northern provinces. It is a slow, traditional dance performed with the accompanying percussion. The law that bans Yangko also applies to spontaneous open-air singing and opera performances, unless previously authorized.

Officials decided on the ban after police measured noise levels of about 80 decibels at 13 popular dance sites.

The ban took effect this month. But some Yangko troupes have banded together in hopes of persuading officials to change their minds or find them a suitable place to dance.

Jack Paar: the way he was

People who remember late-night television as it was 35 years ago will have a nostalgic evening on May 7, when the Public Broadcasting Service presents a two-hour retrospective on Jack Paar.

Paar, now 78, hosted The Tonight Show for four years ending in 1962, and the prime-time Jack Paar Show for two years after that.

"Paar didn't do a talk show," the Washington Post's television critic, Tom Shales, wrote recently; "he did a Paar show, unlike anybody else's then or now. His guest list . . . wasn't a grab bag of celebrities in New York to plug movies. It included a repertory company of wits and wackies who were booked because they were fun to be around, for Paar and for the audience."

Protection against pneumonia

Anyone moving into a nursing home should get vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia, advises the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Though about 30 percent of people over 65 have received the vaccination, a study of nursing homes in three states showed few of the elderly residents had gotten the shot, which protects against the most prevalent forms of the disease. Of the 267 residents studied in nursing homes in Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Maryland, 36 got pneumonia between late 1995 and mid-1996, and nine died, the CDC reported.

In the past, it was feared that the vaccine could cause adverse reactions, especially when people are revaccinated. But CDC officials say the most recent studies have shown that fears of bad reactions are unfounded.

In recent years, pneumonia has been the cause of more than four-fifths of all fatal respiratory infections among Americans 65 and older. For all Americans, it is the No. 1 killer among infectious diseases. About 4-million people in the United States catch pneumonia every year.

Older HIV-positive adults

The Pinellas Older Adult HIV/AIDS Research Project has received funding for a study of older people who have AIDS or are HIV positive.

To qualify, you must:

Be 50 year old or older;

Be a resident of Pinellas County.

If you agree to be a participant and qualify, you will be asked to complete a one-to two-hour survey in a confidential interview. Participants who complete testing will be paid $35 for ther time.

If you are interested, please call 1-888-822-4464 (toll free).

Compiled from wire reports and other sources by John A. Cutter