MAD-cow disease, avian flu and pet poop blindness caused a stir in the press this year, while the mosquito-borne dengue ravaged the Caribbean with more tenacity than in years past and government officials tried to increase AIDS awareness. The ban Costa Rica imposed on beef imports from the United States at the end of last year was lifted in May, although there are still significant restrictions to prevent the possible spread of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly called mad-cow disease, to the country. AVIAN flu swept across Asia this year, killing at least 19 people and forcing the extermination of more than 50 million birds. In February, Costa Rican experts said that although they were not too worried about the chance of an infection here, they have a plan. In the event of an outbreak, all poultry within a five-kilometer radius of the initial infection would be culled, and the government would closely monitor populations up to 10 kilometers away, officials said. ONE danger of dog poop saw its 15 minutes of fame in April when Dr. Eliseo Vargas, former executive president of the Social Security System (Caja) announced the possibility of a looming health scare just before he stepped down amid a government corruption scandal. It involves a parasitic worm (Toxocara canis), which infects pets and propagates itself through larvae in the feces of its host. After being ingested by humans, the worm migrates toward the eyes and can provoke swelling and detachment of the retina. Official records show 40 children in Costa Rica have contracted the disease since 1996. THE mosquito-borne disease dengue hit the Caribbean coast harder this year than in years past, public health officials reported. Dr. Teresita Solano, chief of the Ministry of Health s epidemiology unit, said the disease spread through those communities because unlike other parts of the country residents did not develop antibodies last year. In May, officials announced that a plan for the country s first cancer hospital, three years in the making, was tossed out, or at least postponed, and replaced with a diagnosis clinic. OFFICIAL AIDS statistics came under fire in August when public hospitals reported they receive 450 new AIDS patients per year, but the Ministry of Public Health only has record of a quarter of those cases. Ministry representatives say its statistics are the only ones considered official. With prevention in mind, ministry officials announced on World AIDS Day this month they intend to distribute 600,000 free condoms to sex workers, men who have sex with men and other high-risk populations. MEANWHILE, a study of the prevention of another sexually transmitted disease began this year in the northern Pacific province Guanacaste. The first of a total of 10,000 women in Guanacaste are being given an experimental vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the primary cause of uterine and cervical cancer.