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Health Highlights: April 6, 2002

Cloned Human Fetus Rumor Has Experts Buzzing U.N. to Tackle Aging Global Population Sausage/Egg Biscuits Recalled Vets Seeking V.A. Health Care in Record Numbers The Dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis Pancreatic Diagnostic Drug Gets FDA Approval

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of The HealthDay Service:

Cloned Human Fetus Rumor Has Experts Buzzing

An Italian fertility doctor's suggestion that one of his patients has become pregnant with the world's first human clone has the international medical community abuzz and wondering whether the news is true or nothing more than a publicity stunt.

The comments, reported in the Middle Eastern newspaper Gulf News, came from renowned fertility expert Severino Antinori, who is director of a human reproduction research center in Rome. Antinori gained worldwide fame in 1994 when he helped a woman become pregnant and give birth at the age of 63.

Antinori reportedly was quoted in the English-language paper as saying that a patient in his human cloning program is in fact eight weeks pregnant, according to the Washington Post.

In addition to suspicions about a publicity stunt, some have questioned whether Antinori's comments were misconstrued in translation, but the Post says an editor at the newspaper stands by the story. The comments were reportedly made last week at a scientific meeting in the United Arab Emirates.

Most cloning attempts on animals so far have resulted in birth defects and premature deaths, leading most scientists to conclude that human cloning is neither safe nor ethical.

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U.N. To Tackle Aging Global Population

Quite often, the United Nations is grappling with startling numbers of people dying, but this week in Madrid they'll be taking on the issue of too many people living -- well into old age.

To be specific, experts predict that at the rate we're going at now, one out of every three people will be over the age of 60 within about 50 years, reports the Associated Press.

The exploding populations of elderly could mean a proportionally smaller number of taxpaying workers and a potentially disastrous economic strain, warn experts.

Representatives from 160 nations are expected to attend the U.N.'s Second World Assembly on Aging, addressing such age-related issues as retirement age flexibility, living with dependency, elderly benefits and euthanasia.

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Sausage/Egg Biscuits Recalled

Packaged sausage and egg biscuits that were distributed to 35 states have been recalled because of possible contamination with the potentially deadly bacteria listeria, reports the Associated Press.

The "Deli Pride Egg, Sausage & Cheese Biscuits," made by MarketFare Foods of Phoenix, Az., are in 4-ounce packages labeled with a code date of 080243.

The company reports that one illness has resulted from consumption of the product. Authorities with the Florida Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration apparently discovered the bacteria.

Listeria can cause high fever, severe headaches and other symptoms. Such food poisoning can be fatal in the elderly, children or people with compromised immune systems.

Those with questions about the recall can call MarketFare Foods at 1-602-275-5509.

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Vets Seeking V.A. Health Care in Record Numbers

Veterans in need of affordable health care are marching into federally sponsored Veterans Affairs health centers around the nation in record numbers, placing a strain on the system, reports The New York Times.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of veterans enrolled in the V.A.'s clinics, hospitals and pharmacies has in fact doubled to six million, causing such backups that some patients have to wait years just to see a doctor, says the newspaper.

The onslaught of new V.A. patients is being blamed largely on some Medicare H.M.O.'s either reducing their coverage of drug costs or pulling out of some markets altogether, leaving veterans with no place to go but V.A. centers.

Meanwhile, the V.A. system is being pushed to its limits, with pharmaceutical costs increasing by 160 percent -- from $1.1 billion in 1996 to $2.9 billion last year -- while its medical budget has only increased by 42 percent.

All honorably discharged veterans with at least two years of service are eligible to enroll in V.A. health care programs. The minimum does not apply to those discharged before Sept. 7, 1980, and members of the National Guard or the Reserves who were called to active duty.

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The Dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis

It's a silent menace that kills 200,000 Americans each year -- more than AIDS, breast cancer and highway accidents combined. Yet few Americans know about the life-threatening nature of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the large veins in the arms, legs or pelvis, reports HealthDay.

Every year, 2 million Americans -- many of whom feel fit and show no signs of circulatory problems -- develop DVT. The blood clot itself may not be dangerous. But if left untreated, it can travel to the lungs and cause a fatal pulmonary embolism.

The American College of Chest Physicians says fatal pulmonary embolism may be the most preventable cause of deaths in hospitals, where clots are common among patients recovering from surgery.

To heighten public understanding of DVT, a group of experts on the condition have formed the Council for Leadership on Thrombosis (CLOT) Awareness and Management. The 11-member national panel plans to raise awareness of the dangers posed by blood clots by promoting prevention and treatment programs.

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Pancreatic Diagnostic Drug Gets FDA Approval

An important new drug for diagnosing pancreatic illnesses is due to hit the market this summer after receiving the Food and Drug Administration's approval yesterday, reports the Associated Press.

The drug, called SecreFlo, is a synthetic form of the hormone secretin, a digestive enzyme which gained controversy as an experimental treatment for autism.

Derived from pig intestines, secretin was also long used to help diagnose various pancreatic conditions, but it became unavailable in 1999 when the sole producer of the product stopped selling it.

The new drug, made by RepliGen Corp., is the first synthetic form of secretin to be produced. Doctors say it should help them diagnose serious pancreatic dysfunctions and pancreatic tumors called a gastrinomas.

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