Health Highlights: April 8, 2003

Drug May Protect Against 'Dirty Bomb' Radiation Do Roaches or Rats Carry SARS? Lead Candle Wicks Banned Herbal Supplement That Contains Viagra Recalled Buying Drugs on the Internet is Risky, Study Concludes Ashley and Michael Rule in NYC

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

Drug May Protect Against 'Dirty Bomb' Radiation

A U.S. company says it has developed a drug that could protect people against the effects of "dirty bombs" and other kinds of nuclear attacks.

The drug is called HE2100 and was created by Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals. The company says early tests on animals indicate the drug helps the body produce white blood cells much more quickly, BBC News Online reports.

High radiation levels destroy white blood cells, which the body needs to protect itself against infection.

Radiation can also destroy the body's ability to form blood clots, leading to death by bleeding. The new drug may also help stop such radiation-induced bleeding, company officials say.

The test findings were presented at the annual scientific meeting of the British Society for Haematology.

If larger trial test results are successful, the company will apply for permission to sell the drug in the United States, the news service says.

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Do Roaches Carry SARS?

As the mystery over severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) deepens and the illness and death tolls mount, Hong Kong authorities, puzzled by a cluster of cases in a single apartment complex, are investigating whether roach infestation may have helped spread the illness, according to wire service reports Tuesday.

SARS has now been blamed for 103 deaths and more than 2,600 reports of illness across the globe since it was first detected in China in November. Forty-five more cases were reported in Hong Kong Tuesday, taking the territory's toll to 928 sickened and 25 dead. About 40 percent of the new cases were health-care workers who had been treating the ill.

Almost 300 of Hong Kong's cases have been diagnosed in a single apartment site in the Kowloon district, leading authorities to theorize that cockroaches may have helped spread the virus through the complex's waste system, reports the French wire service l'Agence France-Presse. Health officials are also testing rats as possible carriers.

Because it's not known exactly how the virus is spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned travelers to stay away from Hong Kong as well as Guangdong province in southern China.

In an apparent bit of good news, Chinese officials said Tuesday that cases have dropped sharply in Guangdong, where the outbreak appears to have begun. Only 21 new cases have been diagnosed in the first week of April, reports the Associated Press.

Elsewhere across Asia, Singapore officials are considering installing cameras in the homes of quarantined people to make sure they don't leave. And Vietnam says it may ban visitors from countries where the illness has been particularly widespread.

In the United States, where 150 cases have been reported in 30 states, an official with the federal Department of Health and Human Services says the illness appears to be slowing down, but warns that it's too soon to declare the epidemic over.

"We don't know whether we're through act one of a two-act play or whether we're just four lines into a three-act play," acting assistant secretary Jerry Hauer tells the AP.

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Lead Candle Wicks Banned

Lead-cored wicks and candles with lead-cored wicks have been banned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The federal ban becomes effective October 2003 and applies to all domestic and imported candles.

The ban allows the U.S. Customs Service to stop shipments of non-conforming wicks and candles. It also allows the CPSC to seek penalties against companies that violate the ban.

Despite a voluntary industry agreement in the 1970s to remove lead from candle wicks, a CPSC investigation found that some candles sold in recent years still had lead-cored wicks.

These wicks emit relatively large amounts of lead into the air when they're burned. This airborne lead poses a lead poisoning hazard to young children. They can inhale the vaporized lead or get the lead on their hands by handling objects on which the lead has settled.

Lead poisoning in children can cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, hearing problems and growth retardation.

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Herbal Supplement That Contains Viagra Recalled

An herbal supplement touted as a sexual stimulant is being recalled because it contains the prescription ingredient included in the anti-impotence drug Viagra, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Phoenix-based Ultra Health Products Inc. says it's recalling at least 750,000 of its Vinarol supplement tablets after FDA tests revealed they contained sildenafil, Viagra's active ingredient. The FDA says the drug-laced product, whose distribution could actually be in the millions, could pose a severe danger to cardiac patients who use nitrates to treat chest pain, reports the Associated Press.

Heart disease patients frequently have impotence. The FDA says it investigated the supplement because its manufacturers promoted it as an herbal mix that increases sexual desire and performance.

The company says it doesn't know how the contamination occurred, but cites possible employee tampering or the shipment of tainted herbs from China.

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Buying Drugs on the Internet is Risky, Study Concludes

Few Internet pharmacy Web sites give consumers enough information to use their medications effectively and safely, a new Australian study finds.

Particularly troublesome of the study's conclusions, reports BBC News Online, is that many pharmacy sites fail to tell customers about the potential dangers of taking more than one drug at the same time.

Monash University researchers surveyed 104 pharmacy sites in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Two of three sites were prepared to sell their drugs to people in other countries, the researchers say.

"Consumers cannot make an informed decision about purchasing a medicine using information provided by e-pharmacies because balanced information about the benefits and risks of taking medicines was largely not available or of poor quality," they write in the latest edition of the journal Quality and Safety in Health Care.

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Ashley and Michael Rule in NYC

If you live in New York City, you'll continue to meet a lot of Ashleys and Michaels for years to come.

Those were the most popular baby names in the city in 2001, says a news release from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

That marks the 14th consecutive year that Michael has topped the list, and the 10th consecutive first-place finish for Ashley.

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