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Health Highlights: Aug. 1, 2006

Castro's Condition Unknown After Intestinal Surgery Senators Grill Acting FDA Chief About Morning-After Pill Bush 'Fine' After Annual Physical Anastrozole Bests Tamoxifen After Early-Stage Breast Cancer Surgery: Study Raw Oysters Sicken 74 in New York City Synthetic Testosterone Found In Landis Urine Sample

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

Castro's Condition Unknown After Intestinal Surgery

The condition of Cuban leader Fidel Castro was still unknown late Tuesday after he had surgery to repair what a statement called a "sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding."

The statement, read Monday night on state television by Castro's secretary Carlos Valenciaga, said the 79-year-old leader's condition was caused by stress from a heavy work schedule during recent trips to Argentina and eastern Cuba, the Associated Press reported.

"The operation obligates me to undertake several weeks of rest," Castro said in the statement. He said extreme stress "had provoked in me a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure."

It's not known when or where the surgery took place. But the Venezuelan government, Cuba's closest ally, said Cuban officials reported Castro was "advancing positively." Leftist Argentine lawmaker Miguel Bonasso said Castro aides told him the leader was resting peacefully.

Castro's last public appearance was on Wednesday at a ceremony to mark the 53rd anniversary of the July 26 barracks attack that launched the Cuban Revolution. Castro appeared thinner than normal and somewhat weary during a pair of long speeches, AP reported.

Before the surgery, Castro announced that he was temporarily turning over the Cuban presidency to his brother Raul.


Senators Grill Acting FDA Chief About Morning-After Pill

Monday's surprise announcement that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would revive its consideration of over-the-counter (OTC) sales of the Plan B morning-after pill was not a political maneuver, acting FDA head Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach said Tuesday at his confirmation hearing.

He said the decision to consider allowing women 18 and older to have easier access to the emergency contraceptive was based on science, the Associated Press reported.

Some people regarded Monday's announcement as an attempt to make things easier for von Eschenbach -- President Bush's nominee to head the FDA -- at his confirmation hearing. If that was the case, it didn't work, the wire service added.

At Tuesday's hearing, senators went after von Eschenbach about the timing of Monday's announcement and grilled him on why a decision on OTC sales of Plan B has spent so long on the FDA's back burner, the AP reported.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has put a hold on von Eschebach's nomination until the FDA makes a final decision about Plan B. She said her hold was meant to "draw a line" against "politicizing the FDA."

"This is a slippery, dangerous slope we are on, doctor, and we are looking to you to make a decision," Clinton said.


Bush 'Fine' After Annual Physical

President George W. Bush emerged from a nearly four-hour annual physical exam on Tuesday, saying he was in good health but had put on a few pounds since his last checkup.

"Doing fine. Health's fine. Probably ate too many birthday cakes," said Bush, who celebrated his 60th birthday at numerous occasions in July, NBC News reported.

Bush had his annual exam at the National Naval Medical Center in suburban Washington. His last physical, on July 30, 2005, revealed he weighed 191.6 pounds, eight pounds less than his previous exam in December 2004. He's nearly 6 feet tall.

According to a four-page medical summary issued by the White House a year ago, Bush -- an avid mountain biker -- is in the "superior" fitness category for a man of his age, the Associated Press reported.


Anastrozole Bests Tamoxifen After Early-Stage Breast Cancer Surgery: Study

The drug anastrozole is tolerated better than tamoxifen in postmenopausal women with early-stage breast cancer after they've had surgery, say British researchers in the August issue of the The Lancet Oncology journal.

The findings about the two breast cancer drugs are based on more than five years of follow-up of a study that included more than 6,000 postmenopausal women with breast cancer that had not spread to other parts of the body.

The researchers also did a risk-benefit analysis of the two drugs. The analysis -- which took into account both the chance that patients would have a recurrence of their breast cancer and the side effects of drug treatment -- concluded that anastrozole had a significantly better risk-benefit profile. That benefit was greatest at one to two years of treatment.

The findings support the use of anatrozole rather than tamoxifen as the preferred initial treatment after surgery for early-stage breast cancer, the authors concluded.


Raw Oysters Sicken 74 in New York City

It's believed that 74 people in New York City became ill after they ate bacteria-infected raw oysters from the U.S. Pacific Northwest that were sold in city restaurants and stores in July. Six additional cases were reported elsewhere in New York State.

People have also become sick in Oregon, Washington State (which has reported at least 100 cases) and the Canadian province of British Columbia, The New York Times reported. There have been no deaths.

The oysters are infected with a naturally occurring bacteria called Vibrio parahaemolyticus that's more prevalent during the summer, when the water gets warmer.

In healthy people, symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills and usually don't last longer than three days, The Times reported.

However, the bacteria can cause more serious symptoms in children, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued a warning that people should not eat raw oysters from the Pacific Northwest. The oysters should be thoroughly cooked in order to kill the bacteria.


Synthetic Testosterone Found In Landis Urine Sample

Some of the testosterone in U.S. cyclist Floyd Landis' initial urine sample came from an external source and was not produced by his body, according to published reports.

That finding appears to challenge the 2006 Tour de France champion's assertion that his body produces naturally high levels of testosterone. Landis made the claim after it was revealed last week that he tested positive for an elevated ratio of testosterone-to-epitestosterone in a urine sample collected during the race.

The synthetic testosterone was detected using a carbon isotope ratio test, which differentiates between natural and synthetic testosterone. The test results were disclosed by a person at the International Cycling Union, The New York Times reported.

Officials are still waiting to see if testing of a second urine sample confirms a higher-than-normal ratio of testosterone. If it does, Landis will be stripped of his Tour de France title and will face a two-year suspension from the sport. The results of that test may be available by the weekend.

But even it that test comes back negative, Landis could still face punishment because of these new test results that found synthetic testosterone -- a prohibited substance -- in his first urine sample, The Times reported.

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