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Health Highlights: August 5, 2002

Surgeons Separate Conjoined Twins West Nile's Early Outbreak a Troubling Sign Sports Participants Less Suicide-Prone: Study Child Asthma Cases May Have Peaked: CDC Anthrax Vaccine Maker Cites Gov't Red Tape Ton of Chicken Salad Recalled

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

Surgeons Separate Conjoined Twins

Guatemalan one-year-old twin girls who were conjoined at the head were successfully separated after 20 hours of operation with a team of more than 50 medical staff at the UCLA Medical Center this morning.

Dr. Houman Hemmati, who assisted in the surgery, said the separation appeared to be successful.

Everyone had goosebumps at the end of the procedure," Hemmati told NBC's "Today" show. "People were cheering, people were clapping, people were crying."

At the start of the operation yesterday, doctors said the most difficult part of the procedure would be separating veins that connect the front of each girl's head to the back of the other. If the veins cannot be rerouted normally, the twins could be placed at risk for stroke, reports the Associated Press.

The girls, Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus Quiej-Alvarez, were joined at the head and face opposite directions. The defect is extremely rare and occurs in fewer than one in a million live births, say experts.

The UCLA physicians, including reconstructive surgeons, anesthesiologists and neurosurgeons, are donating their skills for the procedure, but costs are still expected to top $1.5 million. The girls were brought to the United States for the surgery by a non-profit group called Healing the Children.

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West Nile's Early Outbreak a Troubling Sign

This year's outbreak of West Nile virus appears to have hit early and hard, which has health officials concerned but not in full panic mode, reports HealthDay.

"We're a little concerned, because the cases are appearing a bit earlier in the year than they have in the past, and there's a suggestion that maybe some of the people with encephalitis syndrome are a bit younger. But it's too early to say for sure if there's any change in evolution or pattern of outbreaks," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said today.

So far, human cases have been found in three states -- Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. Louisiana leads the list, with 58 serious illnesses and four deaths in the last week. Mississippi has 22 confirmed cases and Texas, eight. There will probably be more cases in these and other states as the season progresses, health officials say.

The virus has also been detected in mosquitoes, birds or horses in 33 states and the District of Columbia, including as far west as South Dakota. Some states, such as West Virginia and Minnesota, are seeing their first ever cases this year.

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Sports Participants Less Suicide-Prone: Study

Those who participate in college or varsity sports are less likely to attempt or even consider suicide, says a new study.

In looking at data from 4,728 questionnaires, researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they found that men who did not play sports were in fact 2.5 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

About 12.5 percent of men who did not participate in sports were suicidal, whereas only about 7.27 percent of those who did play sports said they'd considered suicide.

And about 8 percent of women who were on sports teams admitted to considering suicide at some point, whereas 12 percent of women not on teams had experienced such thoughts.

The researchers speculate that not only can team sports possibly provide a healing social environment, but athletes may simply be able to better handle stress, reports the Associated Press.

The findings were reported in the July issue of the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal.

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Child Asthma Cases May Have Peaked, CDC Says

Cases of childhood asthma may be leveling off after increasing during the 1980s and 1990s, reports the Associated Press of statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Childhood asthma rates rose an average of 4.3 percent annually from 1980 to 1996, 5.4 percent in 1997, and remained stable from 1998 through 2000, the CDC says in a report published in the journal Pediatrics.

Some 5 million American children have asthma, according to estimates from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Black children have been affected disproportionately, peaking at 26 percent higher than whites in 1995-96, the AP reports.

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Anthrax Vaccine Maker Cites Gov't Red Tape

BioPort Corp, the nation's sole producer of anthrax vaccine, says it may be in financial jeopardy because the government still hasn't told the company exactly how much vaccine it needs to buy, The New York Times reports.

The company says it can't sell the vaccine to foreign governments or multinational corporations until it fulfills the U.S. government contract, estimated at about 3.4 million doses. But the Pentagon says it can't provide a final figure until it receives exact numbers from several civilian agencies.

BioPort executives tell the newspaper that the government is paying about $20 a dose, while other clients are willing to spring for as much as $100 a dose.

In June, the Pentagon reversed the Clinton administration goal of immunizing all 2.4 million people in the military. The Bush administration policy limits vaccines mostly to soldiers at high-risk duty, notably in the Middle East.

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Ton of Chicken Salad Recalled

Reser's Fine Foods, Inc., of Halifax, N.C., is recalling 2,200 pounds of white meat chicken salad that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service says.

The product was produced July 12 and distributed to retail establishments in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina.

Reser's notified FSIS that it was recalling the product based on a positive test for Listeria from a sample collected by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The company says it has no reports of illness.

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. In people with weaker immune systems, it can also cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.

For more information, contact Mike Reser, vice president, Reser's Fine Foods, at 503-643-6431.

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