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Health Highlights: August 6, 2002

West Nile Death Toll Rises to Five in Louisiana One Separated Twin Back in Surgery Aspirin May Ward Off Pancreatic Cancer President Gets Clean Bill of Health in Check-Up Stem Cells Grown on Human Muscle: Study Body Parts Recalled for Possible HIV Teen Survey: 9/11 Changed Our World

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

West Nile Death Toll Rises to Five in Louisiana

The number of deaths from the West Nile virus rose to five today, with officials confirming the death of a 76-year-old woman from St. Tammany Parish, near New Orleans.

The four others who died from West Nile in the latest outbreak were also in Louisiana, making this the worst outbreak of the disease ever in a single state, say officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to the latest death, 14 new cases of West Nile have been confirmed, bringing the total infected in this year's outbreak to 72. While the concentration has been in Louisiana, West Nile has been spreading, with 22 cases confirmed in Mississippi, 10 suspected cases in Texas and one suspected case in Arkansas.

The previous largest outbreak of West Nile was in 1999, when 62 people became ill in the New York City area, with five deaths.

In seeking federal funds to help step up mosquito-spraying efforts, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster declared a state of emergency in his state late last week.


One Separated Twin Back in Surgery

One of the formerly conjoined twins separated during a 22-hour operation Monday was back in the operating room at the UCLA Medical Center today to relieve bleeding on her brain, the Associated Press reports.

Maria Teresa Quiej-Alvarez developed a hematoma and was returned to the operating room at 9:17 a.m. PT. The condition causes pressure on the brain, which is relieved when the blood from the brain's surface is drained.

Maria Teresa's twin sister, Maria de Jesus, is reported in critical but stable condition today. The Guatemalan one-year-old twin girls had been conjoined at the head and faced opposite directions.

Though the two shared bone and blood vessels, their brains were not meshed. 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.


Aspirin May Ward Off Pancreatic Cancer

A new study adds to aspirin's impressive list of accomplishments by finding that women who take the drug are less likely to get cancer of the pancreas, reports HealthDay.

Aspirin's role as a preventive medication isn't a new one. It's already used to prevent heart disease, and other studies have found it may help ward off colon cancer. In the latest work, appearing in tomorrow's issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers from the University of Minnesota report that women who use aspirin have a 43 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer than women who don't.

"There is no one magic pill that's a cure-all, but it's encouraging that aspirin use may be protective for pancreatic cancer -- and it may tell us something about this disease for which we have no good treatment, " says study author Kristin Anderson, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.

Every year, more than 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Nearly 30,000 die from the disease annually, making it the fourth deadliest cancer in the United States.


President Gets Clean Bill of Health in Check-Up

The state of the nation may be arguable, but doctors say the state of the president's health is unquestionably outstanding.

Following his annual medical check-up, President Bush told reporters he was feeling in "tip-top" shape, and his physician, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, gave a double thumbs-up, calling the president's physical condition "unbelievable," reports the Associated Press.

After the president's last physical, conducted a year ago, he had three small skin lesions removed; four more were removed in December.

Bush was given an exam following an incident in which he fainted after swallowing a pretzel in January, and he received a colonoscopy in June, with no problems found.


Stem Cells Grown on Human Muscle: Study

Scientists say they have made a breakthrough in stem cell research by growing human stem cells on human muscle and tissue, rather than in lab dishes using mouse cells, as is more common.

The Singapore researchers, with ES Cell International, say the development could speed up progress on human clinical tests involving stem cell therapies because the use of mouse cells requires extensive, time-consuming requirements by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that no animal diseases are transmitted to people, reports the Associated Press.

Stem cells from human embryos are highly valued by researchers because they are master cells that have the ability to grow into almost any tissue in the body, and many see them as one day helping to cure a variety of diseases.

The research was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology on Monday.


Body Parts Recalled for Possible HIV

The University of Texas Medical Branch has recalled body parts distributed to research labs nationwide, warning that some may be contaminated with infectious diseases including HIV.

The medical center, citing poor record-keeping, has alerted 60 research programs that received the parts over an 18-month period, reports the Associated Press.

The parts, shipped between November 2000 and May 2002, may not have been tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, a spokesman said. It wasn't immediately known if any researchers have become infected, the AP says.

The center's Willed Body Program has been the subject of prior investigations since a program employee was fired on May 9. Allen Tyler Jr. worked for the center for 36 years, and may have been responsible for the bookkeeping foulups, a center spokesman says. The FBI has also investigated Tyler for the possible illegal sale of body parts, the AP reports, noting that Tyler has refused comment since he was fired. Tyler has not been charged with any crime.


Teen Survey: 9/11 Changed Our World

Most American teens surveyed feel closer to their families and more spiritual since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, a newly released survey finds.

The "State of Our Nation's Youth," an annual survey released by the Horatio Alger Association, found that although teens feel optimistic about the future, two-thirds said the attacks were the most significant event of their lives. Many said they prayed or meditated to help themselves cope.

One in five teens said the attacks affected them a great deal, and nearly a third said the events changed their plans for the future, the Associated Press reports. Nearly 60 percent said they expected to see a return to the involuntary military draft at some point in their lifetimes.

The telephone survey, conducted in May, involved 1,003 students ages 13 to 18.

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