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Health Highlights: August 8, 2002

CDC Says West Nile's Victims Are Younger Doc Leaves Patient Mid-Surgery to Make Bank Deposit Children's Aid Reportedly Going to Adults Feds Plan $30 Million Chelation Study Botox Said to Help Stroke Victims Motorola Recalls Faulty Cable Boxes

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

CDC Says West Nile's Victims Are Younger

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered more details today on the West Nile virus outbreak that has so far claimed five lives, all in Louisiana.

According to the CDC, most victims of the mosquito-borne virus have been men and younger people. The median age for this year's infection is 55, whereas in previous bouts, the norm was mid-60s.

So far, 112 human cases of the virus have been reported this year in what's being called the nation's worst outbreak of the disease, and more than half of the cases have been confirmed since July 31.

While most cases have been in Louisiana, others have been reported in Illinois, Mississippi and Texas, and the two latest cases were reported in Alabama and Washington, D.C., reports the Associated Press.

Most people who are bitten by an infected mosquito do not become noticeably ill. Some develop flu-like symptoms and about one-in-150 people -- typically the elderly or sick -- will develop serious complications such as meningitis and encephalitis.

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Doc Leaves Patient Mid-Surgery to Make Bank Deposit

A Massachusetts surgeon who left a patient in mid-surgery with an open incision in order to go to the bank has been suspended by the state.

The state Board of Registration in Medicine said yesterday that Dr. David C. Arndt was six hours into a spine operation at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge when another surgeon came in with the doctor's paycheck.

Arndt reportedly then told the operating staff he needed to "step out," and left the patient with an open incision. He returned about 35 minutes later after going to a bank in Harvard Square, reports the Associated Press.

The patient was not harmed. Arndt, a Harvard-trained surgeon, later explained to the board that he was in a financial crisis and had to get the check to the bank to pay his bills, and that he regretted the action.

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Children's Aid Going to Adults: Report

The Bush Administration is allowing some states to spend federal monies earmarked for aid to children on childless adults instead, The New York Times reports of an non-partisan Congressional study.

Investigators from the General Accounting Office (GAO) say funds intended for the Children's Health Insurance Program are being given to childless adults. The program was created in 1997 with the expressed purpose of providing health insurance to uninsured children in low-income families.

Unused monies in any state go back into a general pool, to be used in other states with unmet needs. Senators told the newspaper that this makes the alleged violations all the more problematic.

The GAO report names Arizona, Illinois and Utah; representatives of those states disagree with the report, the Times says. The waivers to allow the funds to be spent on adults reportedly were approved by federal Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, from whom the newspaper provided no comment.

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Feds Plan $30 Million Chelation Study

The National Institutes of Health is beginning a 5-year, $30 million study that it hopes will settle the longstanding question of whether so-called chelation therapy offers any benefit to people with heart disease, the Associated Press reports.

Chelation therapy, a common treatment for lead poisoning, involves injecting a synthetic amino acid into the blood to absorb the lead so that it can be excreted in urine. Some doctors have long argued that the process could also help heart victims by absorbing chemicals that cause arteries to become inflamed and blocked.

But such claims have never been proven, opponents say, adding that the process could cause kidney damage and other dangerous side effects if not properly administered.

The NIH trials will involve 2,372 heart-attack survivors, to be enrolled at 100 locations nationwide beginning in March, the AP reports.

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Botox Said to Help Stroke Victims

While Botox's wrinkle-smoothing properties are getting all of the attention, the drug made from the same toxin that causes botulism has been proven valuable in treating a number of neurological problems, too.

Now neurologists are reporting another success -- relief of the wrist and finger difficulties that plague many stroke patients, reports HealthDay.

In a study led by Dr. Allison Brashear, associate professor of neurology at Indiana University School of Medicine and lead author of a report in today's The New England Journal of Medicine, 62 percent of the stroke patients who received Botox treatments found relief.

The patients had suffered strokes that created painful and impairing spasticity of their hands and fingers. The tightness was so bad that many patients had trouble with menial tasks such as dressing themselves.

Officially, Botox -- the brand name for botulinum toxin A, which relaxes muscles by inactivating the nerves that control them -- is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for this purpose. Among its neurological uses that do have FDA approval is relief of spasms of the face, neck, back and feet.

The Indiana study was supported by Allergan, the maker of Botox, and many of the researchers have or had financial ties to the company.

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Motorola Recalls Faulty Cable Boxes

Motorola has announced the recall of about 1 million digital cable boxes that have faulty pins connecting boxes and power cords that can break and cause electrical shocks.

The recalled boxes are model DCT 2000 and are black with the words "Motorola" and "Interactive Digital Communications" on the front. The model number is on the cover of the user guide, reports the Associated Press.

The boxes were installed earlier this year. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says there have been no reports of any injuries from the boxes.

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