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Health Highlights: August 4, 2002

Docs Look to Inflammation Levels in 'Revolutionary' Shift of Heart Attack Prevention Asthma Not Passed to Breastfed Babies By Mom: Study Legionnaires' Cases Rise in England Officials Suggest More Funds for Battling La. West Nile Outbreak Study Blasts Anti-Drug Programs, Says More Money, Training Needed Research Probes Mad Cow Transmission Through Blood Transfusion

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

Docs Look to Inflammation Levels in 'Revolutionary' Shift of Heart Attack Prevention

In what doctors are calling a revolutionary departure from long-held beliefs about the causes of heart attacks, there is new emphasis on low-grade inflammation in various parts of the body as triggering such events.

While medical experts have for years focused on cholesterol and clogged arteries, research indicates that inflammation may just as often be the cause of heart attacks, and in fact half of all heart attack victims have normal or even low levels of cholesterol, reports the Associated Press.

The research, out of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, showed that people with high levels of C-reactive protein - - an indicator of inflammation - - have twice the risk of heart attack than those with elevated cholesterol.

In response to the findings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is drawing up new recommendations that will likely urge doctors to test most middle-aged Americans for inflammation, as well as cholesterol, as a prevention for heart attack.

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Asthma Not Passed to Breastfed Babies By Mom: Study

Contrary to concerns that breastfeeding women with asthma could pass the condition on to their babies, scientists say such transmission is not a risk.

In a six-year study involving more than 2,500 children, Australian researchers say they found that the risk of childhood asthma increased by 28 percent if exclusive breastfeeding was stopped before the child was four months old.

But the risk was no greater among babies whose mothers had asthma than those who did not, reports the BBC.

And the longer women breastfed, the lower the chances were of infants developing asthma.

Breastfeeding is also known to protect infants against wheezing and the researchers recommend that the best protection against asthma - - and a host of other problems - - is for mothers to breastfeed babies for as long as possible.

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Legionnaires' Cases Rise in England

The number of confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease in England has risen to 45, with one death so far, and health officials are bracing for more deaths, reports the BBC.

As of today, 74 people were being treated in hospitals for the disease. Fifteen were in intensive care, and four have developed lung or kidney complications.

The outbreak has been traced to a faulty air conditioning system in a city-run entertainment center in the northern England town of Barrow-in-Furness. A maintenance worker in charge of the system has been suspended.

Officials say that as the incubation period for the disease unfolds, the number of people with Legionnaires' could reach well over 100, with dozens of deaths among those at high risk, such as the elderly.

Legionnaires' disease is a form of pneumonia that was so-named in 1976 when an outbreak claimed the lives of 29 Legionnaires attending an American Legion Convention in Philadelphia. In that case, the illnesses were also traced to bacteria from water in a faulty air conditioning system.

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Officials Suggest More Funds for Battling La. West Nile Outbreak

With four confirmed deaths from West Nile virus in Louisiana, 54 people sickened with the mosquito-borne disease, and another 34 suspected of having been infected, state lawmakers are working to get more money to fight the outbreak.

Republican state Sen. Tom Schedler has suggested that a special legislative fund of $6 million to $7 million could be exhausted by stepped-up mosquito-control efforts.

East Baton Rouge alone has already spent 10 times the amount spent in all of 1998 on fogging and spraying for mosquitoes, and Gov. Mike Foster declared a statewide emergency on Friday to obtain federal funds to assist in the efforts, reports the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, eight people in Texas and five in Mississippi have come down with West Nile encephalitis, a potentially fatal swelling of the brain that is the most serious effect of the virus.

The virus has also been found in birds and other animals in Oklahoma, Nebraska and the Dakotas. A dead crow carrying the virus was even found on the White House Lawn, reports HealthDay.

"I think it's no surprise that West Nile virus is going to become endemic across the country," says Dr. Susan McLellan, who does work for the infectious diseases sections at Tulane University School of Medicine and at Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, both in New Orleans.

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Study Blasts Anti-Drug Programs, Says More Money, Training Needed

The three leading anti-drug programs used by schools to deter students from drug use are either ineffective or inadequately researched and are a poor use of taxpayer money, say researchers.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say that in polling 104 school districts in 11 states and the District of Columbia, they found that many schools continue to use research-based programs, but only one-in-three uses the programs effectively. The study says few properly train teachers to use the programs adequately or to use all of the materials available, reports the Associated Press.

Despite being popular for years, programs such as D.A.R.E., Here's Looking at You 2000 and McGruff's Drug Prevention and Child Protection, haven't shown the kind of results that schools should expect, say the researchers.

School districts need to hire full-time coordinators for such programs, but the federal funding of about $5 per child annually isn't enough to pay for such staff, says the study.

Responding to criticism over its apparent ineffectiveness, the D.A.R.E. America program is conducting a five-year study to evaluate a new curriculum.

The research is published in the latest issue of Health Education Research.

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Research Probes Mad Cow Transmission Through Blood Transfusion

New research on animals in England suggests that there may be a risk of people catching the human form of mad cow disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), through blood transfusions.

The research, conducted at the Institute of Animal Health, showed that one-in-six animals given blood from sheep infected with mad cow disease appeared to develop the illness, according to London's Guardian newspaper.

Scientists say the red cells and plasma may indeed have infectivity for the human form of vCJD, and that the risk of contracting the disease through blood transmission may be described as "appreciable," as opposed to the British government's description as "theoretical."

According to figures released in January, the human form of mad cow disease has claimed the lives of 114 people in the UK, and experts expect an increase of about 20 percent per year.

There is no test for detecting vCJD in human blood, and those donating blood in England aren't asked to test for the disease, although they may be in the future if a test becomes available, reports the BBC.

British health officials are stressing that the risk of catching vCJD through a blood transfusion was "very, very small" and that the research should not prevent people from donating blood.

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