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Health Highlights: Dec. 29 , 2002

1st Reportedly Cloned Baby Arriving in U.S. Tomorrow No Long-Term Pollution Illness From WTC Attack, EPA Says U.S. Takes Inventory of Polio Strains Sick Passengers Removed from Cruise Ship

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

1st Reportedly Cloned Baby Arriving in U.S. Tomorrow

The world's first reportedly cloned baby, nicknamed "Eve,'' is coming home to the United States tomorrow, according to the company that has claimed credit for the feat.

The baby is flying into the country with her family, says the chief executive of Clonaid, the cloning company affiliated with a religious sect that believes space aliens launched life on Earth, according to an Associated Press report.

"The baby is going home and once at home it is possible for an independent expert to go there and once a sample is taken we will see,'' Brigitte Boisselier said today, referring to DNA testing needed to prove whether the child is really a clone.

Boisselier previously said the child's mother is American but has offered no further details. Today, neither she nor Clonaid spokeswoman Nadine Gary would say where in the United States the mother is from, where the child was born or what U.S. city they would be arriving in.

Today, Boisselier said a pediatrician has seen the baby and that the child is "doing fine.'' She also said a second cloned baby is due to be born next week to a lesbian couple in northern Europe.

Boisselier's comments today came two days after she announced at a Florida news conference that Clonaid scientists had produced the world's first cloned baby. She said "Eve,'' a healthy 7-pound girl, was delivered by Caesarean section Thursday and is an exact genetic copy of her mother.

Boisselier offered no scientific proof, provided no photographs and did not produce the child or the mother, who she said is a 31-year-old with an infertile husband.

Her announcement was met with doubt by the scientific community and revulsion by many ethicists.

Meanwhile, physicist and freelance TV journalist Michael Guillen said he has chosen a panel of independent scientists to investigate the claim.

Guillen, a former ABC-TV science editor, told CNN the scientists would use DNA testing on the baby and her mother, and the results should be available in a week to 10 days.

Many scientists, however, are suspicious of Clonaid's claim. University of Wisconsin bioethicist Alta Charo called Clonaid's announcement "an irresponsible example of medical grandstanding," CNN reported.

"I'm not persuaded that it has occurred," she said. "If it has occurred, it is an irresponsible experiment on human beings before you have proof on other animals to determine if it is safe, and the first and most important principle of medical ethics is that you do not do harm."

Many ethicists oppose the idea of human cloning, noting that other cloned animals that appeared to be normal turned out to have serious health problems. Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal, got arthritis after only a few years, and her creator is against cloning humans. There is no specific ban against cloning in the United States, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has claimed it would have jurisdiction over any method.

CNN reported that White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said President Bush "believes like most Americans that human cloning is deeply concerning, and he strongly supports legislation banning human cloning."

The National Academy of Sciences recommended a ban on human cloning back in January, according to CNN.

Meanwhile, the Vatican as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders denounced Clonaid's contention that it had succeeded at cloning an infant. But the religious leaders, citing a lack of scientific proof, were also skeptical of the company's claim, the Associated Press reported.


No Long-Term Pollution Illness From WTC Attack, EPA Says

If you live in the New York City area near the site of the World Trade Center collapse, you can breathe easier, the government says.

The Environmental Protection Agency says most lower Manhattan residents are unlikely to suffer long-term illnesses from inhaling airborne pollution in the weeks after last year's terrorist attack, the Associated Press reports.

Citing measurements taken in and around the collapse zone starting Sept. 18, 2001, , the draft report said that only rescue workers and other people exposed to high concentrations of pollution immediately after the attack are likely to develop chronic illnesses.

It is unclear how many people inhaled smoke and dust from the collapse, some of which contained metals like lead and cadmium, PCBs, dioxin-like compounds, asbestos and other contaminants.

The agency noted that because no air testing was done until Sept. 14, 2001, no definitive conclusions could be drawn about the first three days after the towers collapsed. "It cannot be stated with certainty what effects resulted when people were engulfed in the initial cloud of dust or were subsequently exposed to the elevated concentrations that were found," the report said.

The EPA report comes a week after a team of private researchers and scientists said the chemical composition of the dust near ground zero appeared to be less toxic than initially feared.


U.S. Takes Inventory of Polio Strains

Health officials in the United States are conducting an inventory of all polio strains in laboratories around the country. The effort is designed to keep the virus from accidentally escaping and causing outbreaks once the disease is eradicated, according to the Associated Press.

Federal officials have said polio could be eradicated throughout the world within two years.

An estimated 31,000 institutions in the United States have stocks of the virus. They include health departments, hospitals and private companies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given the labs until Tuesday to submit a report on their stocks, the AP says.

Unlike smallpox, polio is not believed to be a potential weapon for bioterrorists. Although it can cause paralysis and death, less than 1 percent of those infected develop symptoms. Also, vaccinations have been available globally for decades, the AP reports.


Sick Passengers Removed from Cruise Ship

Seventy-five passengers aboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ship were removed from the boat in Key West, Fla., after falling ill during a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. They were taken by bus to Miami, the Associated Press reported.

The 880-foot-long The Majesty of the Seas was making a planned stop in Key West Thursday morning when the passengers were taken off the boat.

A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean could not say whether the passengers were stricken with a Norwalk-like virus that has sickened many passengers on numerous cruise ships in recent weeks.

The Norwalk-like virus, a common gastrointestinal bug, causes vomiting, headaches and nausea, and usually lasts one or two days.

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