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Health Highlights: Feb. 13, 2002

Staph Vaccine Shines in Difficult Test Kidney Treatment Causes Life-Threatening Condition in Some Love Gives You a Heart of Gold, Say Experts No More Arsenic in Lumber Treatment, Industry Says Heart Disease Marker Now Tied to Alzheimer's Fertility Group Issues Standards for HIV Couples

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

Staph Vaccine Shines in Difficult Test

An experimental vaccine for one of the most aggressive bacterial infections has passed a major test, proving it can protect even patients with severely hobbled immune systems from the deadly illness, HealthDay reports.

The vaccine is the first to ward off so-called opportunistic pathogens, microbes that thrive in people with weakened immune function. Staphylococcus aureus is one of the worst, a usually drug-resistant bacterium that kills between 10 percent and 25 percent of the people it infects.

However, a study in tomorrow's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine finds the new vaccine, called StaphVax, cut the incidence of blood-borne staph infections by nearly 60 percent in patients with end-stage kidney disease.

The vaccine also managed to provoke an immune response in 86 percent of these patients, who are extremely vulnerable to infections.


Kidney Treatment Causes Life-Threatening Condition in Some

A synthetic hormone used to treat anemic patients has instead left some with a potentially fatal form of the condition, reports the Associated Press.

The genetically engineered hormone called epoetin is designed to stimulate the growth of red blood cells in patients with anemia, and is also used by cancer and AIDS patients.

But in more than three dozen European kidney patients, the hormone prompted a halt in the production of red blood cells - a potentially life-threatening condition called aplasia -- within three months to five years.

The cases are reported in tomorrow's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Kidney patients in the United States use a biologically similar version of the brand of the hormone; only one such reaction has been reported here.


Love Gives You a Heart of Gold, Say Experts

Love enriches the heart in more ways than one, says the World Heart Federation.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the Geneva-based heart disease prevention organization has come out with some heart-warming news of its own: Love has been shown to be good for the heart by reduce depression, anxiety and stress, three big risk factors for heart disease.

The federation cites the fact that numerous studies have shown how love plays a role in heart health, according to wire reports.

In one study, men reporting that their wives "showed them their love" had half the risk of developing angina (heart disease-related chest pain). Another showed that people with coronary heart disease who were married lived longer than those who weren't, or had no love interest.


Lumber Industry Agrees to Halt Arsenic-Based Preservative

The lumber industry says it will discontinue use of an arsenic-based wood preservative by the end of 2003. Chromated copper arsenate (CCA), derived from the cancer-causing substance, is used to protect lumber from decay and insect infestation. It's often used on decks, playground equipment and picnic tables.

Critics of the chemical say it could rub off on a person's hands years after being applied. A statement on an industry Web site,, denied that CCA was unsafe. But it said the industry was responding to "perceptions in the marketplace" that the preservative posed a health hazard. The site said manufacturers will move toward an unspecified new class of preservatives.

While the Environmental Protection Agency pushed for the ban on new products treated with the substance, the EPA said it is not necessary for homeowners to remove existing products. According to the Associated Press, a spokesman said that applying an oil-based coating on top of the CCA-treated wood could reduce exposure to the pesticide.


Heart Disease Marker Tied to Alzheimer's

Large elevations in a blood molecule linked to heart disease also appear to double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and dementia, HealthDay reports.

A new study shows homocysteine is crucial for many of the body's biochemical processes, and its levels increase with age. However, the findings, which appear in tomorrow's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, also show that abnormally high levels of the molecule, and large increases over time, strongly predict who will develop dementia.

Taking folic acid and B vitamins can lower homocysteine, experts say, though there's no evidence yet to suggest these dietary measures can also reduce the risk of cognitive problems. However, researchers are now studying whether taking supplements can slow cognitive loss in those with mild and moderate Alzheimer's.


Fertility Group Issues Standards for HIV Couples

Fertility specialists shouldn't automatically dismiss the idea of HIV-infected parents having children, according to new ethics guidelines reported by the Associated Press. The standards were issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The guidelines say that modern therapies now make it possible to greatly reduce the risk of passing the virus that causes AIDS from mother to baby, the AP reports.

The group stressed, however, that HIV-infected couples are not encouraged to have children, and that doctors must make sure that prospective parents know the baby can be infected by the mother, regardless of the precautions taken.

Some 200 to 300 babies are born in the United States with HIV each year, though most are thought to be born to mothers who were improperly tested or treated for the virus, says the AP, citing a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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