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Health Highlights: Feb. 15,  2002

A Cat Fight With a Twist High Salmonella Levels Seen at Turkey Plants Alcohol Raises Risk of Stillbirth Army Recruits Have Heavier But Harder Bodies, Says Study Cocaine Causes AIDS Virus to Spread Faster Single Men at Risk for Earlier Death Mental Illness Not as Common as First Thought, Study Finds

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

A Cat Fight With a Twist

She's soft and cuddly and less than 2 months old. But CC, the world's first cloned cat, is already sparking an ethical furor over the possibility of cloning deceased pets for grieving animal lovers, reports HealthDay.

The researchers who created CC stress that people can't expect cloning to resurrect a lost pet, particularly its personality.

Still, experts worry that companies that one day might specialize in cloning could prey on grief-stricken owners.

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, says he's also concerned that cloning could lead to a devaluation of animal life, or to the creation of many sick cloned animals.

CC, short for "CopyCat", was born Dec. 22 at Texas A&M University. She joins the ranks of cloned species that include sheep, mice, cattle, goats and pigs.

The details of her creation and birth appear in the Feb. 21 issue of the journal Nature, which was released early once word of the cloning spread.

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High Salmonella Levels Seen at Turkey Plants

Inspections of five U.S. turkey plants have turned up high levels of salmonella contamination in raw turkey, reports the Associated Press.

The Center for Science and Public Interest, a Washington consumer group, announced today that it had obtained data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing that almost half the turkeys processed at a Colorado plant owned by ConAgra were contaminated with salmonella last year, and three other plants inspected in 2001 had contamination levels above 25 percent.

Salmonella can cause severe symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea and can be potentially fatal to the elderly or those with weak immune systems.

Since the salmonella bacteria can be destroyed with proper cooking, however, industry officials say the public would only be in danger if the turkey was consumed undercooked.

A ConAgra spokesperson, meanwhile, said the company had taken steps to improve safety conditions at the Colorado plant.

The USDA is reportedly considering whether to adopt performance standards for turkey plants.

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Alcohol Raises Risk of Stillbirth

Danish researchers who have already found a connection between alcohol use and a higher risk of miscarriage now say that drinking during pregnancy also increases the risk of stillbirth, HealthDay reports.

The researchers, from Aarhus University, found women who consumed five or more drinks per week were almost three times more likely to deliver a stillborn baby than were women who had less than one drink a week.

In the first study, announced last week in the February issue of the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, the team found that five or more drinks of alcohol consumed during the first trimester increased the risk of miscarriage. Surprisingly, the study also found that alcohol had no such effect during the second trimester.

However, in those women who did not lose their babies during the first trimester and continued to drink, up to as many as nine of every 1,000 went on to deliver stillborn babies.

The latest research appears in today's issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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Army Recruits Have Heavier But Harder Bodies, Says Study

Army recruits are weighing in at numbers higher than previous years, but those extra pounds are on some harder bodies, according to new research.

An Army study looking at the aerobic capacity, strength and body characteristics of recruits in 1998, compared with those of recruits in 1978 and 1983, found that while the 1998 recruits weighed more and carried more body fat than those in previous years, they were stronger on all measures of muscle strength.

And in terms of aerobic fitness, the recent men were found to be just as fit as their predecessors, and women's fitness exceeded the earlier recruits, according to wire reports.

The findings were reported in the February issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

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Study: Cocaine Causes AIDS Virus to Spread Faster

The AIDS virus spreads significantly faster in the bodies of mice injected with cocaine, according to a new UCLA study.

AIDS-infected mice injected with cocaine had 200 times as much of the HIV virus in their systems as mice that were injected with a placebo, according to the research published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Based on the weights of the various mice, they were injected with amounts of cocaine comparable to the doses taken by human users.

Although the study's authors speculate that the phenomenon probably occurs in humans, as well, they concede that a similar study in people would be unethical, according to those quoted by the Associated Press.

The research appears to confirm that cocaine can accelerate the spread of viral and bacterial infections by suppressing the immune system. The mice injected with cocaine had fewer CD4 T-cells, the type of immune cell that's credited with fighting the AIDS virus, the researchers say.

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Single Men, With Less Emotional Stability, at Risk for Earlier Death

Single men have less emotional security than those who are married, putting them at risk of earlier death, Swedish researchers report.

Although other research has found that single men tend to die sooner, the new study suggests that emotional factors play more of a role than physical characteristics, BBC News reports.

Married men are more likely to confide in their wives than their friends, while the reverse is true for women, the study finds. That would explain why married men are better able to handle stress, the researchers say.

Less of an ability to deal with stressful situations would account for why unmarried men are at greater risk of stroke and heart disease, their article in the British Medical Journal says.

The researchers also cite occupation, income and education as most influencing a person's emotional outlook.

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Mental Illness Not as Common as First Thought, Study Finds

Older research that has been used for years to gauge the prevalence of mental illness in the United States has overstated the problem, a new study finds.

The older surveys, conducted during the mid-1980s and early 90s, concluded that almost 30 percent of Americans suffer some form of mental illness during any given year, and that about half would need mental health services at some time during their lives.

Using new methods to determine whether symptoms of mental illness mean a person actually has a mental disorder, the new study finds that the prevalence of mental disorders is only about 18.5 percent annually, or 19.2 million people less than the older studies found, the Associated Press reports.

Results of the new study are published in February's Archives of General Psychiatry.

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