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Health Highlights: Feb. 23, 2002

Powder Found at Army Post Not Anthrax Vitamin C Can Prevent Cataracts in Women Red Cross Withdraws from Salt Lake Condom Program Pharmacist Accused of Collecting Blood Samples for Nonexistent Research Appetite Drug Wears Off Fast in Fit Mice Hormone Therapy Cuts Leg Ulcer Risk in Older Women

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

Powder Found at Army Post Not Anthrax

A suspicious bag of white powder that caused a scare yesterday at Georgia's Fort McPherson likely did not contain anthrax, according to Army officials.

Initial tests of the powder did come up positive as possibly being anthrax, but further evaluation of the substance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show results that are most likely negative, reports the Associated Press.

Army officials say there is a 99 percent chance of the tests being negative, but a full 24 hours is needed before knowing the results for certain.

The plastic bag was found at a building housing the Army Reserve Command. Five employees and two civilians were showered down as a precaution and the building was locked down for about five hours with 200 people inside.

A CDC spokesperson said it's not unusual for initial field tests to show false positives.


Vitamin C Can Prevent Cataracts in Women

Here's an easy one to remember -- when you think of vitamin C, think of preventing cataracts.

According to a study of 492 women published in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women under 60 who had a daily intake of at least 362 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C had a 57 percent lower risk of developing cortical cataracts than those who had taken less than 140 mg of the vitamin per day.

And women who had taken vitamin C supplements regularly for at least 10 years had a 60 percent lower risk of developing the problems, according to wire reports.

Cataracts are a common affliction among people over 70 and result when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy.

Cortical cataracts cause cloudiness specifically in the central lens of the eye.


Red Cross Withdraws from Salt Lake Condom Program

The Red Cross says it's withdrawing its participation in a program to distribute condoms at the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City amid reports that a 14-year-girl was among the recipients.

Susan Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross's Salt Lake City chapter, said that in addition to the report of the girl, the organization was concerned about other incidents involving volunteers handing out the condoms, including one in which a condom packet was thrown at a local community leader, the Associated Press reports.

Conservative and anti-abortion groups had expressed opposition to the program, but Sheehan said that did not influence the Red Cross's decision to withdraw.

About 250,000 condoms were to be handed out around Salt Lake City venues as part of packets that also included hand warmers and lip balm.

Sheehan said the Red Cross agreed to the program as addressing a serious public health issue, but that it had taken on a more "frivolous message."


Pharmacist Accused of Collecting Blood Samples for Nonexistent Research

You might call him the drugstore Dracula.

A Kansas pharmacist has been charged with taking samples of blood from dozens of people over the course of 11 years under the auspices of research that apparently did not exist.

Police in Newton, Kansas, charged 29-year-old Corey Penner with 31 counts of battery for allegedly drawing blood from just about anyone who would let him, according to the Associated Press.

Penner reportedly paid the donors $20 for the samples, which he said were needed for research on high blood pressure that he was conducting with a Kansas City doctor.

Over the years, Penner had apparently obtained samples from people in a variety of places, including in cars, in a church, and in the back room of the supermarket where he was employed.

None of the donors suffered any resulting health problems.

Penner has meanwhile been suspended from his job and the Kansas State Board of Pharmacy says he has agreed to stop working as a pharmacist.


Appetite Drug Wears Off Fast in Fit Mice

Fit mice given a drug that suppresses appetite in obese rodents stop eating briefly, but quickly shrug off the effects of the treatment and within about a day are back at the trough with gusto, reports HealthDay.

"Somehow the lean animals adapt and they adapt very quickly," says M. Daniel Lane, a Johns Hopkins University biochemist and a co-author of the study, which appears in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The compound, C75, blocks an enzyme called fatty acid synthase (FAS). In doing so, the drug tells the body that it's experiencing a fuel glut and that no eating will be necessary for a while. Suppressing appetite reduces food intake, forcing the body to deplete its reservoirs of fat and promoting weight loss.

Earlier studies have shown that obese mice slim down dramatically when given C75. The latest work sought to learn what happens when lean animals get the drug.

After a single injection of the drug, lean and obese mice almost completely ceased eating, cutting their food intake by roughly 90 percent. But within about a day, the thin rodents were hungry again, and once the treatment stopped they began overeating.

The genetically obese animals, on the other hand, didn't begin to resist the shots until day four of the five-day trial, after they'd already lost 15 percent of their body weight.


HRT Cuts Risk of Leg Ulcers in Older Women

Besides easing the symptoms of menopause, hormone replacement therapy may also help keep your skin healthy, reports HealthDay.

The latest study on the potential benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) found the treatment might help prevent leg ulcers and bedsores. Results of the study appear in today's issue of The Lancet.

"Women on HRT were about 40 percent less likely to develop either leg ulcers or pressure ulcers," says lead author Dr. David Margolis, an associate professor of epidemiology and dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Venous leg ulcers refer to a break in the skin on the leg. This type of injury occurs in about 1 percent of people over 65, says Margolis. They occur most often in people with poor circulation, and the older you get, the higher your risk for developing these painful sores.

Margolis and his colleagues studied data from 44,195 women in the United Kingdom, all of whom were 65 or older. Almost 5,000 of the women were on hormone therapy for six months or more.

Only 108 of the women on HRT developed venous leg ulcers, while 1,744 women in the whole group had the condition. Of the 802 women with pressure ulcers, only 49 of them were women on HRT, the study found.

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