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Health Highlights: Feb. 24, 2002

Defective Gene Tied to Uterine Fibroids Higher Death Rates Seen Among Older Patients with Delirium Experts Seek Better Air Testing at Ground Zero Heart Disease a New Concern for People with AIDS Powder Found at Army Post Not Anthrax Vitamin C Can Prevent Cataracts in Women Red Cross Withdraws from Salt Lake Condom Program

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

Defective Gene Tied to Uterine Fibroids

The identification of a genetic mutation could one day lead to new treatments for fibroids, a common gynecological problem that can cause discomfort, bleeding and reduced fertility, HealthDay reports.

An international team of scientists has identified a gene mutation linked to a condition called multiple cutaneous and uterine leiomyomatosis, which causes noncancerous but problematic fibroid tumors in the uterus and skin. Uterine fibroids usually appear in women between the ages of 20 and 35.

In the United States, roughly 30 percent of women develop uterine fibroids during their lifetime, but not every woman will experience the symptoms of pain and bleeding.

Current treatments include drugs that can temporarily shrink the fibroids. But some women require surgical removal of the fibroids or even a hysterectomy, although that procedure is usually a last resort.

A team led by Dr. Richard Houlston, an expert in cancer genetics at the Institute of Cancer Research in Surrey, England, had narrowed the search for the uterine fibroid gene to chromosome 1 by May 2001.

But after learning that other teams of researchers in England and Finland were looking for the same gene, the scientists decided to pool their research and work together. The result was the identification of the fumarate hydratase, or FH gene, which they describe in the Feb. 25 issue of Nature Genetics.

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Higher Death Rates Seen Among Older Patients with Delirium

Older hospital patients who experience delirium have a much higher risk of death than those who don't have the condition, new research shows.

Researchers with St. Mary's Hospital Center in Montreal say that in tracking 361 patients who were over 65 years old, they found that those with delirium -- including possible hallucinations, disorientation, illusions, anxiety, and confusion -- had a risk of death that was more than twice that of those without such symptoms, according to wire reports.

The researchers say the results should prompt more research to determine changes in treatment that could reduce the problem, as well as more attention to how such patients can be better cared for following discharge from hospitals.

The report was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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Experts Seek Better Air Testing at Ground Zero

Most of the smoke may have cleared, but the air the World Trade Center disaster site may still not be safe, despite what the Environmental Protection Agency suggests, an air quality expert testified yesterday.

In testifying at a hearing on the safety of the air at Ground Zero, University of California-Davis professor Thomas Cahill told New York officials that the air around the site could contain cancer-causing, ultra-fine particles that the EPA has not sufficiently tested for, reports the Associated Press.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose congressional district includes the Ground Zero area, chaired the hearing.

Nadler has been critical of the EPA, claiming the agency failed to protect public health by proclaiming the downtown area safe without actually testing the indoor air of businesses or apartments.

When asked if he thought the air around the site was safe, Cahill said, "Safe is a difficult word." He explained that people with adverse health conditions such as asthma may be more adversely affected by the air than healthy people.

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Heart Disease a New Concern for People with AIDS

When AIDS experts gather in Seattle today for an annual conference, an unusual topic will be on their lips: heart disease.

Just a few years ago, AIDS doctors would have hardly discussed the risk of heart attacks, which typically strike older people. Many people with AIDS simply never lived that long.

Now AIDS drugs are extending life spans. At the same time, however, they appear to be raising cholesterol to shockingly high levels.

"We're having to go back to learning about cardiovascular medicine, which is not something we had to worry about before," says Dr. Howard Grossman, who treats people with AIDS in New York City.

As many as half those taking drugs known as the "AIDS cocktail" may need cholesterol-lowering drugs, adds Dr. Princy Kumar, director of the division of infectious diseases at Georgetown University.

The annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections is set to run through Feb. 28.

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Powder Found at Army Post Not Anthrax

A suspicious bag of white powder that caused a scare Friday at Georgia's Fort McPherson 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 negative, reports the Associated Press.

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.

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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.

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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."

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