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Health Highlights: Feb. 8, 2002

Herbal Supplements Containing Prescription Drugs Recalled Friends Are Allies Against Another Stroke Gulf War Vets Not Only Soldiers To Have Mystery Illnesses, Says Study Mystery Rash Closes Two Pennsylvania Schools No Fairy Tale: Blind Mice and Frogs Shed New Light on the Eye A-Bomb Tests Caused Mutations

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

Herbal Supplements Containing Prescription Drugs Recalled

Two herbal supplements sold as treatments for prostate and immune system enhancement have been recalled by manufacturer BotanicLab for containing potentially dangerous prescription drugs, the Food and Drug Administration announced today.

According to the Associated Press, tests conducted by the California Health Department revealed that the product PC SPES, marketed for prostate health, contains a powerful blood thinner called warfarin, and SPES, sold as an immune enhancer, contains the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam, widely known as Xanax.

Warfarin can reportedly cause serious bleeding that can be exacerbated when taken with aspirin, and alprazolam can be habit-forming and increase the effect of alcohol.


Friends Are Allies Against Another Stroke

You really can get by with a little help from your friends.

That's according to a new study, which says that people who've suffered one stroke are less likely to have another bout of cardiovascular trouble if they have more than three friends, reports HealthDay.

The latest study included more than 650 elderly New Yorkers, whose average age was 69, all of whom had suffered a stroke. Slightly more than half of the subjects were women, 54 percent were Hispanic, and 27 percent were black.

About 270 of the subjects, or roughly 40 percent, had a second stroke, suffered a heart attack, or died during the five-year study period, say the researchers.

Many of the patients had high blood pressure, diabetes, abnormal heart rhythms, and other factors -- especially old age -- that raised their odds of additional cardiovascular trouble.

But even after accounting for these risks, subjects who reported having more than three friends were 40 percent less likely than those with smaller support networks to have one of the three bad outcomes, the researchers say.

The results were presented this week at a meeting in San Antonio of the American Stroke Association.


Gulf War Soldiers Not Only Ones To Have Mystery Illnesses, Says Study

New research indicates that inexplicable afflictions collectively dubbed Gulf War Syndrome may in fact more appropriately be called "War Syndrome."

According to research published in the Feb 8 issue of the British Medical Journal, veterans of the Gulf War aren't the only ones to return home complaining of various physical and psychological symptoms that cannot be thoroughly explained by doctors.

In fact, veterans of most wars dating back to the 19th century have suffered from a range of problems that can't be explained, says the study.

"The thing we're showing is that all major wars seem to produce post-combat syndromes,'' researcher Edgar Jones, an expert on the history of medicine and psychiatry at the Guy's, King's and St. Thomas's School of Medicine at the University of London, told the Associated Press. "War is harmful to your health.''

While a specific cause of Gulf War Syndrome hasn't been established, one study suggested a link between vaccines soldiers received and the problems.

Gulf War veteran groups criticized the study, accusing the researchers of covering up the true causes of Gulf War Syndrome and of minimizing veterans' complaints.


Mystery Rash Closes Two Pennsylvania Schools

A mystery rash that has affected nearly 100 children has caused the closing of two Pennsylvania elementary schools, reports the Associated Press.

Health officials say none of the children or teachers at the two Bucks County schools became seriously ill from the rashes, and that the symptoms of a pink, burning rash seemed to disappear after a few hours of being out of the environment of the schools.

Closed at least through Monday were Richland Elementary School and Quakertown Elementary School, both about 40 miles north of Philadelphia.

Students at three other schools in the vicinity also complained of rashes, but officials said they did not know whether those were related to the outbreak.


No Fairy Tale: Blind Mice and Frogs Shed New Light on the Eye

The New York Times has a new spin on Mother Goose and the Grimm Brothers, and it has to do with an optical discovery:

"With the help of three kinds of blind mice and some ugly frogs, scientists have discovered a new class of light-sensing cells in the retina," Times' writer Sandra Blakeslee reports. "The cells, which are different from the rods and cones that enable vision, appear to reset the body's master biological clock each morning and night. The researchers said that while the finding was made in mice, it was certain to hold true for humans, with implications for possible treatment of sleep disorders, jet lag, depression and other maladies involving the body's internal clock," Blakeslee continued.

And where do the frogs come in? From Dr. Ignacio Provencio, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.. His experiments with frogs led the way to further testing with mice.

The latest edition of the journal Science has the details.


A-Bomb Tests Caused Mutations

Speaking of the journal Science, the periodical is also reporting on the results of a study on atom bomb tests in the Soviet Union more than 50 years ago.

The Associated Press reports a study published in the latest issue of indicates that radiation from Soviet atomic bomb testing caused gene mutations in families living nearby.

But no one knows whether there will be any adverse health effects. There were genetic DNA changes in the blood, according to a study from a group of European researchers.

"For the generation exposed to radiation from bomb tests in 1949, 1951, 1953 and 1956, the study found a mutation rate that was about 80 percent higher than in the corresponding generation in the control group," the AP reports. "In the children of the exposed generation, the researchers found a mutation rate about 50 percent greater than in the group that had not been exposed to radiation."

The study was confined to an area of Kazakstan, near the site where the Soviet A-tests were conducted.


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