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

Scientists Create Synthetic Polio, Warn Others Could Too

Researchers say they've been able to manufacture a synthetic form of the deadly polio virus with little more than a few mail order materials and information found on the Internet, and they warn that others with more sinister motives could do the same.

The scientists, with the University of New York at Stony Brook, say the virus was constructed using a genetic blueprint found on the Internet and tailor-made sequences ordered through a laboratory supply service, reports the Associated Press.

"This approach has been talked about, but people didn't take it seriously," warned Dr. Eckard Wimmer, leader of the research team that assembled the virus. "Now people have to take it seriously. Progress in biomedical research has its benefits, and it has its down side."

The form of the polio virus that was assembled is one of the simplest of human plagues, and other lethal viruses, such as smallpox, would be much more complicated to assemble. But the scientists predict that those, too, will probably be possible in the future.

The research appears in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

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Most Americans Unaware of Cancer-Obesity Link: Report

Few Americans know that cancer is a risk factor of being obese, according to a new study.

A poll of 1,205 adults conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research asked Americans if they knew about the various risk factors of obesity. Most said they knew their chances of diabetes and heart disease increased, but only 25 percent said they knew of the cancer risk, reports CNN

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization estimates one-quarter to one-third of cancer cases worldwide are related to being overweight and physically inactive.

Such cancers as post-menopausal breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, esophageal cancer, endometrial cancer and kidney cancer are increased among nonsmoking overweight and obese adults, according to the report.

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HRT Drug Maker Scrambles to Retain Short-Term Users

Probably reeling from this week's bombshell news that its brand of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may increase the risk of stroke and breast cancer, drug maker Wyeth is moving fast in its spin control efforts.

The New York Times reports that as soon as news came out yesterday that a trial using the hormone replacement drug Prempro was halted early due to the clear risks, Wyeth began sending 500,000 letters to doctors and other health care providers.

The letters reportedly urge health care providers to discuss the "critical role" that Prempro has in relieving the symptoms of menopause, and they stress the study's findings that the heightened risks were mainly seen in women who took the drug for more than four years.

About six million women take Prempro, which is a combination of estrogen and progestin. Along with a related therapy drug, Premarin, the drugs accounted for about $2 billion in sales for Wyeth last year.

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Annual Cost to Treat AIDS Patient: $14,000 to $34,000

It costs an average of $14,000 to $34,000 annually to treat an AIDS patient in the United States, CNN reports of a study released at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona.

University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers say the higher number applies to people with advanced AIDS, while the lower figure applies to those who take the so-called AIDS "cocktail" to keep the HIV virus at bay. Patients with full-blown advanced AIDS also must take drugs to fight infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis and some cancers that prey on people with weak immune systems.

Seriously ill patients must also pay annual hospital costs of about $6,000, the researchers say.

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Bush Panel Split on Cloning Moratorium

President Bush's advisors have issued a split decision on whether the government should allow research on cloned human embryos.

In a vote taken late yesterday, 10 members of the 18-person President's Council on Bioethics endorsed a four-year ban on the practice. Seven members argued that research should be allowed with sufficient oversight, and one member abstained.

All members agreed that cloning for reproductive purposes alone should be banned outright, reports the Associated Press. But the panel was divided over a total ban on cloning, which would include production of embryos for scientific research to combat a host of diseases and conditions.

Bush has voiced support for a total ban on human cloning, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a complete ban last year. The Democrat-led Senate has yet to consider the issue.

The panel's recommendations are not binding.

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Children's Bikes Sold at Target Recalled

Dynacraft Industries Inc., of San Rafael, Calif., is recalling 4,700 Vertical XL2 mountain bicycles, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. The forks on these bikes can break apart during use, causing riders to fall and suffer serious injury.

Dynacraft has received six reports of the forks breaking apart, causing injuries including scrapes, cuts, bruises, and broken teeth.

The recall includes only 24-inch Vertical XL2 red mountain bikes with model number 8524-21. A label on the frame near the crank housing identifies the model number. "Vertical" is written on the top tube, and "XL2" is written on the down tube.

Target stores nationwide sold the bikes from August 1999 through March 2000 for about $130.

Consumers should stop using the bicycles immediately and contact Dynacraft for information on receiving a free replacement fork and free installation. Call Dynacraft at 1-800-288-1560 between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit the company Web site at www.dynacraftbike.com.

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