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Health Highlights: June 29, 2002

Measles Cases Increasing With Vaccine Fears in Britain U.S. Awards China AIDS Research Grant Bush Back After Colonoscopy Elderly Woman Awarded $5.3 Million in Ant Attack Freezing Meat Increases Bacteria Risk: Report

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

Measles Cases Increasing With Vaccine Fears in Britain

British health officials are reporting a dramatic increase in cases of measles that is alarmingly coinciding with a drop in childhood vaccinations against the disease due to parental fears.

The Public Health Laboratory Service reports that the number of confirmed measles cases in England and Wales amounted to 126 between January and March 2002. That's more than four times the mere 32 cases reported in the last quarter of 2001.

Most of the cases were attributed to an outbreak at several nurseries and schools in south London. The outbreak has reportedly subsided, but doctors in London are predicting an epidemic of the potentially fatal disease within the next two years, reports the BBC.

The problem is being largely blamed on what health officials call a "media hysteria" over a suspected link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)vaccination and cases of autism and Crohn's disease. There is much debate and ongoing research on a possible link.

Meanwhile, the number of children receiving the MMR vaccine has fallen to about 70 percent in England and Wales - well below the government's target of 95 percent.

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U.S. Awards China AIDS Research Grant

Just a day after the U.N. harshly criticized China on its inadequate efforts to control the country's rapidly increasing AIDS problem comes word that the United States is awarding a substantial grant to Chinese scientists for AIDS research.

U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson announced yesterday that the U.S. National Institutes of Health had awarded a $14.8 million grant to China to research the disease.

A day earlier, the U.N. predicted that China's AIDS epidemic could result in as many as 10 million people infected with the virus by the end of the decade.

The problem is attributed to problems including intravenous drug use, poor sanitation in China's blood supply and unsafe sex practices among both heterosexuals and homosexuals, reports the Associated Press.

The five-year NIH grant is part of an agreement between the United States and China to cooperate in finding better treatment and prevention of the AIDS virus. The agreement includes a focus on improving China's blood supply and its HIV testing programs.

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Bush Back After Colonoscopy

President Bush is back at the helm after undergoing a colonoscopy this morning that revealed no polyps or abnormalities, reports MSNBC.

The colonoscopy was conducted at Camp David by a team of military doctors overseen by the White House physician, Dr. Richard Tubb. It was performed as a precautionary measure following the removal of several polyps from Bush's colon in 1998.

Since the procedure required that Bush be sedated, presidential powers were transferred for just over two hours to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in Washington, D.C.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the presidential powers were transferred at 7:09 a.m., EDT. Anesthesia was then administered and the procedure was complete by 7:29 a.m. Bush "awoke" at 7:31 a.m., and he resumed power at 9:24 a.m.

"The president says he feels great," and planned to return to his normal activities at Camp David in the afternoon, Fleischer told reporters.

A colonoscopy is considered the best way to examine the colon and to find and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Colon cancer kills more than 50,000 Americans annually and is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, behind lung cancer, the Associated Press reports.

The procedure, performed regularly, is thought to reduce the risk of colon cancer by up to 90 percent. More than 2 million are performed annually in this country.

The procedure uses a flexible tube containing an optical scope equipped with a surgical cutter that enables the doctor to view the entire length of the colon and remove any polyps discovered.

The two polyps that were surgically removed from Bush's colon in 1998 were found to be benign, but since they can be an early sign of colon cancer, colonoscopies are often recommended as part of routine follow-up examinations.

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Elderly Woman Awarded $5.3 Million in Ant Attack

An elderly woman who received hundreds of fire ant bites after the insects swarmed her room at an assisted living facility has been awarded $5.3 million by a jury, reports the Associated Press.

Jurors in Huntsville, Ala., ruled that the Greystone Retirement Community, where the woman lived, and the pest control company used by the facility, Terminix International, should each pay compensation of $1.85 million and punitive damages of $1.75 million.

The lawsuit had been filed by the daughter of the victim, Lucille Devers, now 79. Devers survived the bites and now lives in another assisted living facility.

Lawyers for Terminix had argued that there was no way of exterminating all of the ants, and Greystone attorneys said the managers had no expertise in controlling pests. A spokesperson for Terminix says the company will appeal the verdict.

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Freezing Meat Increases Bacteria Risk: Report

Meat that has been frozen and then thawed may be much more susceptible to bacteria that can lead to food poisoning, according to a report in today's BBC Online.

A British researcher who compared thawed meat with fresh meat says he found that the process of freezing meat creates ice crystals that open an interconnecting network of gaps. When the meat is then thawed, the gaps become microscopic canals through which bacteria can penetrate deep inside the meat.

With fresh meat, most bacteria remain on the surface. "On fresh meat, you have infection in two dimensions, but after it is thawed, it's 3-D," Ashley Wilson, director of the Center for Cell and Tissue Research at the University of York, told the BBC.

Whether you're cooking frozen or fresh meat, experts strongly recommend cooking the meat thoroughly to prevent food poisoning.

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