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Health Highlights: March 24, 2003

Crop Duster Used in Anti-bioterrorism Test Stanford Scientists Create Nerve Cell Chip Dogs Don't Need Yearly Rabies Vaccinations FDA Signals Crackdown on Cheaper Drugs from Canada Compound Developed to Thwart Foodborne Germs

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

Crop Duster Used in Anti-bioterrorism Test

A crop duster plane sprayed a mix of clay, water and alcohol over Oklahoma on Monday to determine whether radar is able to detect clouds of chemical or biological weapons.

The test was conducted by the U.S. Army and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The harmless spray mixture was meant to create a mist similar to airborne particles consistent with a bioterrorism attack, the Associated Press reports.

Oklahoma was selected for the test because the state has an advanced weather radar system. Similar tests have been done in Florida, Utah and Maryland.

The Oklahoma test was originally scheduled for Feb. 24. But it was delayed when residents of Goldsby complained about two of the test mixture's ingredients -- powdered egg whites and a sterilized natural pesticide. The materials were deleted from the spray used in Monday's test.

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Stanford Scientists Create Nerve Cell Chip

A chemical microchip that could help nerve cells communicate with each other has been developed by scientists at Stanford University in California.

The microchip is an "artificial synapse" that could work more like the brain's normal signaling system than current microchips, which have to be stimulated via electricity, BBC News Online reports.

Using these new chemical microchips, the scientists hope to develop implants that are able to interact with the body's nervous system.

So far, they've created four artificial synapses on a silicone chip 1 centimeter square. But more research is needed to overcome a number of obstacles, including how to prevent immune cells from clogging the artificial synapse.

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Dogs Don't Need Yearly Rabies Vaccinations

Your pooch may howl with delight about new guidelines that suggest dogs don't need annual vaccinations against rabies, distemper and a few other dangerous diseases.

The guidelines say those major shots are required once every three years, and less critical vaccines should be used only in certain instances, the Associated Press reports.

The new recommendations -- based on research by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Ronald Schultz -- appear in this month's issue of Trends, the journal of the American Animal Hospital Association.

Schultz's studies found that a rabies vaccine lasts about three years, and vaccines for the three other most dangerous canine diseases last seven years or more. Schultz recommends that dogs still need yearly visits to the vet for health issues such as heartworm, skin problems, tumors, and tooth decay.

The new guidelines are supported by the American colleges of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Veterinary Microbiology, and the American Association of Veterinary Immunologists.

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FDA Signals Crackdown on Cheaper Drugs from Canada

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it has warned an Arkansas firm about illegally importing cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

Calling Rx Depot Inc.'s actions "a risk to public health," the agency says the firm's Web site is making "misleading assurances to consumers about the safety of their drugs." The FDA says the company and similar pharmacy "storefronts" often call their drugs "FDA approved," when in fact the agency has no ability to regulate drugs imported illegally from other countries.

In a prepared statement, the agency says drugs not subject to FDA regulation could be outdated, contaminated, counterfeit, or contain inappropriate amounts of the active ingredient. What's more, the absence of FDA labeling requirements could pose a danger of serious side effects to consumers who obtain their drugs this way.

In conjunction with a similar warning issued by the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy, Rx Depot has 15 days to respond to the edicts before the FDA takes unspecified "appropriate action," the agency says.

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Compound Developed to Thwart Foodborne Germs

Canadian researchers say they've developed a compound that could be sprinkled on food to prevent many common foodborne germs, the Scripps Howard News Service reports.

The tasteless substance, devised from freeze-dried egg yolks, could thwart common germs like E. coli and salmonella, which could also be used as bioterrorism agents, the news service says.

The spice-like substance doesn't kill the germs, but prevents them from infecting you up to two hours after you eat, report researchers from the University of Alberta. It is produced by first injecting hens with foodborne germs. The hens then develop germ antibodies, which accumulate in the yolks of eggs laid by the hens. The antibody cocktail is then processed and freeze-dried.

But unlike some vaccines that are made using a similar process, the cocktail antibodies are not alive and pose no danger of infection, the researchers say.

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