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Health Highlights: March 31, 2003

Toronto Hospitals Limit Visits Due to SARS Gates Donates $60M to Combat HIV Expensive Stents May be Worth the Price Additive Seems to Fight Food Germs Parkinson's Drug Shows Strong Results FDA OKs Chemical-Burn Lotion for Pentagon

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

Toronto Hospitals Limit Visits Due to SARS

Almost all hospitals in and around Toronto closed their doors to visitors as a fourth person there died over the weekend from the global respiratory illness known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The latest fatality in Canada was a patient at Scarborough Grace Hospital, the Canadian epicenter of SARS. The victim had been in contact with the first patient who brought the illness into the country after a Hong Kong trip. Meanwhile, Toronto health officials reported that at least two children had been hospitalized with the disease.

The hospitals in Toronto and surrounding areas have closed their doors to all visitors except those for critically ill patients and very young children; most hospitals have also suspended elective surgeries, out-patient clinics and other non-emergency services.

The country now has approximately 98 suspected cases of SARS, in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, the Toronto Globe and Mail reports.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, 92 new SARS cases in an apartment complex that already had 121 were announced Monday. Hong Kong now has 530 cases, with 13 fatalities. The latest surge in cases led some health officials to fear that SARS could be more contagious than initially expected, the Associated Press reports.

More than 1,600 people in 13 countries have now been infected. The illness has prompted officials in Asian countries to impose long-unused quarantine laws, close schools and add health screenings for arriving travelers.

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Gates Donates $60M to Combat HIV

A $60 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be used to help develop an anti-HIV cream, gel, or similar product to protect women in developing countries from the virus that causes AIDS.

The grant was given to the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) in Silver, Spring, Md., the Associated Press reports.

Microbicides are topically applied products, such as gels, creams, sponges and films, that prevent sexual transmission of HIV. It's a segment of research largely ignored by major drug companies.

This is one of the largest donations made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to global health programs. IPM was formed in 2002 with a $15 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

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Expensive Stents May be Worth the Price

Drug-coated stents that cost three times more than standard stents used in angioplasty may actually save money in the long run, according to a newly released analysis.

The drug-coated stents could actually cut costs by reducing the number of cases where heart patients need repeat angioplasty or bypass surgery, the Associated Press reports.

The analysis by Dr. David Cohen of Harvard's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center was presented Sunday at the meeting of the American College of Cardiology. The study was paid for by Johnson & Johnson, which manufactures the new stent.

A stent is a mesh tube that is placed within a coronary artery to keep the vessel open.

While similar to standard stents, the new stents are coated with medicines meant to stop fresh muscle tissue from growing into the artery and forming scars after a person has angioplasty.

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Additive Seems to Fight Food Germs

You may some day be able to sprinkle your meals with a food additive that contains antibodies able to protect you against food poisoning.

Canadian scientists used freeze-dried egg yolk to create the food additive, which showed encouraging results in animal tests. Human tests are scheduled to start soon, BBC News Online reports.

Antibodies are proteins produced by the body's immune system. They protect the body by destroying bacteria and other invaders.

The scientists say they can mass produce antibodies that specifically target food-borne diseases such as E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, staphylococcus and listeria by injecting those bacteria into hens.

The hens would then produce eggs with yolks containing antibodies that fight those bacteria.

The research was presented recently at the American Chemical Society meeting.

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Parkinson's Drug Shows Strong Results

Preliminary studies of a new drug to combat Parkinson's disease have shown extraordinary results in the first five patients tested, the Associated Press reports.

The drug eliminated periods of immobility and reduced or stopped the involuntary movements that characterize the disease, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The medication, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), also improved the senses of people who had lost their ability to taste or smell.

Reporting in the March 31 online edition of the journal Nature Medicine, the scientists caution that the results are very preliminary. But the findings so far mean the drug "is worth studying very carefully," researcher Clive Svendsen tells the AP.

The current phase one of the trials has lasted nearly two years with no side effects, Svendsen says. The next phase is in the planning stages.

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FDA OKs Chemical-Burn Lotion for Pentagon

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it has approved a liquid decontamination lotion for soldiers exposed to chemical weapons.

Contained within a single-use sponge pad, Reactive Skin Decontamination Lotion (RSDL) is meant to be applied as soon as possible after exposure. After being wiped on the skin, it neutralizes the chemical agents, making them non-toxic and alleviating any burning sensation.

The expedited FDA approval followed U.S. Army-led skin irritation and sensitization tests on some 300 people. The product is manufactured by Canada's O'Dell Engineering Ltd.

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