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Health Highlights: May 12, 2002

Jesse Jackson Released from Hospital Report Finds U.S. Lab Security Lax Assisted-Suicide Activist Dies in Britain Salmonella-Contaminated Cantaloupe Recalled Dengue Fever Scare Over in Hawaii AIDS Rising Among Older People

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

Jesse Jackson Released from Hospital

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was released from a Chicago hospital today after checking in yesterday with complaints of shoulder muscle pain.

Officials at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where Jackson spent the night, say the pain was believed to be related to an automobile accident the activist was involved in several weeks ago, reports the Associated Press.

Doctors ruled out other problems that the pain may have been related to and sent Jackson home with instructions to adjust his schedule to include more rest and relaxation.

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Report Finds U.S. Lab Security Lax

An investigation of 124 Agriculture Department labs where potentially deadly viruses are stored has found that nearly half of the labs have lapses in security that could leave them vulnerable to bioterrorism.

Labs often had such problems as a lack of alarm systems, security fences or surveillance cameras, and even though authorities were aware of the lapses, budget constraints and "pre-Sept. 11 management policies" prevented their being addressed, reports the Associated Press.

Even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax attacks by mail, several labs did not keep accurate records of dangerous biological agents. They even kept some vials without labels.

Nuclear material sent abroad several decades ago has not been tracked by the Energy Department and the report says one Agricultural Department lab had lost track of a vial containing 3 billion doses of Vesicular stomatitis virus, which can cause a flu-like illness in humans as well as fever and lesions in animals that can lead to malnutrition.

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Assisted-Suicide Activist Dies in Britain

A paralyzed British woman who made headlines in her unsuccessful fight for permission to allow her husband to help her commit suicide has died.

The Associated Press reports that Diane Pretty, 43, died yesterday at a hospice near her home in England. Pretty had suffered from a motor neuron disease since 1999 that left her paralyzed from the neck down The wire service said she had been experiencing breathing difficulties for several days.

Although suicide is legal in Britain, helping someone commit suicide is not. Britain's highest court turned down her request to allow her husband to help her commit suicide, and the case was again defeated two weeks ago when it went before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Pretty had argued that she wanted the right to take her own life because she feared a slow and painful death from asphyxiation. Her husband, Brian Petty, reportedly said Sunday that his wife "had to go through the one thing she had foreseen and was afraid of -- and there was nothing I could do to help."

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Salmonella-Contaminated Cantaloupe Recalled

Cantaloupes sold under the brand name of Susie in retail stores and restaurants around the United States and Canada are being recalled this weekend due to a contamination of Salmonella, reports the Associated Press.

The cantaloupes' importer, I. Kunik Co., of McAllen, Tex., says dozens of people have been infected with the organism Salmonella poona from the cantaloupes. The infection can cause healthy people to experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

In children, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems, the infection can be fatal.

The recall was prompted when the Food and Drug Administration traced the illnesses back to the Susie brand cantaloupes.

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Dengue Fever Scare Over in Hawaii

Hawaiian health officials report that an outbreak of dengue fever that began in Maui last fall and spread through the Hawaiian islands is over, but that residents should not be complacent about the disease or preventing its spread.

The outbreak sickened 89 people in Maui, 26 in Oahu, and four in Kauai.

Since dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, the health department had been urging residents and business owners to try to control the insects by eliminating pools of standing water. The department attributes those efforts to getting rid of the disease, reports the Associated Press.

The outbreak was the first time the virus had appeared in Hawaii since World War II, when the illnesses of 1,500 people prompted the closure of Waikiki. At that time, the disease was believed to have been brought in by United States servicemen returning from the South Pacific.

In the most recent cases, officials believe the disease was brought to the islands by people traveling from Tahiti or American Samoa, where dengue fever is still an epidemic.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, and rashes on the palms and feet.

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AIDS Rising Among Older People

Safe sex precautions and AIDS prevention warnings are nearly always targeted, logically, towards the segment of the population deemed the most sexually active -- youth.

But experts say AIDS is meanwhile quietly becoming a problem faced by the elderly as well, due to everything from a more sexually active older population, fewer concerns about pregnancy (and, hence, protection), and the introduction of Viagra, reports the Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of Americans over 50 with AIDS has in fact increased from 10 percent in the early 1990s to 13.4 percent in 1999, the most recent figures available.

Part of the problem, say experts, is that most doctors don't even ask about older patients' sex lives, let alone offer safe sex advice.

Meanwhile, AIDS can cause countless additional problems in older people, not the least of which are possible adverse reactions between HIV/AIDS medication and drugs that aging people usually take.

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