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Health Highlights: May 13, 2002

Zookeeper's Arm Severed in Lion Attack Can't Be Reattached Calcium Heart Test Has Critics Anthrax Letters Contaminated 5,000 Other Pieces of Mail: Study Study Makes No Bones About Tea World Health Meeting Convening Vehicle Crashes Cost $230 Billion Annually

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

Zookeeper's Arm Severed in Lion Attack Can't Be Reattached

Doctors in Florida say they were not able to reattach the arm of a 21-year-old zookeeper after the limb was severed near the elbow by a lion at the Busch Gardens theme park.

The woman was attacked while taking her parents, her boyfriend and the boyfriend's parents on a behind-the-scenes tour of the lion's sleeping quarters on Sunday, the Associated Press reports.

It's not known how the lion reached the unidentified woman's arm. Following the attack, the woman and her severed limb were rushed to Tampa General Hospital, but efforts to reattach the arm were unsuccessful. The zookeeper was reported to be in serious condition.

Busch Gardens officials said the 12-year-old lion, which has been at the park since 1997, would not be destroyed, but an investigation into what led to the attack is being conducted.

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Calcium Heart Test Has Critics

A calcium screening test being promoted as an easy way to find out if your arteries are clogging, leaving you at increased risk of heart disease, has some doctors' blood boiling.

The test, which costs about $400 and is not covered by most insurance plans, spots levels of calcium that can stiffen heart arteries, reports the Associated Press.

In a debate appearing in the current issue of the journal Preventive Cardiology, some doctors say they believe the tests are an effective means of spotting early heart disease and helping patients start to take preventative measures.

Critics of the testing, however, say it's no better than a $70 cholesterol test, and unnecessarily exposes patients to added cost and radiation from the CT scanner.

The American Heart Association is among the skeptics, saying the test should not be used as routine screening until more is known about its benefits, and patients should not seek the test unless it's recommended by their doctor.

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Anthrax Letters Contaminated 5,000 Other Pieces of Mail: Study

The six letters containing anthrax that were sent to public officials and news organizations last fall may have contaminated as many as 5,000 other pieces of mail as they made their way through the postal system.

That's the conclusion of a study appearing in tomorrow's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It adds that the 5,000 additional pieces of mail could have been contaminated with anywhere from 10 to 10,000 spores each, the Associated Press says.

The researchers, including a Vanderbilt University mathematician, say the cross-contamination of postal letters could have exposed many people to low levels of anthrax that may not have caused illness. But it could also explain the deaths of a 94-year-old woman in Oxford, Conn., and another woman in the Bronx, N.Y.

The deaths of five people were directly attributed to exposure to the letters.

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Study Makes No Bones About Tea

Long-term tea drinking appears to strengthen bones and ward off osteoporosis, Taiwanese researchers report in today's Archives of Internal Medicine.

The benefits were reflected in people who drank about two cups per day of black, green, or oolong tea for at least six years, reports the Associated Press of the research done at National Cheng Kung University Hospital. The best results were reflected in people who drank tea regularly for a decade or more.

Tea contains fluoride and chemical compounds called flavenoids that appear to strengthen bones, the researchers say. They studied 1,037 men and women over age 30, about half of whom were habitual tea drinkers. Most drank their tea without milk, which contains bone-strengthening calcium.

As many as half of this country's over-50 population may have bone-thinning osteoporosis or low bone mass, the AP reports. Previous studies that attempted to link tea and bone strength have shown mixed results, the wire service says.

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World Health Meeting Convening in Geneva

Combatting bioterrorism, the AIDS epidemic, and a debate to ease drug patents are expected to dominate the World Health Assembly Meeting that convenes today in Geneva.

The five-day gathering includes representatives of the 191 nations that comprise the World Health Organization (WHO). Topic A is likely to focus on the WHO's long-standing order for nations to destroy their stocks of the deadly smallpox virus. WHO officials concede that in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, nations are likely to want to retain their smallpox stocks for research into new vaccines or treatments. The virus in its natural form was declared eradicated in 1979, reports the Associated Press.

Delegates also are likely to discuss the right of poor countries to relax or ignore drug patents, in order to combat deadly diseases like AIDS. Patents tend to increase the price of drugs and limit their availability, making it almost impossible for poor countries to obtain sufficient supplies.

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Vehicle Crashes Cost $230 Billion Annually

Motor vehicle crashes cost $230.6 billion each year, or $820 for every person living in the United States, the federal Department of Transportation says.

A report issued by the DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says every traffic death costs an average of $977,000 in lost productivity, property damage, medical and insurance costs. The toll for a critically injured survivor is $1.1 million, says the report, entitled "The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2000." Its estimates are based on calendar year 2000 data.

The NHTSA study says the use of seat belts prevents an estimated 11,900 deaths and 325,000 serious injuries, saving $50 billion annually. Conversely, the failure of crash victims to wear seat belts leads to an estimated 9,200 unnecessary fatalities and 143,000 needless injuries, costing society $26 billion.

The report estimates the yearly economic cost of roadway crashes to include:

  • $61 billion in lost workplace productivity
  • $20.2 billion in lost household productivity
  • $59 billion in property damage
  • $32.6 billion in medical costs
  • $25.6 billion in travel delay costs

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