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Health Highlights: May 5, 2002

Antibiotic Shows Promise for Lou Gehrig's Disease More Docs Needed To Treat Growing Elderly Population: Alliance Common Pesticide Better for Anthrax Removal, Say Researchers Shield Those Eyes From Array of Light Lady Bird Johnson Suffers Mild Stroke Livestock Diseases Pop Up in Poland, S. Korea

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

Antibiotic Shows Promise for Lou Gehrig's Disease

A common antibiotic that already is showing promise in treating Huntington's disease is now being looked at as a possible means of slowing the similar nerve-degenerating condition known as Lou Gehrig's disease, the Associated Press reports.

Researchers say the antibiotic, minocycline, delayed the onset of Lou Gehrig's disease in mice and extended their lives by more than 10 days.

The research was published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, causes progressive paralysis in people by attacking nerve cells that control movement.

Minocycline has already been shown to prolong the lives of mice with a type of Huntington's disease and is currently being tested on humans.

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More Docs Needed To Treat Growing Elderly Population

With the number of Americans aged 65 and older expected to more than double to 70 million by the year 2030, health officials say there simply aren't enough health providers out there who are well-versed in issues pertaining to the elderly.

According to the Alliance for Aging Research, fewer than 9,000 of the county's 650,000 licensed physicians have met qualifying criteria for geriatrics and the number is expected to drop to as few as 6,100 by 2004, reports the Associated Press.

The nation should ideally have 20,000 geriatric-trained physicians to treat the current over-65 population, the alliance says.

The group is pushing Congress to better address the issue.

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Common Pesticide Better for Anthrax Cleanup, Researchers Say

It's worked for more than 50 years to keep pesky insects out of buildings, grain elevators and fresh fruit, and now researchers say a common pesticide could be just the trick in clearing buildings of more threatening intruders -- anthrax spores.

Researchers with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences say the chemical methyl bromide would not only be more effective than current methods of clearing anthrax out of buildings, but it would also be cheaper, reports the Associated Press.

Government officials currently use treatments including chlorine dioxide, but the researchers say that chemical begins breaking down as soon as it is released, whereas methyl bromide is more stable, and therefore more effective.

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Shield Those Eyes From Array of Light

Most people are aware of the damage ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause to skin. However, you should know your eyes are also vulnerable.

UV rays can contribute to age-related changes in the eye and a number of serious eye diseases, says Betsy van Die, media relations director for Prevent Blindness America.

Cataracts, sunburned corneas, macular degeneration, and cancer of the eyelid are among those UV-related dangers, reports HealthDay.

"Everybody is at risk, whether it's a child or an adult. Anybody who spends time in the sun and exposes their eyes to the sun without wearing sunglasses or a hat is at risk," van Die says.

UV radiation contains UVA and UVB rays, and both can harm your eyes. UVB is the short wavelength radiation that causes sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer. Intense UVB exposure can cause a condition called photokeratitis in your eyes. That's sunburn on your cornea, the clear membrane that covers the front of your eye.

Corneal sunburn is common in people who spend long hours on the beach or ski slopes without proper eye protection. While it's not permanent, it can be extremely painful and result in temporary vision loss, van Die says.

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Lady Bird Johnson Suffers Mild Stroke

Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson was reported to be in fair condition in an Austin, Tex., hospital yesterday after suffering a stroke.

The mild stroke left the 89-year-old Johnson unable to speak, but doctors at Seton Medical Center say she is upbeat, aware of her surroundings and not in pain, reports the Associated Press.

Johnson has been hospitalized since Thursday, when she awoke from a nap at her home and had trouble speaking and swallowing medication. The doctors say they believe the stroke caused damage to a small area on the left side of Johnson's brain.

The former first lady is due to remain hospitalized through the weekend for observation and more tests.

President Lyndon Johnson died in 1973.

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Livestock Diseases Pop Up in Poland, S. Korea

Threats of livestock diseases popped up around the world this weekend with reports of a mad cow disease scare in Poland and a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in South Korea.

Officials in Poland say the nation's first case of mad cow disease has been detected near the southern border with Slovakia, but that it appears to be an isolated incident, reports the Associated Press.

Mad cow disease is a major concern because if transmitted to humans, the disease can cause a brain-wasting illness called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has claimed the lives of more than 100 people, mostly in Britain.

In South Korea, officials confirmed that foot-and-mouth disease killed 280 pigs on a farm and the condition may be spreading. The announcement prompted the slaughter of 10,000 pigs at nearby farms and the restriction of livestock around the country.

South Korea suffered a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2000 that devastated what was then a $339 million pork export industry, with 95 percent of exports going to Japan.

The disease spreads quickly among cloven-hoofed animals, but is not dangerous to humans.

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