Health Highlights: May 9, 2002

Anthrax Spores Found at Fed 'Stop... You're Killing Me!' New Guidelines on Managing STDs Group Wants Warning Labels on Chocolate Feds Flexing Muscles to Ban Abs Ads Many TB Cases Are Latent Infections: Study

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

Anthrax Spores Found at Fed

Traces of anthrax DNA have been found at a Federal Reserve mail sorting facility, the nation's central bank announced today.

The tests are preliminary, and because the early findings are often inaccurate they do not yet suggest that a new round of anthrax attacks are under way. "The affected mail was routine commercial and business mail and did not have any of the characteristics identified by the FBI as suspicious," read a statement from the Fed. It added, "the source of the possible contamination is not known."

But even if further testing turns up no anthrax, the discovery nonetheless sent a scare into the stock market today. The Dow fell more than 100 points when the announcement was made.

The Associated Press quotes Fed spokesman David Skidmore as saying about 20 pieces of mail, all with "recent postmarks," were affected. Some were addressed to Fed chairman Alan Greenspan.

Anthrax spores were discovered at the Fed last December, but officials determined that that case was one of cross-contamination. Anthrax delivered through the mail during a wave of bioterrorism last fall killed five people.

Meanwhile today, researchers confirmed that anthrax spores taken from a deadly attack in Florida were the same as the so-called Ames strain first isolated 21 years ago. Since that strain was sent only to some laboratories, the genetic discovery " helps us eliminate some labs, and concentrate on others," Ronald Atlas, president-elect of the American Society for Microbiology, told CNN.

The tests didn't pinpoint where the anthrax came from, though.


'Stop... You're Killing Me!'

A modern-day mother's lament that a son's willful ways are taking years off her life gets some support from a new study of a pre-industrial people.

Scary as it sounds, the study even sets a specific price on the sex of a child: For every boy baby, there's a 34-week reduction in the mother's life span, according to a report from HeathScoutNews.

The toll comes partly from the fact that boy babies are more demanding in the womb, but that age-old maternal complaint might be justified because boys didn't ease their mothers' burden by helping around the home, says a report in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

The numbers come from information Finnish churches carefully recorded between 1640 and 1870 about a pre-industrial tribe, the Sami, which lived by reindeer herding, hunting and fishing.

The information was so detailed that Samuli Helle was able to draw the boy-versus-girl baby comparison, which he used for his master's degree thesis at the University of Turku. Helle now is working toward a doctorate there.

A mother's life span was not affected by the total number of the children she bore and raised, Helle finds. However, the report shows a definite drop in a mother's life span for every boy born and raised by her.


New Guidelines on Managing STDs

Young women who have been treated for chlamydia should be screened again for the disease no more than four months after their treatment is finished, the government urged today.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in issuing new guidelines for managing sexually transmitted diseases, called for re-screening for the first time after noticing what it called a "high prevalence" of women who were previously infected. The CDC also called on doctors -- even pediatricians -- to screen sexually active teen-agers and young women for chlamydia, which is the most common of all STDS with 700,000 cases reported each year.

Bringing the subject up, especially among younger females, is "incredibly challenging" but should be done anyhow, said Dr. Stuart Berman, chief of epidemiology for the CDC's Division of STD Prevention. Adolescents are most susceptible to the chlamydia because they have more cells lining the cervix -- cells that chlamydia is most likely to infect.

The CDC is also recommending against the use of condoms containing the spermicide nonoxynol-9, citing increasing evidence that they work no better than other condoms and that they can cause lesions in the vagina.

The health agency also recommended that a family of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones (Cipro is one) shouldn't be used to treat gonorrhea in people infected in California. More and more cases of that STD are becoming resistant to those drugs, the CDC said. It was the first time the CDC made that recommendation in the continental United States; it had previously urged against using those drugs in Hawaii.

Group Wants Warning Labels on Chocolate

We're used to seeing our vices slapped with government health warning labels, but chocolate?

That's right, in a lawsuit filed yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the non-profit American Environmental Safety Institute claims such popular chocolate products as Hershey Bars and M&Ms should be required to have labels warning that consumers, and especially children, are being exposed to to potentially dangerous levels of such metals as lead and cadmium, reports the Associated Press.

An attorney for the companies said the metals occur naturally in chocolate, as well as other foods, but do not pose a hazard.

The claims of chocolate's health hazards were dismissed by a state investigation last year and a Food and Drug Administration study found that children younger than six who consumed high amounts of chocolate still take in only 6 percent or less of the total amount of lead allowable by law.


Feds Flexing Muscles to Ban Abs Ads

Those slick infomercials promising washboard abs with the press of a button on a gyrating electronic exercise belt may be rather amusing, but the feds aren't so pumped-up about them.

In three lawsuits filed this week, the Federal Trade Commission accused the makers of the AB Energizer, Ab Tronic and Fast Abs of making false claims that their products produced at least the same, if not more, loss of fat and inches as exercise, reports the Associated Press.

Because the claims are false, add the lawsuits, the estimated $100 million in profit the products have brought in, at prices ranging from $40 to $120 per belt, is fraudulent.

"These electronic abs gadgets don't do a thing to turn a bulging beer belly into a sleek six-pack stomach,'' said FTC Chairman Timothy Muris. "Unfortunately, there are no magic pills, potions or pulsators for losing weight and getting into shape. The only winning combination is diet and exercise.''

The lawsuits seek not only a halt to the advertisements with false claims, but refunds to those who've purchased the belts.


Many TB Cases Are Latent Infections: Study

While efforts to fight tuberculosis have focused on treatment of new cases, many pop up because of the resurfacing of old infections, reports the Associated Press.

Research reported in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that in a New York City neighborhood with a high immigrant population, the percentage of TB cases spread through recent transmission dropped from 63 percent in 1993 to just 31 percent in 1999.

Almost 60 percent of all TB patients in New York are foreigners who are, in fact, suffering from the resurfacing of old infections, says the study.

About one-third of the world's population is infected with TB, but only 5 to 10 percent of them become ill, according to the World Health Organization.

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