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Health Highlights: Nov. 24, 2002

Smallpox Vaccine Decision: Phase-In Most LikelyU.S. Industrial Pollution Rules Loosened4.2 Million Pounds of Turkey and Chicken Meat RecalledThe Stronger the Religious Faith, the Stronger the ConfidenceSecond Cruise Ship Reports Virus Outbreak

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

Smallpox Vaccine Decision: Phase-In Most Likely

The long-awaited decision from President Bush on whether the U.S. population should get vaccinated against smallpox is expected sometime after Thanksgiving, but the announcement may stop short of inoculation en masse.

The Washington Post reports that the President is leaning toward a gradual phase-in of smallpox vaccine, beginning with about 11 million military and emergency personnel.

That way, the Post says, health officials can determine whether the vaccine is working properly and what the risks are for administering it to the entire U.S. population.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, followed almost immediately by mailings of anthrax spores to public officials and members of the media, government officials have been worried about bioterorrist attacks on the U.S. population. While no incidents of the deadly smallpox bacterium have been reported for decades, scientists still worry that smallpox could be one of the agents used in an attack.

According to the Post, "the conclusion essentially follows recommendations from government health and military officials that the government approve a phased-in inoculation, starting with about 500,000 troops and about 500,000 health and hospital workers and, later, for as many as 10 million emergency workers."

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U.S. Industrial Pollution Rules Loosened

The Bush Administration calls it a move that will allow older U.S. industrial plants to make the air cleaner. Its detractors call it a retreat from long-established procedures that have protected America's environment.

Whatever the political spin, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday announced new rules allowing older industrial plants to make improvements without adhering to some of the existing EPA regulations.

"The need for reform is clear and has broad-based support," EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman said in the statement published in the New York Times and elsewhere in the media. The current rules, she said, "have deterred companies from implementing projects that would increase energy efficiency and decrease air pollution."

At issue are plants exempted from the 1977 Clean Air Act requirements to modernize under federal environmental standards. The problem has been that as these facilities age and need to modernize, any small improvement also has to meet existing EPA requirements. And this triggers a chain reaction, requiring more improvements to meet other standards, escalating costs to what business owners consider unrealistic levels.

The new guidelines, called the New Source Review program, would eliminate "perverse" effects that kept antiquated plants from being modernized, the Times reports.

The new program has already been criticized by attorneys general in all six New England states, plus New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

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4.2 Million Pounds of Turkey and Chicken Meat Recalled

Just in time for Thanksgiving: a major turkey meat recall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has expanded a meat recall for the possible contamination of the deadly listeria bacterium to 4.2 million pounds, up from the original 200,000 pounds it recalled last Thursday.

The turkey and chicken meat is from the Jack Lambersky Poultry Company Inc., doing business as J.L. Foods Company Inc., Camden, N.J. The recalled products are mostly fresh or frozen turkey and chicken breasts, the USDA said, and the products have been produced for distribution back to last May 29 through Nov. 2.

"The sample that tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes was collected on Nov. 14 as part of the continuing joint investigation by FSIS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into the cause of the outbreak of listeriosis that has sickened 52 people and resulted in seven deaths in eight Northeastern states, " a USDA press release says. "The sample is being further analyzed to determine whether or not it matches the outbreak strain."

Listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea.

The company has established a hotline for questions concerning where the meat was sold: (800) 881-3250.

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The Stronger the Religious Faith, the Stronger the Confidence

It may follow logically that faith in God can build self-confidence. But does that self-confidence translate in the ability to heal?

That's the question Pennsylvania researchers are trying to answer after initial studies seemed to indicate that cardiac patients who have a strong religious faith have greater confidence in their ability to perform tasks and complete their rehabilitation.

According to a story by the Associated Press, researchers at Geisinger Medical Center and Bucknell University are expanding their study to determine whether those with a strong religious faith also show long-term improvement in their cardiovascular health.

A pilot study identified 21 patients who had recently had a first heart attack or undergone bypass surgery.

Chris Boyatzis, a psychology professor at Bucknell, presented the findings in September at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. "The more religious they were, the more they improved," Boyatzis said. "The more religious faith they had, the more faith they had in their own ability to complete tasks and to function."

Timothy McConnell, director of cardiac rehabilitation at Geisinger, a 437-bed hospital in Danville that is funding the study, said the next step is to expand the progam to 100 patients and to study any possible link between their religious faith and improvement in their health.

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Second Cruise Ship Reports Virus Outbreak

Officials don't know whether the incidents are related, but more than 200 passengers on a Disney cruise came down with a contagious stomach virus Friday, a week after more than 500 people caught the virus on another cruise ship.

The Disney ship Magic, carrying about 3,200 on a Carribean cruise, returned to Port Canaveral, Fla., yesterday. Passengers began coming down with the illness last Wednesday. The first ship to report the virus, which causes headache, nausea and vomiting, was the Amsterdam, owned by the Holland American line. That ship returned to its Miami port Friday and was undergoing a stem-to-stern scouring and disinfection. Holland American officials cancelled the next scheduled cruise to allow more time for the process.

However, Disney's ship, Magic, was scrubbed and disinfected by a crew of 1,100 and the ship then left today for its next scheduled cruise, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is overseeing the investigation into how the outbreaks occurred.

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