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Health Highlights: Nov. 4, 2002

NYC Checking Colds, Coughs for Possible Bioterror Attack House Calls Get a New Life Legally Blind Woman Places Fifth in New York City Marathon More Obese Kids Having Risky Stomach Surgery U.S. Threatens To Leave U.N. Population Pact Powdered Infant Formula Recalled for Bacteria

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

NYC Checking Colds, Coughs for Possible Bioterror Attack

Public health officials in New York City are counting coughs, sneezes and orange juice sales as possible early indicators that a biological attack has occurred, reports the Associated Press.

The idea is that a sudden upsurge in flu-like ailments and a spike in the sales of cold remedy products could signal the initial stages of a bioterrorist strike. Similar early warning systems have already been used at major public events, such as the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah and the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month presented a $2.1 million grant to Harvard University researchers to begin developing "a national warning system that automatically collects information on the number of patients with flu-like symptoms, strange rashes and other possible signs of bioterrorism," reports the AP.

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House Calls Get a New Life

Doctors' house calls are making a comeback in the United States, and are likely to grow in popularity over the next few years, according to The Los Angeles Times.

In 2001, doctors made approximately 1.6 million home visits -- about 100,000 more than the previous year. The elderly and patients with chronic illnesses were the main recipients of this in-home medical treatment, paid for by Medicare.

One factor behind the upswing is that a number of new and expanding private companies are offering patients at-home medical care. And house calls save money in the long haul, said Constance Row, executive director of the American Academy of Home Care Physicians. The condition of elderly patients may worsen if they can't get to a doctor's office, and the result may be more intensive, costlier care later, Row told the Times.

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Legally Blind Woman Places Fifth in New York City Marathon

A legally blind American runner finished fifth in the women's division of yesterday's New York City Marathon.

With a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 10 seconds, Marla Runyan ran the 10th fastest time ever achieved by an American woman, reports The Washington Post. Runyan, who suffers from a degenerative eye condition known as Stargardt's disease, negotiated the course and fellow runners by relying almost entirely on feel. A cyclist rode alongside her and alerted her to upcoming water stations and route changes.

The event was the former Olympian and Paralympian short-distance runner's first marathon.

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More Obese Kids Having Risky Stomach Surgery

A surgical procedure to reduce the size of an obese person's stomach -- once reserved only for adults -- is emerging as a way to treat obesity in children, new research finds.

Gastric bypass surgery shrinks the stomach from the size of a football to the size of an egg, reports the Associated Press. But the authors of a study in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics worry that the procedure hasn't been sufficiently tested on kids, and that serious side effects may result.

Among the biggest concerns is that the surgery could lead to a calcium deficiency that could affect a child's bone development. Another worry is that the procedure could contribute to gallstones.

Some 15 percent of children are severely overweight or obese, the AP reports. Demand for the surgery is growing, in part, due to the positive results reported by some famous patients. The AP cites the case of pop singer Carnie Wilson, who, at 150 pounds, is now about half the weight she was when she had the surgery three years ago.

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U.S. Threatens To Leave U.N. Population Accord

The Bush Administration is threatening to pull out of a landmark United Nations population accord, citing certain portions that the administration construes as promoting abortion.

The accord, crafted with U.S. help at a 1994 population conference in Cairo, Egypt, has been endorsed by 179 countries, reports The New York Times. But at a U.N. conference in Bangkok, the administration said it wouldn't continue to support the accord unless the offending words were changed or removed.

The announcement has drawn criticism -- notably from Asian delegations, U.N. officials, and U.S. Congressional Democrats -- that the administration's move could undermine a global consensus on population policy, the newspaper reports.

The accord seeks to limit the world's population to 9.8 billion by 2050. It also urges countries to give women more control over their lives by providing greater access to health care; reduce maternal mortality; stem the spread of HIV and AIDS; and provide universal access to primary education.

The accord also includes a provision recommending that where abortion is legal, it should be made safe, the Times reports.

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Powdered Infant Formula Recalled for Contamination

Wyeth Nutritionals Inc. is recalling certain lots of powdered infant formula manufactured between July 12 and Sept. 25, 2002, because it may be contaminated with Enterobacter sakazakii bacteria.

E. sakazakii can, in rare cases, cause sepsis (bacteria in the blood), meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain), or necrotizing enterocolitis (severe intestinal infection) in newborn infants, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says. No illnesses have been reported to date.

About 1.5 million cans of the formula were sold under 11 brand names, including Baby Basics, Kozy Kids, CVS, Hill Country Fare, HEB Baby, America Fare Little Ones, HomeBest, Safeway Select, Healthy Baby, Walgreens, and Parent's Choice. Distributed by retailers nationwide, the products can be identified by this expiration/use by date, embossed on the bottom of the can: 07 28 05, 08 28 05 and 09 28 05.

The products also can be identified by a six-digit character embossed on the bottom of the cans. The first four characters include: K12N through K19N; L07N through L30N; and N03N through N25N.

Consumers, who are urged to return the product to the place of purchase for a full refund, may contact Wyeth at 1-888-526-5376.

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