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Health Highlights: Oct. 23, 2002

Brain Shunts Give Hope To Alzheimer's Patients Breast Cancer Rates Soar in Calif. County Honolulu Healthiest Place for Men CBS: Gov't Accuses Red Cross of Lax Blood Safety FDA Panel OKs Drug-Coated Artery Stent Troops Leaving Service Cite Anthrax Vaccine

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

Brain Shunts Give Hope To Alzheimer's Patients

Shunts implanted in the brains of Alzheimer's patients may slow the disease's progression.

A group of California researchers tested this procedure on 12 Alzheimer's patients, according to CBS News, and over a three-month period the subjects' condition either improved or stabilized. Because of the experiment's success, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved large scale surgical trials.

During the surgery, doctors embed a shunt inside the patient's brain, where it can drain fluid and clear toxins. Researchers theorize that fluid and toxin build-up contribute to Alzheimer's disease.

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Breast Cancer Rates Soar in Calif. County

Women in Marin County, Calif., suffer an abnormally high rate of breast cancer.

According to The Washington Post , breast cancer strikes women in the county at a rate nearly 40 percent higher than the national average. And the incidence of breast cancer jumped 37 percent during the 1990s, compared with the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area.

"We don't think there's any strong evidence of unique exposure to an environmental harm," says Christina A. Clarke, an epidemiologist at the Northern California Cancer Center. Clarke and other experts believe the disease's prevalence may be due to the area's demographics. Most of Marin County's 250,000 residents are white and affluent, characteristics commonly associated with higher rates of breast cancer.

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Honolulu Healthiest Place for Men

Honolulu, Hawaii, is home to the country's healthiest men, a new study says.

In a poll of 101 cities, conducted by Men's Health magazine, the city got top marks for a range of variables, from the weather, to men's diets, to their fitness habits, according to NBC News. It also ranked first because it has the lowest cancer death rate for men in the country, and a low incidence of heart disease.

Rounding out the top five: San Jose, Calif.; Rochester, N.Y.; Santa Ana, Calif., and Grand Rapids, Mich.

The "unhealthiest" places to live: Atlanta; Nashville; New Orleans; Philadelphia; and Memphis, Tenn.

Ciri Cuenco, the manager of a health club in Honolulu, cites another incentive for the men's healthy living: "Honolulu's beautiful women," he says.

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CBS: Gov't Accuses Red Cross of Lax Blood Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking the American Red Cross to task for allowing contaminated blood to pass through its screening procedures, reports CBS News.

The Red Cross allegedly has been violating blood safety laws for 17 years, and a federal judge is set to decide whether to slap the Red Cross with significant fines, CBS reports.

Citing allegations in court documents, CBS says the Red Cross has repeatedly taken blood from donors with hepatitis and other diseases. In one of the worst cases cited, the Red Cross's Salt Lake City chapter reportedly took blood from self-confessed high-risk donors who had answered "yes" to questions like: "Do you have AIDS?."

While the FDA agrees with Red Cross statements that blood safety tests are more accurate than ever, the agency also has found instances of infected blood mixed with safe blood and mislabeling of contaminated blood, CBS says.

The Red Cross refused to provide an interview for the CBS report, instead releasing a statement that stated, in part: "The American Red Cross agrees with the FDA's view that our nation's blood supply is as safe as it has ever been. We are working cooperatively with the FDA to address its concerns and are devoting all our energies to that end."

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FDA Panel OKs Drug-Coated Artery Stent

An expert panel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has unanimously recommended approval of a drug-coated stent designed to open clogged arteries and prevent them from closing again.

The Johnson & Johnson product, called Cypher, has been on the market in Europe since early this year, reports Forbes.com. In recommending approval, the panel cited certain conditions; among them were stipulations covering product labeling and patient education.

Stents, tiny metal mesh tubes, have revolutionized cardiac care. But in about a quarter of cases, the arteries wind up closing up again due to the body's natural reaction to the stent. The drug coating is designed to prevent this from happening.

The full FDA usually follows the recommendations of its expert panels.

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Troops Leaving Service Cite Anthrax Vaccine

Highly trained pilots and other personnel in the Air National Guard and Air Force reserves have left -- or are set to leave -- military service, citing the Pentagon's requirement that they be vaccinated for anthrax, the Associated Press reports.

According to a report from Congress's independent investigative arm, the General Accounting Office, randomly selected guard and reserve troops have reported adverse reactions to the anthrax vaccine at double the rate claimed by the manufacturer.

And those who are leaving the service "are people not easily replaced," the GAO report says.

The report recommends that a Pentagon panel be assembled to monitor the vaccine. In a response to the report, assistant Army secretary Reginald Brown disputed the need for a monitoring program, the AP says.

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