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Health Highlights: Oct. 24, 2002

Schizophrenia May Be Several Disorders Glove Gives Athletes More Go Compound May Help With Bone Preservation Drug Giants to Restore Discounts for Elderly Government May Limit Suits Over Smallpox Vaccine Cans of Refried Beans May Pose Botulism Hazard

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

Schizophrenia May Be Several Disorders

Schizophrenia may be the result of numerous disorders that share symptoms but affect the brain differently, rather than a single disease as is customarily believed, United Press International reports.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied 100 schizophrenics and found they could be categorized into at least two distinct groups based on differences in memory impairment, as well as in the structure and function of their brains.

About 18 percent of the subjects couldn't remember a list of words immediately after seeing them, nor did they later recognize any of them. Thirty-one percent had no instant recall but recognized the words afterward. The remaining 51 percent showed only mild memory impairment and fit into neither group.

MRI scans revealed that the first group had less gray matter -- the command center of the brain -- than the second group, according to the study, published in the current issue of the journal Neuropsychology.

Brain abnormalities in schizophrenics have been seen before, but have never been correlated with different subtypes, says Bruce Turesky, an associate director of neuropsychology at the university. The findings could affect both the understanding of the disease's cause and its treatment, Turesky told UPI. Instead of grouping all schizophrenics together, researchers could work with clusters of patients who share the same problem.


Glove Gives Athletes More Go

A "cool" glove could be just the remedy for exhausted athletes in need of an energy boost.

Researchers at Stanford University in California have created a high-tech glove that cools the body's organs without diverting blood from the muscles, reports the BBC News. Normally, when people exercise, blood is redirected from their internal organs to their hands and feet. The blood loses heat through the skin and this prevents the body from overheating. But it also means there's less blood available to carry oxygen to the muscles, which then tire, the report says.

With the glove, a built-in pump creates a slight vacuum that helps increase the blood flow to a person's hand, while a water-cooled steel plate draws heat from the circulating blood. According to the researchers, the cooled blood then flows back to the heart and is recirculated, cooling organs by up to 3 degrees Celsius.

During trials, eight professional cyclists rode 30 kilometers on exercise bikes at a speed 6 percent faster with the glove than without it. Other study participants were able to do 20 percent more repetitions of bench presses while wearing the device.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the glove for regulating body temperature.


Compound May Help With Bone Preservation

A synthetic version of estrogen may provide all of the bone-preserving benefits of the hormone without any harmful effects on the reproductive system, new research has found.

Treatment with the substance, called estren, increased bone density and bone strength in female mice deprived of estrogen by removal of their ovaries. It was also effective in male rodents lacking testosterone, according to HealthDay.

Better yet, the compound seems to be invisible to cells in the uterus and breast, where estrogen is known to trigger cancers.

The value of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), often prescribed to combat osteoporosis, has been called into question over recent discoveries that its benefits may outweigh its risks.

Estren isn't a hormone, but its molecular structure is close enough to estrogen's that it fits cellular receptors specific to the sex steroid, says study leader Dr. Stavros Manolagas, director of the Center for Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Diseases in Little Rock, Ark.

Manolagas and his colleagues report their findings in tomorrow's issue of Science.


Drug Giants to Restore Discounts for Elderly

Two of the world's biggest drug companies say they're going to restore deep discounts for low-income elderly people after getting U.S. government assurances that the Medicaid program wouldn't demand similar discounts, reports The New York Times.

Earlier this month, GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb ended the discounts that had been promised to low-income people, saying they were concerned that the same prices would have to be extended to Medicaid participants. Federal law mandates that Medicaid must be afforded the lowest drug prices available.

But Medicaid administrator Thomas Scully sent the drugmakers a letter this week saying the voluntary discounts that had been in effect could be construed as similar to "direct-to-patient coupons," which are exempt from the law that requires drug companies to extend their lowest prices to Medicaid.

The two pharmaceutical firms and several others began offering the voluntary discounts last year after mounting criticism of their high drug prices.


U.S. Government May Limit Suits Over Smallpox Vaccine

If the U.S. government begins offering the smallpox vaccine to the general public to guard against a possible bioterror attack, it must first resolve how to handle the small, but almost certain, number of cases of people killed or injured by the vaccine itself.

Public health experts tell the Associated Press that they expect that about 15 of every one million people vaccinated will face serious health problems caused by the vaccine, and that one or two of them will die.

The Bush Administration is expected to ask the current Congress to consider limiting a person's ability to sue the government over the vaccine. The liability issue stands as the last major sticking point before the vaccine could be offered to the public, the AP reports.

The vaccine is risky to the recipient and those around them because it is created from a live virus. It is possible that the virus could "escape" from the site of inoculation when touched and cause life-threatening injury to the original vaccine recipient or to whom else the virus is transmitted in this manner.


Cans of Refried Beans May Pose Botulism Hazard

Some 4,080 cans of Old El Paso Traditional Variety Refried Beans are being recalled in five states because they may be contaminated with the bacterium that causes Botulism, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Manufacturer General Mills is recalling the product, which the company determined may have been undercooked, in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. No illnesses have been reported to the FDA so far.

Affected 16-oz. cans have a UPC Code of 4600082121 on the label, and a production code imprinted on the can's top or bottom beginning with H2FF15. Other varieties of Old El Paso refried beans are not included in the recall.

Botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning, can cause the following symptoms: general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Other side effects may include difficulty breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distention and constipation. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention. Consumers are warned not to use the product even if it does not look or smell spoiled, and to return it to t

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