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Health Highlights: Oct. 28, 2002

FDA Blocks Mexican Cantaloupe Imports Head Lice Resisting Treatment Estrogen May Exacerbate Alzheimer's Newspaper: Several People Likely Behind Anthrax Attacks Docs Surveyed on Medical Errors New Bra Technology Touted

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

FDA Blocks Mexican Cantaloupe Imports

The U.S. government has blocked the importation of Mexican cantaloupes because of their link to food-poisoning outbreaks.

Four salmonella outbreaks in the last three years have killed two people and hospitalized 18, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency blames unsanitary conditions in the growing and packing of the cantaloupes in Mexico.

The FDA had already banned certain brands of the fruit, but salmonella-contaminated cantaloupes have since been found across most of Mexico's fruit-growing areas. The latest action expands the ban and will continue until the FDA can certify the fruit's safety. The FDA is working with the Mexican government on a food-safety program for the production, packing and shipping of fresh cantaloupes.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can prove fatal in the young, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of infection include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

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Head Lice Resisting Treatment

Head lice, the parasites that infest millions of school children every year, are growing increasingly resistant to over-the-counter shampoos, reports the Associated Press.

Researchers at the University of California believe decades of unregulated use have rendered the pesticide-based shampoos relatively ineffective. Since the 1980s, the products have been sold without a prescription. Widespread use has allowed the critters to develop immunity to the very ingredient that's supposed to smother them, says researcher John Clark.

To understand more about how lice behave and react to pesticides, the investigators have replicated conditions of a human scalp in a laboratory. But until they come up with answers, they recommend people use the lice-fighting shampoos only as a last resort. According to the National Pediculosis Association, picking the nits and their eggs off a scalp is the best way to get rid of them.

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Estrogen May Exacerbate Alzheimer's

Estrogen may aggravate memory loss in post-menopausal women suffering from Alzheimer's disease, according to a new animal study.

Researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson examined the effects of estrogen on the cognition of 40 female rats, and say their findings could have implications for humans, reports United Press International.

To induce menopause, the researchers surgically removed the rats' ovaries. The subsequent changes in the animals' brains were similar to the changes that occur in menopausal women. After testing the rats' memories by observing their performances in a water maze, the investigators found that ovary removal hadn't impaired the rodents' functioning.

But once the rats were given either regular estrogen replacement therapy or induced chronic brain inflammation -- which simulated the effects of Alzheimer's -- their functioning worsened. The animals that received both procedures performed far worse than those getting one or the other.

In previous studies, women with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's have shown initial benefits from estrogen supplements but eventually they exhibited a greater decline than women taking a placebo, said researcher Gary Wenk.

The findings appear in the current issue of Behavioral Neuroscience.

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Newspaper: Several People Likely Behind Anthrax Attacks

More than a dozen experts are doubting the FBI's view that a single disgruntled scientist was behind last year's anthrax-by-mail attacks, the Washington Post reports.

The sophistication and knowledge needed to make such a refined, weaponized grade of anthrax is probably too much for a single individual to have handled, the Post says.

"In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I'm one of them," former United Nations chief biological inspector Richard Spertzel told the newspaper. "And even with a good lab to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good."

The story says the experts consulted advise that investigators should consider re-examining the possibility of state-sponsored terrorism, or whether the weaponized anthrax was given to the attacker by at least one accomplice.

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Docs Surveyed on Medical Errors

Doctors need more legal safeguards before a system for reporting medical errors will be effective, a new physicians' survey concludes.

More than 90 percent of all doctors polled conceded that more training is needed to handle medical errors, and that preventing medical errors should be a national priority. But while also acknowledging the need for better reporting, less than one-third of the doctors favored creation of a national agency to address medical errors without more legal protections, according to the study published in today's Archives of Internal Medicine.

The survey involved 1,000 Colorado physicians and another 1,000 physicians across the United States.

Congress is considering a bill to create a confidential, voluntary reporting system, but so far there has been no action taken on the measure, reports the Associated Press.

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New Bra Technology Touted

Does the world need a better bra?

In a report about the latest in bra technology, The New York Times describes recent patents, including an inflatable push-up bra, a bra with a built-in breast pump, and a magnetic bra that its maker says perks up a drooping chest.

And there's a Bronx, N.Y., company that says it has figured out how to prevent a bra's underwire from poking through the garment. The patented answer is a specially designed plastic tip at the ends of the underwire that sits on a little spring.

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