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Health Highlights: April 30, 2004

New Medicare Site Has Inaccurate Drug Prices SARS Molecule Could Lead to Early Test Study Reveals How HPV Takes Hold in Body China Confirms First SARS Death in 9 Months Recalled Espresso Machines May Burst Under Pressure 3rd Porn Actor Tests Positive for HIV

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

New Medicare Site Has Inaccurate Drug Prices

A new Medicare Web site that allows people to compare drug prices is already drawing complaints that the information is incorrect.

The site is designed to enable people using the new Medicare-approved drug discount card to search for the lowest drug prices.

"Everybody seems to be finding problems with inaccuracies with the posted prices," Walgreens' spokeswoman Laurie Meyer told the Associated Press.

Two other sponsors of the new Medicare drug discount card also reported inaccurate prices on the new Web site. Some drug prices were too high while others were too low.

A California company, Destination Rx, manages the Web site. Medicare hired the company without seeking any other bids, the AP reported.


SARS Molecule Could Lead to Early Test

Scientists in Toronto have found an important molecule in people with SARS that may lead to the development of an early, fast test for the SARS virus.

During the SARS outbreak in Toronto last year, health workers collected blood samples from every patient with SARS-like symptoms. Those blood samples, along with samples taken from healthy people in a control group, were tested for 15 different immune molecules, the Toronto Star reports.

The scientists found that every SARS patient had extremely high levels of an immune molecule called IP-10. The high levels of IP-10 developed as soon people developed SARS symptoms. Healthy people never showed high levels of IP- 10.

Results of testing for IP-10 can be known within three to four hours of a patient's arrival at the hospital.

The research was presented Thursday at the World Vaccine Congress.

The Toronto scientists are collaborating with an American company in order to use this discovery to develop a test that could be produced on a large scale, the Star reports.

There are currently two tests available for SARS. One takes five days for results, but is 60 percent reliable. The other test can't be used until three weeks after the onset of SARS symptoms.


Study Reveals How HPV Takes Hold in Body

Harvard Medical School scientists have found how the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts and cervical cancer, gets established in the body.

In research with mice, the Harvard team found that a protein in the virus attaches to another protein in the body's cells, BBC News Online reports.

This discovery, published in the journal Cell, could help scientists develop new treatments HPV, which can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.

About 15 percent of women ages 20 to 30 and about 6 percent of women over age 40 carry the virus. There is currently no cure it. In most cases, it disappears by itself.


China Confirms First SARS Death in 9 Months

A 53-year-old woman who died in China's Anhui province last week succumbed to SARS, the Ministry of Health confirmed Friday. It represented the world's first known death from the disease in nine months and the first person to die during China's mini-outbreak that is thought to have begun when two researchers in a Beijing SARS lab became ill last month.

The confirmation brings the total number of verified cases to five, with four additional suspected cases, CNN reported. No additional suspected cases had been identified in the 24 hours ending Friday morning, the Ministry of Health said.

Travelers throughout the country were being checked for SARS symptoms of fever and cough before being allowed to board trains or planes, the Associated Press reported. Some 90 million Chinese are expected to travel during the weeklong May Day holiday that begins Saturday.

Experts from the World Health Organization are in Beijing to investigate the apparent security lapses that led the original lab workers to become infected.


Recalled Espresso Machines May Burst Under Pressure

Hamilton Beach is recalling 20,160 espresso/cappuccino makers that could burst under pressure during use if the frothing nozzle becomes clogged, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

The recall involves Hamilton Beach Cappuccino Plus units, model number 40714, which is printed on the bottom of the unit. The company has received 10 reports of burst steam tubes, one of which caused a minor burn.

Discount department stores and Internet retailers nationwide sold the product from March 2003 to March 2004 for about $70. For information on how to receive a free replacement, contact the company at 800-672-5872 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

espresso maker


3rd Porn Actor Tests Positive for HIV

Another adult-film performer in Los Angeles has tested positive for the AIDS-causing HIV virus, the third infection reported in 2 1/2 weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The unidentified actress had already been on a "quarantine list" of those who were known to have performed with one of the previously infected actors, the newspaper said. Much of southern California's porn industry shut itself down for 60 days beginning two weeks ago, when it was announced that actor Darren James and a female co-star had tested positive for the virus.

The quarantine list contains the names of more than 50 potentially infected performers, the Times reported. It was put together by an industry-based nonprofit group called the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM).

The group recommends that performers undergo monthly testing before producers would allow the actors to work. It's unknown how many adult-film companies enforce such a requirement.

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