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Health Highlights: Aug. 11, 2003

Vaccine Shows Promise Against West Nile in Mice Agent Orange Still Plagues Vietnam Scientists Crack Genetic Code of Whooping Cough Bacterium Milk Bacteria Linked to Crohn's Disease Younger Australian Children Fall Victim to Anorexia

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

Vaccine Shows Promise Against West Nile in Mice

A vaccine with a harmless virus known as Kunjin could provide protection against the potentially deadly West Nile virus, Australian researchers report.

West Nile and Kunjin have similar genetic patterns, but Kunjin produces only rare, nonfatal cases of disease. To determine if exposure to Kunjin might offer protection against West Nile, the researchers injected mice with varying amounts of Kunjin DNA, altered to reduce the strength of the virus. After 19 days, the scientists found that the blood of mice given as little as 0.1 micrograms of the Kunjin DNA vaccine produced antibodies against both Kunjin and West Nile.

When given lethal doses of West Nile, the vaccinated mice were protected against the germ, the researchers report in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

U.S. health officials reported last week that the number of human West Nile infections tripled in the preceding week; federal officials warn that means more people could be stricken with the disease this year than ever before.

West Nile is being blamed for eight deaths nationwide this year, and 16 states have reported a total of 153 human cases of infection. Colorado has been hit hardest, with 72 cases. Texas follows with 19 and Louisiana with 15, HealthDay reports.

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Agent Orange Still Plagues Vietnam

Agent Orange, a powerful defoliant used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, continues to haunt the people of Vietnam. A new study released Monday found that poisonous chemicals still contaminate the Vietnamese people and the food they eat.

The study found that six of 16 food samples taken last year from around the southern city of Bien Hoa, which was used as a U.S. air base, had levels of dioxin almost as high as those found during the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975, the Associated Press reports.

Agent Orange has been linked to an assortment of illnesses, including cancer, diabetes and spina bifida, the AP reports.

"This study is one of many that shows Agent Orange is not history. Dioxin contamination is still found in high levels in some Vietnamese, as high as when spraying was going on," said lead researcher Dr. Arnold Schecter, of the University of Texas School of Public Health.

The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine.

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Scientists Crack Genetic Code of Whooping Cough Bacterium

An international team of scientists has published the complete gene map of the bacterium that causes the infectious disease whooping cough.

Deciphering the genome of Bordetella pertussis could help scientists move more quickly in their efforts to develop better vaccines and treatments to combat the bacterium, which kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide each year.

It took years for British, German and American scientists to uncover the complete DNA sequence of the bacterium, BBC News Online reports. The genome appears in the journal Nature Genetics.

The researchers also completed the genomes of two other related microbes. One is B. parpapertussis, which can also cause whooping cough in humans. The other is B. bronchiseptica, responsible for respiratory infections in many animals.

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Milk Bacteria Linked to Crohn's Disease

A possible link between a type of bacteria found in milk and the bowel disorder Crohn's disease has been found by British scientists.

They discovered that 92 percent of people with Crohn's had Myobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP). In previous research, the same scientists found that MAP was present in 2 percent of pasteurized milk sold in stores, CBC News Online reports.

This new study concludes that since MAP is found in the vast majority of people with Crohn's disease, the bacteria is almost certainly causing the intestinal inflammation experienced by people with Crohn's.

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Despite this finding, the researchers don't advocate that people stop drinking milk. They suggest that people with Crohn's disease and their relatives drink UHT milk -- the long-lasting milk that, unopened, can be stored at room temperature for years, CBC News Online says.

UHT milk is pasteurized at higher temperatures than other milk, and that likely destroys MAP, the scientists explain.

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Younger Australian Children Fall Victim to Anorexia

Australian children are being affected by anorexia nervosa at a much younger age, compared to the average age just a few years ago.

A nationwide study found that the average age of children with the eating disorder has dropped to 12 years old, compared to 14 1/2 years old in 2001, the Associated Press reports.

Children as young as 8 are being stricken with anorexia, and there was one reported case of a 4-year-old with the illness.

High-achieving children from successful, middle class families were most likely to develop the disorder, the AP reports. About 1 in 250 girls under age 18 and 1 in 1,000 boys suffer anorexia nervosa, the Australian survey found.

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