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Health Highlights: Jan. 6, 2004

DNA Testing Confirms Diseased Cow Came From Canada China Begins Slaughter of Civet Cats Scientists Take Step Toward New Meningitis Vaccine Cocaine Linked to Death of Righteous Brother: Report Lung Association Says 38 States Flunk Tobacco Prevention Large Study Finds Autism Drug Ineffective

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

Genetic Testing Confirms Diseased Cow Came From Canada

DNA tests have confirmed that the Washington state Holstein diagnosed with mad cow disease last month came from Canada, U.S. and Canadian officials announced Tuesday.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, the chief veterinarian of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Dr. Brian Evans, of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, made the announcement at a press conference, CTV.Canada reports.

The finding will allow investigators to step up their search for the source of infection. The most likely culprit: Contaminated feed from the province of Alberta, where the Holstein was born in 1997.

The mad cow diagnosis last month marked the first time the disease had been found in the United States since it first emerged in Great Britain in the 1980s, killing 143 people.

U.S. agriculture officials said earlier this week they planned to destroy 450 calves in a dairy herd in Washington state that includes an offspring of the stricken Holstein.

Health officials insist the U.S. beef supply is safe. Nonetheless, many countries have banned the importation of American beef, costing U.S. ranchers an estimated 90 percent of their export market.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, creates holes in the brains of cattle. Humans can develop a deadly variation of the disease by eating contaminated parts of a cow, primarily the brain and nervous system.


China Begins Slaughter of Civet Cats

China began Tuesday to slaughter thousands of civet cats in response to its first confirmed human SARS case of the season.

The country plans to kill about 10,000 civet cats and related mammals in the southern province of Guangdong by Saturday, the Associated Press reports.

The weasel-like civet cats, suspected as the source of SARS in humans, are considered a delicacy by many people in southern China. The animals are often sold in markets.

The Chinese government decided on the drastic action following confirmation Monday that a 32-year-old TV producer in Guangdong had SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a sometimes fatal viral infection. The man is now fully recovered and expected to leave the hospital later this week, the AP reports.

In response to the slaughter of the civet cats, the World Health Organization says there's no definitive connection between the animals and SARS in humans. The WHO is concerned the mass slaughter could eradicate important evidence about the origins of SARS and may even spread the virus.


Scientists Take Step Toward New Meningitis Vaccine

British scientists have developed a type of vaccine that protects mice against meningitis -- a potentially significant first step toward creation of a vaccine to protect people against every strain of meningitis.

While there is a vaccine against the A and C strains of meningitis, there is no vaccine to protect people against the deadly B strain of the disease.

University of Surrey scientists used genetic engineering to create a strain of meningitis B that's incapable of causing disease. This new strain was injected into mice, who then developed antibodies to fight all three meningitis strains, BBC News Online reports.

The scientists now plan to identify the proteins in their genetically engineered meningitis strain that triggered the immune system response in the mice. They hope to complete that research within three years.


Cocaine Linked to Death of Righteous Brother: Report

A combination of cocaine and heart disease killed Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield, who was found dead in a Kalamazoo, Mich., hotel room on Nov. 5, according to an autopsy report released Monday.

The report says "acute cocaine toxicity" was the cause of death for the 63-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer. It was initially reported that he died in his sleep of a heart attack.

The autopsy report says one of Hatfield's coronary arteries was blocked as much as 95 percent. The heart disease and cocaine proved a fatal mix, The Orange County (Calif.) Register reports.

The autopsy results were released in response to a Freedom of Information request from a Michigan TV station. The autopsy found 143 nanograms of cocaine per milliliter in Hatfield's blood.

While that amount alone would not have been enough to kill Hatfield, it is consistent with levels found in people who abuse cocaine, The Register reports.


Lung Association Says 38 States Flunk Tobacco Prevention

The majority of U.S. states have failed to adequately apply funds gained from landmark tobacco settlements to smoking-prevention programs, the American Lung Association says.

In the group's annual report that monitors smoking prevention progress, steps to protect people from second-hand smoke, and other tobacco-related issues, 38 states and the District of Columbia received an "F" in financing smoking-prevention programs.

"How many more preventable deaths must occur and how many more children must become addicted to cigarettes before we say enough," asks the association's CEO and President, John Kirkwood, in a prepared statement.

The report also finds:

  • 35 states and the District of Columbia received an "F" in passing smoke-free air laws.
  • 13 states got an "F" for sufficiently raising tobacco taxes.
  • 23 states received an "F" when it came to passing laws limiting youth access to tobacco.

The association says these failures help illustrate why 440,000 Americans still die each year from smoking-related ills, and why smoking costs the United States some $75 billion in direct medical costs annually.


Large Study Finds Autism Drug Ineffective

The experimental drug secretin fares no better than a placebo in improving the lives of children with autism, the largest clinical study of its kind concludes.

The drug was discovered a few years ago by the mother of an autistic boy and licensed to a small biotech company led by the father of two autistic girls, The New York Times reports. Despite "study after study" that concluded the drug has no measurable effect on young people with the mysterious disorder, some parents who are staunch supporters are horrified to learn they may lose access to the medication, the newspaper reports.

Secretin is a natural hormone that stimulates production of pancreatic juices that help the body digest food. The disappointing results of the most recent clinical trials were announced Monday by the drug's manufacturer, Repligen, of Waltham, Mass.

Smaller studies sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health came to virtually the same negative conclusion, the Times reports.

There are no approved drugs to treat autism, an often debilitating condition that affects about 100,000 children in the United States. Its victims have difficulty communicating and forming relationships, and often engage in repetitive, sometimes self-destructive behavior.

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