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Health Highlights: July 11, 2004

36 Million Working-Age People Have HIV, Global Report Says World Health Experts Call for Routine HIV Testing Anthrax Cleanup Starts 3 Years Later Centenarian Sets a Record Pace Psoriasis Pill Linked to Birth Defects, FDA Report Says

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

36 Million Working-Age People Have HIV, Global Report Says

An estimated 36.5 million people of working age now have HIV, and by next year the global work force will have lost as many as 28 million workers to AIDS since the start of the epidemic, according to a new report issued Sunday by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva.

In the first global analysis of the impact of AIDS on the world's labor force, the ILO also estimated that 48 million workers will be lost by 2010 and 74 million by 2015 if there is no increased access to treatment. Those tolls would make the disease one of the biggest causes of mortality in the work world, Xinhuanet reported.

The new analysis of 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and two developed regions, showed that the majority of countries most affected are in Africa, where the regional average HIV prevalence among 15 to 49 year-olds is 7.7 percent.

"HIV/AIDS is not only a human crisis, it is a threat to sustainable global, social and economic development," ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said in a statement.

The report, prepared on the basis of newly developed demographic and epidemiological data from the United Nations and other sources, will be presented at the international AIDS conference in Bangkok, which opened Sunday.

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World Health Experts Call for Routine HIV Testing

Top global health officials are calling for routine HIV testing in developing countries.

The current strategy of leaving it to patients to request an HIV test is not working in the developing world, where 90 percent of those infected with the AIDS virus have no idea they are carrying it, officials at the U.N. AIDS agency and the World Health Organization said.

The officials proposed that countries where HIV is widespread and where treatment is available should test routinely -- while allowing patients to opt out, according to an Associated Press report.

Their change in recommended policy came on the heels of a WHO report, also released Saturday, that showed only 14 percent, or 440,000 people, of the six million people infected with HIV in developing countries are getting immediate access to the medicine they need.

Both the policy change and the treatment record were released in Bangkok, where a week-long international AIDS conference opened Sunday with a call to action by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The conference, expected to attract 20,000 people from around the world, heard Annan challenge world leaders to do more to combat the raging global epidemic while warning that women are becoming the majority of its victims.

The WHO statistics are from a six-month progress report of the WHO's "three by five" program launched last December, which had a goal of having three million people on HIV treatment by the end of 2005, according to CNN. Funding for the program is also behind schedule: About $40 million has been raised, far lower than the six-month goal of $84 million.

The WHO report also showed that the cost of AIDS medicine has decreased to somewhere between $150 and $450 per person per year, but most developing countries can only afford to spend less than $1 per person per year on health care, CNN also reported.

The news follows release earlier this week of the UN's annual AIDS report, which showed that almost 5 million people became infected with HIV last year -- the largest number of new infections since the disease was discovered in 1981.

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Anthrax Cleanup Starts 3 Years Later

Almost three years after being hit by a deadly anthrax attack, the former headquarters building of a supermarket tabloid in Florida is being fumigated in an attempt to eradicate the deadly spores.

The cleanup started Sunday and is expected to last 24 to 36 hours. It follows months of planning and rancor over the fate of the American Media Inc. building in Boca Raton, the Associated Press reported.

Chlorine dioxide, a chemical used to disinfect drinking water and treat fruits and vegetables, will be pumped into the building to kill the anthrax spores, which have spread throughout its 65,000 square feet. Repeated tests will then determine the safety of the building before a quarantine is lifted, officials told a community meeting.

The cleanup is being led by BioONE, a company established by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sabre Technical Services, which has decontaminated other buildings hit by anthrax attacks. BioONE then plans to occupy the space as the headquarters for its new crisis management venture.

The arrival of anthrax in the mail at the building in October 2001 was the first in a series of still-unsolved attacks that killed five people, among them photo editor Bob Stevens of AMI's tabloid, the Sun. The attacks emptied Senate offices and a major mail processing center in the Washington area, rattling a nation still shaken by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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Centenarian Sets a Record Pace

Good-health news doesn't get any better than this.

South African Philip Rabinowitz made it into the Guinness Book of World Records Saturday as the fastest 100-year-old to run 100 meters.

Rabinowitz made his run at Capetown's Green Point stadium in 30.86 seconds, beating the previous record of 36.1 seconds.

He had also broken the record last week, clocking 28.7 seconds at another stadium outside Cape Town. But a power outage stopped the official electronic clock, so the time was not recorded or recognized, according to a South African Broadcasting Corp. report relayed by the Associated Press.

Rabinowitz, who turned 100 in February, already holds the record for world's oldest competitive walker. He practices daily by walking 3.7 miles and sticks to a healthy diet. He also still works, handling accounts for his daughter's business.

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Psoriasis Pill Linked to Birth Defects, FDA Report Says

A psoriasis pill currently under development could cause birth defects when used by pregnant women, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report.

The drug, called Tazoral, was effective in treating psoriasis, the Los Angeles Times reported, but harmed animal fetuses in lower dosages than did Accutane, an acne pill that has been linked to severe brain and heart defects and other abnormalities.

Some analysts predicted that safety concerns would delay FDA approval of the oral drug, even though Allergan Inc., the California-based company that is developing the drug, has told the FDA it would address the issue by tracking all doctors, pharmacies and women who prescribe, dispense and use Tazoral. The psoriasis pill had been expected to reach the market in September. Allergan is best known for the anti-wrinkle treatment Botox.

Both Tazoral and Accutane are retinoids, a class of medications linked to physical deformities and mental disabilities in the children of women on the drugs.

The FDA said in its report that efforts to prevent pregnancies in Accutane users had failed, adding to the agency's concerns about Tazoral. The report will be reviewed Monday at a meeting of medical advisors to the FDA.

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