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Health Highlights: July 11, 2005

Fires Killed 3,900 People in U.S. Last Year Researcher- Misconduct Claims Hit Record in 2004 Pokemon Soft Toys May Contain Needle Tips Enzyme a Crucial Receptor for SARS Virus Cows in Texas Herd Test Negative for Mad Cow Disease Fingernail Test for Osteoporosis

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

Fires Killed 3,900 People in U.S. Last Year

Some 3,900 people in the United States died last year in fires, a decrease of 0.6 percent from 2003, the National Fire Protection Association said Monday.

As in previous years, most fire fatalities in 2004 (82 percent) occurred in homes. Nationwide, the NFPA said, there was a fire death every 135 minutes.

An estimated 17,785 people suffered non-fatal injuries last year, a drop of 1.4 percent from the prior year. Property damage from fires declined 20.2 percent to $9,794,000,000.

In 2004, public fire departments responded to more than 1.5 billion fires, a drop of 2.2 percent from the prior year.

The NFPA recommends better public fire safety education efforts, increased use and maintenance of smoke alarms, wider use of residential sprinklers, and increased implementation of family escape plans.


Research-Misconduct Claims Hit Record in 2004

Allegations of misconduct by researchers in the United States rose to a record 274 cases last year, an increase of 50 percent over 2003, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

The director of the federal Office of Research Integrity told the Associated Press that his office wasn't able to keep pace with the allegations, having closed only 23 cases last year. ORI chief Chris Pascal said his office has confirmed about 185 cases of scientific misconduct over the past 15 years.

Research suggests this is just a fraction of actual cases of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism, the AP said.

In a survey published June 9 in the journal Nature, about one-third of the 3,247 respondents conceded to some kind of professional misbehavior, the wire service reported.


Pokemon Soft Toys May Contain Needle Tips

Pokemon USA is recalling some 9,200 plush toys that may contain sewing needle tips that could pose cut hazards, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

The recall involves 6-inch dolls depicting nine different characters. The Pikachu character also comes in a 12-inch version. The dolls have sewn-on labels that read: "Pokemon Center Nintendo/ Creatures/ Game Freak" on one side, and "2005 Made in China" on the other.

The dolls were sold on the firm's Web site from April 2005 through June 2005 for between $8 and $20, and were given away at a Nintendo of America conference in Los Angeles in May.

Parents should take the toys away from children immediately, and can contact Pokemon at 1-800-930-6613 to request a free replacement.


Enzyme a Crucial Receptor for SARS Virus

A blood pressure-regulating enzyme called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is a crucial receptor for the SARS virus, says a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.

This finding may help scientists develop methods to fight severe acute respiratory syndrome and other deadly diseases that cause lung failure, including bird flu and anthrax, the Associated Press reported.

In research with mice, scientists found that ACE2 was effective in two ways. It combined with the virus and prevented it from binding to normal cells. The enzyme also protected the mice from acute lung failure, the AP reported.

"We, of course, need to extend these findings in mice now to humans," Dr. Josef Penninger, of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, told the AP.

A SARS outbreak in 2003-2004 killed almost 800 people worldwide. Since then, it has not resurfaced.


Cows in Texas Herd Test Negative for Mad Cow Disease

Sixty-seven cows from a Texas herd that had one animal infected with mad cow disease have tested negative for the disease, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Two groups of cows from the herd were killed and tested. One group of 29 cows was tested last Wednesday and another 38 cows were tested Friday. Both groups tested negative for the brain-wasting disease. The results for the first group were released Saturday and the results for the second group were released Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

The tests were conducted by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

The infected cow from the unidentified Texas herd arrived dead at a slaughterhouse in November and was then sent to a pet food plant. The diseased cow was not used for food. Its brain was removed for testing, and in late June it was confirmed to be the second case of mad cow disease in the United States.


Fingernail Test for Osteoporosis

UK scientists have developed a simple method of scanning a person's fingernails in order to check for osteoporosis.

The test looks at levels of disulphide bond in the fingernails. This is a crucial bonding substance that gives both bones and fingernails their strength. Low levels of disulphide in the fingernails indicate low levels in the bones, BBC News reported.

The UK team says their test provides an easy and inexpensive way to assess if a person needs to undergo further checks for osteoporosis.

"People are usually referred to hospital for bone scans if their doctors feel they have risk factors, such as being post menopausal, or if they smoke. This test could be a low cost and simple way of assessing someone's risk and if they need to go for further checks," researcher Mark Towler, a lecturer in materials at the University of Limerick, told BBC News.

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