Health Highlights: June 9, 2004

U.S. Track Stars Face Doping Allegations Report Links Premature Deaths to Power Plant Pollution Holsters Recalled for Triggering Gun's Trigger Growth Rate of Health-Care Spending Slows in 2003 Vaccine Preservative Tied to Autism in Mice Calif. Reports First Human Case of West Nile of 2004

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

U.S. Track Stars Face Doping Allegations

Alleged violations of doping rules could trip up plans by world 100-meter record holder Tim Montgomery and three other American track and field athletes to compete at the Summer Olympics in Athens.

The allegations were contained in letters sent by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to Montgomery and the other stars. They are Alvin Harrison, a silver medal holder in the 400-meter Olympic event, Chryste Gaines, the 1996 gold medal 4x100 relay sprinter, and Michelle Collins, the 2003 indoor 200-meter champion.

Sending the letters is the first phase in determining whether an athlete has committed a doping offense, the Voice of America reported. An anti-doping board decides whether cases should proceed. Athletes are allowed to submit written statements to the board.

The evidence in the letter sent to Montgomery is inconclusive and inconsistent, said his lawyer, Christina Arguedas.

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Report Links Premature Deaths to Power Plant Pollution

Health problems linked to pollution from power plants cut short nearly 24,000 lives each year in the United States, according to a report commissioned by environmental advocacy groups.

About 2,800 of those deaths are from lung cancer.

The report, released Wednesday, concluded that 22,000 of those annuals deaths could be prevented if currently available technology was used to reduce power plant pollution. The document was prepared by Abt Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

People who die prematurely due to exposure to fine particle pollution from power plants lose an average of 14 years of life, the report said.

It also concluded that power plant pollution causes 38,200 nonfatal heart attacks a year in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

The National Environmental Trust, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the Clean Air Task Force were among the groups that commissioned the report.

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Holsters Recalled for Triggering Gun's Trigger

A Pennsylvania-based company is recalling about 3,200 holsters because a retention strap on them can catch a gun's trigger, causing the firearm to discharge inadvertently.

First Samco Inc., through its Fobus USA Holster Division of Southampton, said the danger happens when the gun -- in this case, a Glock handgun, which the holster was specifically made to hold -- is inserted into the holster. The strap was too narrow, according to a statement.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that there have been eight incidents in which a gun went off accidentally, including one in which a user suffered a finger injury.

The holsters under recall have "GL 2*EMZ" engraved on the top and "Fobus" and "Made in Israel" printed on the back. They were sold nationwide between March 2002 and March 2003. For more information on the recall, call (866) 508-3997 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

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Growth Rate of Health-Care Spending Slows in 2003

The rate of growth in health-care spending in the United States declined for the second year in a row in 2003 but still ran well ahead of inflation, says a report released Wednesday by the Center for Studying Health Change, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy research group.

The report said that health-care spending per privately insured person grew 7.4 percent in 2003, compared to a 9.5 percent increase in 2002 and a 10 percent rise in 2001, the Associated Press reported.

The inflation rate in 2003 was 1.9 percent.

The decrease in the rate of growth in spending occurred, in part, because employees were forced to pay more of their own health-care costs, the report noted. The bulk of that shift in costs to individuals was in prescription drug plans.

Increasing costs are making it more difficult for people to find affordable health care.

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Vaccine Preservative Tied to Autism in Mice

Thimerosal, the mercury preservative used in some vaccines, can cause autism-like behavioral abnormalities in newborn mice, says a Columbia University study released Wednesday.

But the study found that these abnormalities occur only in a strain of mice with a specific genetic susceptibility, the Los Angeles Times reported.

That could explain why previous research has not been able to prove or disprove a link between thimerosal and autism, which is a highly controversial issue.

This new study challenges the findings of several previous large studies on autism. The Columbia University research may also strengthen the assertions of parents who believe their children were affected by vaccines containing thimerosal.

"The exciting thing is that this gives us a way forward in understanding why we have not seen more conclusive findings on either side of the fence, and how we need to design studies to pick up gene-environment interactions," Ellen Silbergeld of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, told the Times.

She was not involved in the study, which appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry Last month, the Institute of Medicine all but rejected any link between autism and vaccines containing thimerosal .

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Calif. Reports First Human Case of West Nile of 2004

A 40-year-old Southern California woman is the first reported human case of West Nile virus in the state this year.

The unidentified woman, from San Bernardino County, suffered mild to moderate symptoms last month but was not hospitalized and is now completely recovered, state health officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Last year, California had three confirmed human West Nile cases, the Associated Press reported.

So far this year, there have been two other human cases of West Nile virus in the United States, according to information on the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One case was in Arizona and the other in New Mexico.

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