Health Highlights: May 11, 2004

SARS Vaccine Likely Within 3 Years, Scientists Say Americans Exposed to High Levels of Pesticides: Report Women Best at Oral Hygiene Wisconsin Hotline Offers Easy Access to 'Morning-After Pill' Most School Vending Machines Peddle Junk: Survey New Therapy Appears to Reverse Obesity in Mice

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

SARS Vaccine Likely Within 3 Years, Scientists Say

A SARS vaccine will probably be discovered within three years, scientists predicted Tuesday in Germany at the first international conference on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

"There are good chances of finding a vaccine. I think it will take two to three years," said Hans-Dieter Klenk, head of an association of German virologists, the French news agency AFP reported.

"The chances of curing illnesses caused from atypical pneumonia are better at this moment, thanks to vaccines," added Klenk. He was referring to recent advances by British researchers using genetically modified viral substances.

The 300 scientists came from China, the epicenter of last year's SARS epidemic, as well as Europe, Canada, and the United States.

SARS first surfaced in China's Guangdong province in late 2002. It killed 774 people worldwide and infected more than 8,000 others before it was brought under control.

A small outbreak earlier this year, traced to workers at a SARS laboratory in Beijing, led to the death of one women and sickened eight other people.

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Americans Exposed to High Levels of Pesticides: Report

Many U.S. residents carry toxic pesticides in their bodies at levels above those deemed "acceptable" by the federal government, according to a report released Tuesday by the San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network.

The report makes public for the first time an analysis of pesticide-related data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It examined levels of chemicals in 9,282 people nationwide, said PAN, which urges alternatives to pesticide use for pest control.

Many of the pesticides found in those studied have been linked to "serious short- and long-term health effects" including infertility, birth defects and childhood and adult cancers, according to the report, Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability.

It stated that "children, women and Mexican-Americans shoulder the heaviest 'pesticide body burden.' " For example, the average 6- to 11-year-old studied is exposed to the pesticide chlorpyrifos (commonly known by the product name Dursban) at four times the level the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers "acceptable" for a long-term exposure, according to the review.

The report called for "immediate action by government officials and the pesticide industry to reduce reliance on toxic pesticide and better protect the public from pesticide exposures."

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Women Best at Oral Hygiene

When it comes to oral hygiene habits, men could take a cue from women, a survey released Tuesday by the American Dental Association finds.

In its 2003 Public Opinion Survey: Oral Health of the U.S. Population, the ADA found that women were more likely than men to brush their teeth after every meal (28.7 percent to 20.5 percent) or twice a day (56.8 percent to 49 percent). The survey also found that women were more likely to have a dentist than men (89.2 percent to 74.6 percent).

Overall, the number of American adults brushing twice a day or after each meal rose to 78 percent in 2003, compared with 75.4 percent in 1997. The biggest jump in brushing frequency occurred in the number of respondents saying they brushed after every meal -- 24.8 percent in 2003, compared with 11.5 percent in the 1997 survey.

The daily use of dental floss rose to 50.5 percent in 2003, compared with 48.2 percent in 1997, the survey also found.

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Wisconsin Hotline Offers Easy Access to 'Morning-After Pill'

A network of Wisconsin family planning clinics is striking back against last week's U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision not to make the so-called "morning-after" pill available over the counter.

The Wisconsin Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association has activated a toll-free hotline, from which state residents can order the pill, known as Plan B, and have it delivered to them overnight, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. The association said it's planning a public education campaign to promote the hotline.

Under the Wisconsin Medicaid family planning waiver, women 15 to 44 can get the drug free if their annual income is about $17,000 or less, the newspaper said.

The FDA last week rejected Barr Pharmaceutical's petition to sell the pill over the counter, saying the company had failed to prove that young women could understand how to use the drug without a doctor's help.

The drug is a higher dose of a regular birth control pill. If taken within 72 hours of intercourse, the "morning after pill" can reduce a woman's chances of becoming pregnant by up to 89 percent.

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Most School Vending Machines Peddle Junk: Survey

Seventy-five percent of the drinks and 85 percent of the snacks sold in school vending machines qualify as "junk" food with poor nutritional value, according to a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Three-quarters of the drinks sold were soda, juice drinks with less than 50 percent juice, iced tea, and sports drinks, according to the study of more than 1,400 machines in 251 schools across the United States. Just 5 percent of the drinks were milk, the center said in a statement.

Of the snack foods sold in the machines, 42 percent were candy, 25 percent were chips, and 13 percent were sweet baked goods like snack cakes, the center said.

Congress needs to give the U.S. Department of Agriculture more authority to regulate foods sold in schools that participate in the federal school lunch program, in which the government invests $8.8 billion a year, CPSI said.

Government funding cutbacks have led many schools to start selling vending machine food in the first place, the center conceded. But it asserted that some schools have begun substituting healthier fare without seeing a drop-off in vending machine revenue.

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New Therapy Appears to Reverse Obesity in Mice

University of Texas researchers have devised a therapy to treat obesity by destroying blood vessels that support fat cell accumulation, according to research published in the June issue of Nature Medicine.

One month of the so-called "molecular liposuction" therapy restored the normal weight of mice that had doubled their size by eating a high-fat diet, the researchers at the school's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center said in a statement.

None of the mice used in the experiment was genetically altered or prone to obesity prior to treatment, the statement added. The authors said they conducted additional experiments to make sure there were no toxic side effects or other harmful complications. But they cautioned that much more study was needed.

"If even a fraction of what we found in mice relates to human biology, then we are cautiously optimistic that there may be a new way to think about reversing [human] obesity," said study co-author Renata Pasqualini.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and a number of foundation grants, the scientists said.

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