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Health Highlights: May 11, 2005

West Nile Vaccine Shows Promise in Early Testing Three Heart Pills Are Better Than One: Study Yemen Reports Growing Polio Outbreak RadioShack Recalls Toxic Video Head Cleaner Fen-Phen Replacement Leads to Weight Loss, Maker Says Suspicious Powder Found at Connecticut Mail Facility

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

West Nile Vaccine Shows Promise in Early Testing

A new vaccine to fight the mosquito-borne West Nile virus built up enough antibodies to prevent the disease in all but one of 60 people who were inoculated during initial testing, the vaccine's maker said Wednesday.

The early results are far from definitive proof that the vaccine works, a top U.S. health official told the Associated Press. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was impressed by the early findings.

The results, provided by vaccine developer Acambis, were from a first small sample of people designed to test the vaccine's safety. A much larger number of volunteers will participate in the second and third phases of the trials. The inoculation won't be ready for public use for at least three years, the AP reported.

The vaccine, five years in development, combines genes from the West Nile virus with a licensed, already proven shot for a related disease called yellow fever. The vaccine causes a weakened West Nile infection, which the body then fights off.

West Nile has infected more than 16,000 people and killed more than 680 since arriving in the United States in 1999. Most infections aren't serious, but severe cases can cause a dangerous swelling of the brain, the AP said. People with weak immune systems -- including the elderly, young children, and those with chronic health problems -- are at higher risk of complications.


Three Heart Pills Are Better Than One: Study

People with heart disease prescribed a combination of three medications are likely to live longer than those who take any single one of the drugs, British scientists report.

Nottingham University researchers found that taking aspirin, a cholesterol-lowering statin, and a beta blocker designed to lower blood pressure led to an 83 percent lower risk of dying, the London Telegraph reported Wednesday.

By contrast, taking just one of the drugs led to a 20 percent or lower risk of death among the 13,000 patients with heart disease who were tested, the newspaper reported.

Results of the study were published in the British Medical Journal.


Yemen Reports Growing Polio Outbreak

There are now more than 60 reported cases of polio in Yemen, a number that's soon expected to top 100, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

To combat what it describes as one of the world's worst polio outbreaks, the WHO is arranging a national immunization program in Yemen at the end of May. Six million polio vaccination packs are expected to arrive there next week, BBC News Online reported.

Yemen once was considered polio free. Fifteen other previously polio-free countries have reported new cases since 2003. A polio vaccine boycott in Nigeria is suspected as sparking the disease's re-emergence.

Two years ago, hard-line Islamic scholars in Nigeria started telling people the polio vaccination was an American plot to make people infertile or to infect them with HIV/AIDS. It's suspected that polio was carried from Nigeria to other countries by migrant workers or by pilgrims visiting holy sites in Saudi Arabia, the BBC said.


RadioShack Recalls Toxic Video Head Cleaner Fluid

RadioShack is recalling about a million "Wet System Video Head Cleaners" that contain a toxic substance that can kill or cause blindness if swallowed, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday.

The bottle is labeled as containing isopropanol but actually contains much more toxic methanol. In addition, the bottle doesn't have the cautionary labeling and child-resistant packaging required under U.S. federal regulations for methanol.

So far, RadioShack has received 39 reports of children accessing the product, but there have been no reported injuries.

The recalled product was sold in a box labeled "Video Head Cleaner," "RadioShack" and "44-1230" or "44-1213." The four-inch-high white plastic cleaning solution bottle is labeled "Video Head Cleaning Fluid" or "Cleaning Liquid for HEAD CLEANER." The bottle also lists the contents as isopropanol and the item number "44-1230" or "44-1213."

The product was sold from December 1995 through January 2005 for about $13. Consumers should immediately place the product out of the reach of children and return it to the nearest RadioShack store for a refund.

For more information contact RadioShack at 1-800-843-7422.


Fen-Phen Replacement Leads to Weight Loss, Maker Says

An experimental drug designed to duplicate the weight-loss effects of the now-banned diet pill fen-phen without its harmful side effects is showing early promise in clinical trials, its maker says.

San Diego-based Arena Pharmaceuticals said people who took the highest dose of the new drug, dubbed APD356, lost an average of 2.9 pounds after 28 days, The New York Times reported Wednesday. By contrast, trial participants who took a non-medicinal placebo lost 0.7 pounds over the same span, the newspaper said. Two lower doses of the drug did not produce a significant weight loss.

Wyeth's fen-phen (fenfluramine) was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 1997 after it was linked to heart valve damage. Arena says its drug has similar properties but should avoid this side effect, the newspaper reported.

Longer trials involving more participants are pending before the company can apply for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Times said.


Suspicious Powder Found at Connecticut Mail Facility

A U.S. mail facility in Shelton, Conn., was evacuated Tuesday morning after an employee discovered a plastic bag filled with white powder and a threatening letter, the New Haven Register reported.

The letter claimed anthrax was present in the white powder, which was sent to the state Department of Health for testing. Results are expected within 48 hours, a facility spokesman said. The contents of the letter weren't fully disclosed.

The building was evacuated for about an hour before workers were allowed back in, the newspaper said. About 50 workers were in the facility at the time, but the package was opened in an isolated area. The clothing of the worker who opened the suspicious package was sealed in a separate plastic bag in case it had become contaminated.

The public does not use the facility, so there was no danger to non-postal workers, a postal spokesman said.

In November 2001 during a nationwide anthrax-by-mail scare, a 94-year-old Oxford, Conn., woman died after her mail was exposed to the deadly bacterium. No one has been charged in the case.

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