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Health Highlights: May 2, 2004

U.S. Braces for Another Summer of West Nile Virus China Confirms 6th SARS Case SARS Molecule Could Lead to Early Test New Medicare Site Has Inaccurate Drug Prices Study Reveals How HPV Takes Hold in Body Recalled Espresso Machines May Burst Under Pressure

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

U.S. Braces for Another Summer of West Nile Virus

With the arrival of warm weather throughout the United States, health officials are taking steps to limit threats posed by West Nile virus, the potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease.

In Arizona, for instance, Gov. Janet Napolitano has signed an order authorizing the Department of Health Services to spend $100,000 on prevention measures, primarily offering counties money for additional "mosquito abatement efforts," the Associated Press reported.

"We are determined to be as proactive as possible to keep West Nile virus from inflicting Arizona," Napolitano said. Her state saw its first cases of the disease last year.

West Nile is transmitted to humans through bites by mosquitoes, which become infected when they feed on infected birds. People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop serious symptoms and should take special care to avoid mosquito bites. Safety tips include using insect repellent containing DEET when going out after dark; wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors; and draining standing water -- a potential breeding spot for mosquitoes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Nile first appeared in the United States in New York in 1999 and has been spreading westward ever since.

Colorado was particularly hard hit last year, reporting nearly 3,000 cases, and 61 deaths. That compared to just 14 cases in 2002, the AP said.


China Confirms 6th SARS Case

Chinese health officials have confirmed another SARS case, raising to six the total of confirmed cases in the country -- four in the capital city of Beijing and two in Anhui province.

There are also three suspected cases in Beijing, CNN reported Sunday.

The announcement came a day after Health Ministry officials confirmed that a 53-year-old woman who had died in Anhui province last week succumbed to SARS. It marked the world's first known death from the disease in nine months and the first person to die during China's mini-outbreak that is thought to have begun when two researchers in a Beijing SARS lab became ill last month.

With the start of the weeklong May Day holiday on Saturday, travelers throughout the country were being checked for SARS symptoms of fever and cough before being allowed to board trains or planes. Some 90 million Chinese are expected to travel during the holiday period, according to news reports.

The latest confirmed case is a male doctorate student with the surname Yang. His condition was not released, CNN reported.

The three other confirmed Beijing SARS patients are all related; one of them is a nurse who had been treating a case from Anhui province.

The health ministry Saturday said the nurse was in stable condition; her aunt is in serious condition, but is improving; and her mother is "relatively stable," CNN said.

So far, China's new cases of the highly contagious virus are limited to people who worked at Beijing's Institute of Virology -- where SARS samples are kept -- and others who came in contact with them.

World Health Organization officials blame lab security for the mini-outbreak, but have yet to determine the cause of the virus' spread.

SARS first appeared in southern China in late 2002, eventually killing 774 people worldwide and infecting thousands before subsiding last spring.


SARS Molecule Could Lead to Early Test

Scientists in Toronto have found an important molecule in people with SARS that may lead to the development of an early, fast test for the SARS virus.

During the SARS outbreak in Toronto last year, health workers collected blood samples from every patient with SARS-like symptoms. Those blood samples, along with samples taken from healthy people in a control group, were tested for 15 different immune molecules, the Toronto Star reported.

The scientists found that every SARS patient had extremely high levels of an immune molecule called IP-10. The high levels of IP-10 developed as soon as people developed SARS symptoms. Healthy people never showed high levels of IP-10.

Results of testing for IP-10 can be known within three to four hours of a patient's arrival at the hospital.

The research was presented Thursday at the World Vaccine Congress.

The Toronto scientists are collaborating with an American company to use this discovery to develop a test that could be produced on a large scale, the Star reported.

There are currently two tests available for SARS. One takes five days for results, but is 60 percent reliable. The other test can't be used until three weeks after the onset of SARS symptoms.


New Medicare Site Has Inaccurate Drug Prices

A new Medicare Web site that allows people to compare drug prices is already drawing complaints that the information is incorrect.

The site is designed to enable people using the new Medicare-approved drug discount card to search for the lowest drug prices.

"Everybody seems to be finding problems with inaccuracies with the posted prices," Walgreens' spokeswoman Laurie Meyer told the Associated Press.

Two other sponsors of the new Medicare drug discount card also reported inaccurate prices on the new Web site. Some drug prices were too high while others were too low.

A California company, Destination Rx, manages the Web site. Medicare hired the company without seeking any other bids, the AP reported.


Study Reveals How HPV Takes Hold in Body

Harvard Medical School scientists have found how the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts and cervical cancer, gets established in the body.

In research with mice, the Harvard team found that a protein in the virus attaches to another protein in the body's cells, BBC News Online reports.

This discovery, published in the journal Cell, could help scientists develop new treatments HPV, which can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.

About 15 percent of women ages 20 to 30 and about 6 percent of women over age 40 carry the virus. There is currently no cure for it. In most cases, it disappears by itself.


Recalled Espresso Machines May Burst Under Pressure

Hamilton Beach is recalling 20,160 espresso/cappuccino makers that could burst under pressure during use if the frothing nozzle becomes clogged, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

The recall involves Hamilton Beach Cappuccino Plus units, model number 40714, which is printed on the bottom of the unit. The company has received 10 reports of burst steam tubes, one of which caused a minor burn.

Discount department stores and Internet retailers nationwide sold the product from March 2003 to March 2004 for about $70. For information on how to receive a free replacement, contact the company at 800-672-5872 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

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