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Health Highlights: May 4, 2004

Sick Cow Slaughtered Before It Was Tested for Disease 9/11 Attacks Declared NYC's Worst Environmental Disaster Testosterone Patch Boosts Sex Drive in Women Without Ovaries More Americans Struggling With Marijuana Dependence 3 More SARS Cases Confirmed in China Biologic Drug Approved to Treat Psoriasis

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

Sick Cow Slaughtered Before It Was Tested for Disease

A cow in Texas that showed a potential sign of a central nervous system disorder was slaughtered and sent to a processing plant for rendering into animal protein before the U.S. Department of Agriculture could test it for disease, officials said Tuesday.

Ron Dehaven, the USDA's administrator for animal and plant health inspection, said in a statement that a veterinarian condemned the animal after seeing it stagger and fall at a slaughterhouse April 28 in San Angelo, Texas. This indicated the animal was either injured or was exhibiting a potential sign of a neurological disorder such as rabies or mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, according to the Associated Press.

"Standard procedures call for animals condemned due to a possible [central nervous system] disorder to be kept until [USDA] officials can collect samples for testing," the statement said. "However, this did not occur in this case and the animal was sent to rendering."

USDA officials are investigating the circumstances and "will take appropriate actions once all information is available," the statement said.

The rendered parts of the animal did not enter the human food chain and presents no risk to human health, the statement said, according to the AP.

The only case of mad cow detected in the United States was in Washington state in December.

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9/11 Attacks Declared NYC's Worst Environmental Disaster

Rescue workers who toiled at Ground Zero in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center are likely to face long-term health problems from what a new federal report calls "the largest acute environmental disease that has ever befallen New York City."

Cases of asthma and severe cough continue to plague firefighters, other rescue workers and nearby residents, according to the report compiled from six research centers, cited by the Associated Press. The findings appear in the May edition of Environmental Health Perspectives, published by a branch of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

One study of 183 rescue workers found that 33 percent had acquired a severe cough, 18 percent were wheezing, and 24 percent reported increased phlegm production. And asbestos particles detected in the dust from Ground Zero are likely to increase workers' risk of a rare but deadly form of cancer called mesothelioma, the report said.

Its authors said the long-term effects of the disaster would become more apparent over time and with additional research.

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Testosterone Patch Boosts Sex Drive in Women Without Ovaries

A female testosterone patch significantly increased sexual activity and desire in women with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder who previously had both ovaries removed. HSDD is a lack of sexual desire that causes a woman personal distress, researchers said.

The preliminary study findings were presented Tuesday at the 52nd annual clinical meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The study of 562 "surgically menopausal women" with HSDD showed those receiving testosterone through a transdermal patch experienced a 74 percent increase in the frequency of satisfactory sexual activity, as well as a 56 percent increase in sexual desire

"As physicians who treat menopausal women, this news is very exciting. We know there is a tremendous medical need to address those suffering with low sexual desire, particularly those women having experienced surgical menopause," said Dr. James A. Simon, lead study investigator and Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the George Washington University.

Currently, there are no products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat HSDD in women. The patch was jointly developed by Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals and Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The study was sponsored by Procter & Gamble and conducted at 52 health centers in the United States, Canada and Australia.

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More Americans Struggling With Marijuana Dependence

The number of Americans dependent on marijuana has risen sharply since 1991, even though the number of people smoking the drug hasn't changed much, HealthDay reports.

Researchers suspect the increasing potency of marijuana may be to blame for the rise in dependence. The findings appear in the May 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, compared data collected in two large national surveys. The first, the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey, was conducted from 1991 to 1992 and included 42,862 participants. The second, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, took place from 2001 through 2002 and included more than 43,000 participants.

The researchers found the number of people who use marijuana remained largely unchanged during that 10-year period; about 4 percent of the U.S. population uses the drug.

What did change dramatically was the number of marijuana users who were abusing the drug or who had become dependent on it. Marijuana abuse and dependence among users was up nearly 20 percent in 10 years, the study found.

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3 More SARS Cases Confirmed in China

China has confirmed three more cases of SARS among its suspected cases list, bringing the number of infected people to nine, Channel News Asia reported Tuesday.

The cases, confirmed by the Ministry of Health, all appear to stem from initial infections acquired by two workers at a Beijing SARS lab in March. The World Health Organization is investigating the security lapses that led to the current mini outbreak.

The latest announcement came in the midst of the week-long May Day pilgrimage, in which millions typically travel across the country. Despite heavy rains, the turnout at May Day events in Beijing has been "overwhelming," CNA reported.

The network said few if any festivities had been dampened by SARS, in contrast to the initial outbreak last year when most activities were canceled.

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Enbrel Approved to Treat Psoriasis

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Amgen drug Enbrel (etanercept) to treat chronic, moderate-to-severe psoriasis in adults.

The drug is already approved for four other conditions, among them the rheumatoid and psoriatic forms of arthritis. Enbrel is a genetically engineered protein that binds to and prevents the harmful effects of another protein, TNF, which promotes inflammation in the body.

In the case of plaque psoriasis, the drug is designed to tame the inflamed, painful skin lesions caused by faulty immune system signals that cause skin cells to regenerate too quickly. In clinical trials involving more than 1,200 people over age 18, the drug "demonstrated rapid and significant clearing in many patients," Amgen said in a prepared statement.

The National Psoriasis Foundation applauded the drug's approval for this purpose, noting that about 5 million Americans have the degenerative disease, for which there is no known cure.

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