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Health Highlights: Nov. 9, 2003

Hong Kong SARS Survivors Have Bone Disorder 3 Israeli Infants Die, 17 Others Stricken From Faulty Formula Cocoa Beats Wine, Tea for Antioxidants: Study D.C.-Area Post Offices Reopen After Anthrax Scare Pennsylvania Hepatitis A Outbreak Claims 1st Life

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

Some SARS Survivors Now Have Bone Disorder

Hong Kong hospital officials said Sunday that 49 SARS survivors are suffering from a degenerative bone disorder, possibly a side-effect of the steroids used to treat them.

Many Hong Kong SARS patients who contracted the potentially fatal respiratory illness were treated with an antiviral drug and high dosages of steroids, and some experts had warned that the regimen may be harmful, the Associated Press reports.

In a statement, the Hospital Authority said that 49 of the 1,755 people who had contracted SARS in the territory have avascular necrosis, a disease that affects the hip joint and hampers blood flow to the bone, leading to fractures.

Previous research has linked the steroid treatment to the occurrence of bone-weakening osteoporosis in some other SARS survivors, but the Hong Kong statement made no mention of that..

Meanwhile, the first human tests of a SARS vaccine could begin as early as January, although it's impossible to predict when -- or if -- such an inoculation might be available for general use, The New York Times reports.

Top officials from the World Health Organization and the United States told the newspaper that laboratory researchers from Canada, China, the United States and other countries have made significant progress in the quest for a vaccine. The world's first SARS outbreak began last November in China and ended in the spring, killing more than 800 people and infecting more than 8,400 in 30 countries.


3 Israeli Infants Die, 17 Others Stricken From Faulty Formula

Israeli health officials on Sunday were set to order vitamin B1 injections for 5,000 infants after a soy milk formula apparently killed three babies and hospitalized 17 more with encephalopathy.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine), a vital substance, was revealed in tests to be missing from a new Remedia soya milk formula, despite being listed on the packaging as an ingredient, the Jerusalem Post reports. Remedia is an Israeli company whose majority owner is U.S. food giant Heinz. The formula for its baby food is prepared by the German-owned Humana Milchunion.

Babies that relied exclusively on the non-dairy formula milk had no other source of vitamin B1, a complete lack of which can damage the central nervous system and the heart, a Health Ministry official explained. The ministry is recommending that infants who drank the milk be given vitamin B1 supplements.

The formula was particularly popular among orthodox Jews, who use the non-dairy formula alongside meat meals. And the graveness of the situation led rabbis to permit loudspeakers to be used in Orthodox neighborhoods on Saturday to warn parents against using Remedia.

Health officials reported getting more than 10,000 calls from worried parents whose babies drink the formula, and hundreds of babies who seemed sick were brought to Israeli emergency rooms.


Cocoa Beats Wine, Tea for Antioxidants: Study

A cup of hot cocoa may be richer in antioxidants than better-known "healthy" drinks like tea and red wine, new research suggests.

Dr Chang Yong Lee and colleagues at Cornell University in New York tested the drinks for their levels of antioxidants, the chemicals that can protect against a range of diseases and reduce the effects of aging, according to a BBC report.

Cocoa came out on top. The researchers found a cup of it was twice as rich in antioxidants as a glass of red wine, up to three times richer than a cup of green tea and up to five times richer than black tea.

Although cocoa is found in many other products, such as chocolate, the researchers said drinking it was the best way of harnessing its health benefits. That's because a bar of chocolate is high in saturated fats. A 40g bar of chocolate contains about 8g of saturated fat. This compares with 0.3g in an average cup of hot cocoa.

The study is published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.


D.C.-Area Post Offices Reopen After Anthrax Scare

Twelve postal facilities in the Washington, D.C., area were reopened Saturday after air-sample tests for anthrax failed to detect the potentially deadly bacteria.

The Naval Consolidated Mail Facility and 11 other post offices were closed Thursday following positive tests for anthrax at the complex earlier this week, the Washington Post reports.

The Naval facility handles mail for an unspecified number of U.S. government agencies. Workers at the facility were offered antibiotics on Friday as a precaution.

The decision to close the post offices was influenced by the anthrax attacks in late 2001. Testing back then determined that inhaling only a few anthrax spores could sicken or kill people. Five people died in those attacks, and federal agencies were criticized for failing to act quickly enough to protect postal workers, the newspaper reports.

A Navy spokesman told CNN that the level of anthrax initially detected at the facility was in the range of 100 to 140 spores, well below the infectious level that begins at about 10,000 spores.


Pennsylvania Hepatitis A Outbreak Claims 1st Life

A suburban Pittsburgh man, one of 185 people infected in a hepatitis A outbreak, died Friday night due to complications from the disease, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Jeffrey Cook, 38, of Aliquippa, was one of five people hospitalized in the outbreak of the infectious liver disease. State health officials have apparently linked the outbreak to a local Chi-Chi's Restaurant, the newspaper says.

A sick restaurant employee who didn't follow hand-washing rules is a possible cause of the outbreak, according to the paper.

Unlike the more serious hepatitis B and C, which are generally spread by intravenous drug use or risky sexual behaviors, hepatitis A is spread by putting something in the mouth (even though it may look clean) that has been contaminated with the stool of a person with hepatitis A, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food-borne outbreaks generally involve fresh vegetables or other uncooked foods handled by a contaminated person, but the disease is relatively rare.

Symptoms include fever, nausea, diarrhea, jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.

State health officials are offering shots of immune globulin to help contain the outbreak. The antibody treatment lessens the chance of acquiring the disease if given within 14 days of exposure, the newspaper says.

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