Health Highlights: Sept. 19, 2003

AP: No Evidence of Smallpox in Iraq IV-Drug Risk Increases With Age, Study Finds Hurricane Isabel Blamed for 17 Deaths When It Comes to Diet, Better Late than Never Fewer Americans Get Insurance Through Work

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

AP: No Evidence of Smallpox in Iraq

American scientists assigned to hunt out weapons of mass destruction in Iraq say there's no evidence that Saddam Hussein stockpiled smallpox, the Associated Press reports Friday.

Fears of the deadly virus being used against American interests were among the reasons cited for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Among the only items found so far are disabled lab equipment and a laboratory covered in cobwebs, the wire service reports. In addition, Iraqi researchers interviewed by the American scientists have given no indication that they had ever worked with smallpox.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, fears of a bioterror strike using smallpox led the Bush administration to order 500,000 military troops to receive the dangerous smallpox vaccine, and to order enough vaccine for the entire country.

President Bush himself was vaccinated against the disease, which kills about one-third of its victims, the AP reports.

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IV-Drug Risk Increases With Age, Study Finds

Older men who inject drugs are up to six times more likely to die from the practice than are younger men, British researchers conclude from a new study.

Among 20,000 Scottish IV-drug users, men over 34 were two to six times more likely to die than were men under 25, according to the scientists at Cambridge and Strathclyde universities.

"The public health message of 'stop injecting' and 'never start injecting' are as important as ever," study researcher Prof. Sheila Bird tells BBC News Online."But we have shown that cessation of injecting, as a goal, might be particularly critical for older drug users."

The study appears in the Sept. 20 issue of The Lancet.

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Hurricane Isabel Blamed for 17 Deaths

At least 17 people are dead in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, which knocked out power to some 4.5 million people along the U.S. Eastern seaboard.

Nine deaths were recorded in Virginia, three in North Carolina, two in Maryland, and one each in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported Friday afternoon.

Once a "category five" monster with top winds of 160 mph, a weakened Isabel plowed into North Carolina's Outer Banks Thursday with winds of 100 mph -- still a powerful "category two" storm. Now Tropical Depression Isabel was expected to dissipate in Canada by Saturday.

The storm dumped more than five inches of rain in some areas. A utility employee in North Carolina was electrocuted while restoring power, the AP reports, while the other storm-related deaths were from falling trees, drownings, or car accidents.

President Bush declared disasters in North Carolina and Virginia, pledging federal aid to both. State emergencies were declared by the governors of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

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When It Comes to Diet, Better Late than Never

If you've wanted to diet for years but never quite found the drive or willpower, there still may be hope. A new study finds that lowering dietary intake later in life still reduces the likelihood of death -- at least in fruit flies.

The British study, published in the Sept. 19 issue of Science, found that fully-fed flies lived about 32 days, while flies on a restricted diet lived an average of nearly 50 days, HealthDay reports.

The restricted diet contained about 35 percent fewer nutrients than the fully-fed diet, according to researchers who led the study at University College London.

The researchers concede they don't know why restricting the diet had such a dramatic effect on mortality. They've hypothesized that dietary restriction increases life span because it slows down the damaging effects of processes, like oxidation, that occur as food is digested, HealthDay reports.

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Fewer Americans Get Insurance Through Work

Some 45 percent of all American workers receive health insurance from their employers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says in a new survey. That's down from about two-thirds of the workforce a decade ago, reports the Boston Globe.

Experts cite soaring premiums that have decimated small businesses and forced employees to kick in higher and higher contributions from each paycheck. The federal analysis cites a 75 percent increase in premiums paid by employees in the past decade, far outpacing wages or inflation, the Globe reports.

The average premium paid today by a single employee is $60.24 a month, versus $34.09 a month in 1993, the report says. The average family plan soared to $228.98 a month from $130.65 over the same period.

In addition, many workers have shifted into service-oriented jobs like waitresses, dental assistants, security guards, and childcare workers -- all occupations that traditionally are less likely to provide employees with health coverage, the newspaper reports.

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