Today's Health Highlights

Florida Man Hospitalized With Anthrax Protein Discovered as Key to HIV Infection Birth Control Shot May Weaken Bones

(THURSDAY, Oct. 4) -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of The HealthDay Service:

Florida Man Contracts Anthrax

A businessman has been hospitalized in Florida with pulmonary anthrax, a highly lethal disease that some fear could be used as a biological weapon. But the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, said Thursday that it does not appear to be a case of terrorism, the Associated Press reports.

"This is an isolated case, and it's not contagious,'' Thompson said at a White House press briefing, adding such cases are "rare, very rare." Anthrax can be contracted naturally, the story says. The 63-year-old Lantana, Fla., man reportedly checked into a hospital in Palm Beach County two days ago.


Protein Discovered as Key to HIV Infection

Scientists may have discovered a way to stop HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from spreading from cell to cell, a HealthDay story says.

HIV disrupts the normal processes that occur in our bodies' cells so that it can replicate and then escape from one cell to infect another. This process is known as "budding," and the researchers found that a protein named Tsg101 is essential to it. When they removed the gene that produces Tsg101, HIV was unable to bud from cells.

"Tsg101 is required for the virus to leave the cell," says one of the researchers, Wes Sundquist, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Utah. "If we can get rid of Tsg101, we can stop it." Sundquist is quick to point out, however, that his team hasn't developed a drug that can knock out Tsg101, and that any medication that might come from this research would be years in the making.


Birth Control Shot May Weaken Bones

Could your choice of birth control at age 18 come back to haunt you when you're 45? It might -- if your choice is the popular injectable contraceptive known as Depo-Provera, HealthDay reports.

New research confirms that the main ingredient in the shots -- depo medroxyprogesterone acetate or DMPA -- can cause significant bone loss when used long term. And, say experts, the younger you are when you begin using this contraceptive, the greater your risk of bone-related problems later in life.

"This is not the first study to observe that use of DMPA may result in bone density loss, [but] our study confirms the results of others," says study author Dr. Abbey Berenson, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Texas Medical Branch.


No Health Threats at WTC Site

U.S. health officials say they've found no significant threats to public health at the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in New York City, the Associated Press reports.

Two federal agencies analyzed samples of air, dust, water, river sediments and drinking water for such pollutants as asbestos, radiation, mercury and other metals, pesticides or bacteria, the story says. The agencies -- the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- are offering the test results on their Web sites: and


FDA Approves Contraceptive Ring

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first hormone-releasing contraceptive implant, HealthDay reports.

NuvaRing, sold by Organon, Inc., is between 98 percent and 99 percent effective at blocking conception -- meaning that for every 100 women who use it for a year, only one or two will become pregnant, the FDA says. That rate is similar to both the birth control pill and the yet-unapproved contraceptive patch, which releases a steady stream of estrogen and progestin that offers a week of pregnancy protection.

The new prescription device is a circle of soft, flexible polymer measuring 2.1 inches across. It releases a steady stream of the hormones etonogestrel and ethinyl estradiol, molecules like those found in oral contraceptives.


Outbreaks of Resistant E. coli Strain Prompt Concern

A new strain of an antibiotic-resistant bacterium that causes urinary tract infections in women has suddenly appeared in widely separated communities in the United States, raising the possibility of broad contamination of food, a HealthDay story says.

The Escherichia coli strain has been isolated in women with urinary tract infections in California, Michigan and Minnesota, researchers report in the latest issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. The strain is resistant to the trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole drug combination commonly used to treat E. coli infections, the researchers say.

The emergence of the new strain in three different geographic areas points toward "one or more contaminated products ingested by community residents," the journal report says. Contaminated foods have been responsible for community-wide outbreaks of intestinal infections caused by a different strain of E. coli that is designated 0157:H7, the report says.


First Gene Linked to Language Discovered

British scientists say they have identified the first gene that can be definitively linked to language, offering a glimpse into the genetic basis for the human ability to communicate through speech, according to HealthDay.

Neurogeneticists at the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford also say they've identified a mutation on that gene that appears to be responsible for a speech and language disorder called developmental apraxia of speech.

Children with the disorder may not make cooing or babbling sounds as infants. They leave sounds out of words, mispronounce vowels and may have problems performing oral movements on command, such as puffing out their cheeks.


New Drug for Crohn's OK'd

Crohn's disease sufferers have a new treatment option that reduces the intestinal inflammation that causes much of the disorder's discomfort, the Associated Press reports.

The Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 2 approved Entocort EC. The agency says the drug, which comes in capsule form, should produce fewer side effects than other steroids -- such as prednisone -- that are used to treat Crohn's.

Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammation of the bowel. It afflicts more than 500,000 Americans, most under 30 years of age. Symptoms include severe and persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, fatigue and weight loss. Many sufferers eventually require surgery to repair the problem, the story says.

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