Today's Health Highlights

U.S. Begins Criminal Probe into Florida Anthrax Case Doctors Work to Save Limbaugh's Hearing 'Chemo' Can Benefit Older Colon Cancer Patients

(THURSDAY, Oct. 11) -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of The HealthDay Service:

Feds Launch Criminal Probe into Florida Anthrax Case

The discovery that a third person who works at a Florida media company has tested positive for anthrax has prompted federal officials to launch a criminal investigation, the Associated Press reports.

The 35-year-old woman, whose name was not released, remains hospitalized after a check of her nasal passages revealed traces of anthrax. She is being treated with antibiotics; her condition was not immediately known, the AP says.

The woman was among more than 1,000 people who have been tested by health officials for the presence of anthrax; most have recently been inside the publishing building in Boca Raton, according to the AP.

Federal agents wearing biohazard suits and gas masks spent much of Wednesday and part of today combing the media company's offices, where two men also had been exposed to a highly toxic form of anthrax, according to USA Today. One of the two later died.

Samples from all three floors of the building housing American Media Inc., which publishes seven supermarket tabloids, were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for analysis. Investigators say, however, that no new traces of anthrax were discovered.

Robert Stevens, a 63-year-old photo editor with The Sun tabloid, died Oct. 5 after he was diagnosed with inhaled anthrax, a particularly lethal and rare form of the disease.

Anthrax spores also were found in the nose of mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco, 73. He remains in good condition at a Miami hospital and shows no signs of anthrax infection, Florida health officials say.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is heading the federal investigation, says there's no indication of terrorist involvement in the case. And health officials say there's no threat to public health from the anthrax.


Doctors Work to Save Limbaugh's Hearing

Radio personality Rush Limbaugh's doctors will give him a combination of drugs for up to two months before deciding whether to implant an electronic device in his right ear to try to save what's left of his hearing, the Associated Press reports.

The device, called a cochlear implant, creates an electronic signal that is transmitted to the brain.

Limbaugh, 50, stunned his listeners this week by disclosing he has gone almost completely deaf over the past few months. He said his left ear is "shot,'' and he has only partial hearing in his right ear, the AP says.

He suffers from autoimmune inner-ear disease, which progresses rapidly over a few weeks or months. Doctors believe it is caused when the immune system launches a mistaken attack on the inner ear and damages nerves.


Chemotherapy Can Benefit Older Colon Cancer Patients

Older victims of colon cancer can benefit from chemotherapy after surgery as much as younger patients can. And the side effects for the elderly are no worse, a study found, according to the Associated Press.

The older you get, the greater your chances of colon cancer. But some doctors are reluctant to prescribe chemotherapy for patients over 65. The reason: Older patients may not want to endure the six months of potential nausea, diarrhea and other side effects of the therapy.

"Older people will sometimes say, 'I'm not sure I'll save enough years of life to make [chemotherapy] worth it to me,' '' says Dr. Richard Goldberg, a cancer specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and one of the study's authors. "What this study says is, if you're among the more robust sexagenarians or octogenarians, we can give you data to say that it will.''


Real-Time Pacemaker Approved

U.S. health officials have OK'd a pacemaker outfitted with a tiny transmitter that can tell your doctor how your heart is doing -- the first medical implant capable of real-time monitoring, the Associated Press says.

The Biotronik Home Monitoring System essentially provides a house call any time of day without a doctor or patient taking any special steps. It's the first in an expected wave of medical devices that will let doctors track the chronically ill day-by-day to keep their conditions from worsening between office visits.


U.S. Life Spans At Record High

Americans are living longer than ever before. And the infant mortality rate has fallen to its lowest level on record, the federal government has announced.

A review of death certificates puts U.S. life expectancy at 76.9 years for someone born in 2000, up from 76.7 in 1999, the National Center for Health Statistics says. Meanwhile, the infant mortality rate dropped last year to 6.9 deaths for every 1,000 births, HealthDay reports.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson attributed the longer life spans to advances in fighting disease, and he urged Americans to eat right and exercise regularly to stay healthy.


Three Share Nobel Chemistry Prize for Drug Advances

Two Americans and a Japanese scientist have won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for discoveries now being used to make a wide variety of medicines, including antibiotics, heart drugs and a widely used treatment for Parkinson's disease, the Associated Press reports.

William S. Knowles of St. Louis and Ryoji Noyori of Nagoya University in Japan shared half of the $943,000 award. The other half went to K. Barry Sharpless of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.


A New 'Tail' For Birth Control

Taking the wiggle out of a sperm's tail may be key to creating a new contraceptive that doesn't involve hormones and can be taken by either a man or a woman, say scientists in Boston.

A protein that makes it possible for the sperm to swim to the egg can be switched off -- at least in mice, which makes them infertile, say the Harvard Medical School researchers, HealthDay reports.

Along with the allure of a unisex contraceptive, another plus is that the method uses no hormones, which have been linked to side effects in oral contraceptive pills, implants and injections for women.

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