Today's Health Highlights

Anthrax Cases Now Stand at 12 Surge in Use of Anti-Anxiety Drugs FDA Approves 30-Night Contact Lenses

(MONDAY, Oct. 15) -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of The HealthDay Service:

Number of Anthrax Cases Reaches 12

Three more people, including a police officer and two lab technicians involved in the anthrax investigation at NBC's New York City headquarters, have tested positive for exposure to the bacteria, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said yesterday, according to the Associated Press.

That brings to 12 the number of people around the nation who either have anthrax or have been exposed to it.

Nevada officials said four people who may have come into contact with a contaminated letter at a Microsoft office tested negative, while results weren't known for two others, the AP reports.

The wave of anthrax exposures began Oct. 4 in Boca Raton, Fla., when it was confirmed that an editor at the supermarket tabloid The Sun had been infected with the inhaled form of the bacteria. He died the next day, the first such death in the United States since 1976.

Seven other employees of American Media Inc., which publishes several of the nation's most popular supermarket tabloids, including The Sun and the National Enquirer, have tested positive for exposure and are being treated with antibiotics. None has developed the disease. A second round of blood tests for more than 300 of the company's employees is expected this week, according to the AP.

The three new victims in New York City were exposed to the anthrax bacteria while working on the case involving Erin O'Connor, 38, the assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. O'Connor was exposed when she opened a letter containing a brown granular substance. She is expected to recover.

The letter had been mailed to Brokaw from Trenton, N.J., and was postmarked Sept. 18, one week after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said it was premature "to decide whether there is a direct link" to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, but "we should consider the potential that it is linked."


Surge in Use of Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs have jumped in the month since the terrorist attacks on the United States, The Washington Post reports.

A review by NDCHealth, which does surveys for the health-care industry, says the surge is particularly noticeable in New York City and Washington, D.C. However, the Post says, use is higher across the country as well.

New prescriptions for generic Xanax rose 22 percent in New York and 12 percent in the nation's capital in the week ending Sept. 28. The figures were compared to the same week a year ago. Nationally, the rise was 9 percent, the paper says.


FDA Approves 30-Night Contact Lenses

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new contact lens that people can wear for up to 30 days in a row. Previously approved soft lenses can be worn up to seven straight days.

Focus Day and Night, made by CIBA Vision of Duluth, Ga., can actually be worn day or night, the FDA says. The company suggests cleaning them if you choose to remove them.

The approval was based on a year-long clinical study of 697 people. Two out of three of the volunteers were able to wear the lenses continuously for between 22 and 31 days.

The new product isn't for everyone. Some users of extended-wear lenses are at higher risk of an inflamed cornea, and this study found that 5 percent of the patients got the condition.


Study Favors Vaginal Delivery for Stalled Labor

A new study of women with stalled labor shows that Caesarean sections are more likely than vaginal deliveries to result in prolonged hospitalization and serious bleeding for mothers, with no significant gain for the health of the newborn, according to HealthDay.

British researchers say that women who are stuck in the middle stage of labor are better off having a vaginal delivery, even when injurious instruments are used, and that they should avoid C-sections if possible.


Zinc, Antioxidants Stave Off Eye Disease

A new study has found that a simple regimen of antioxidants along with high levels of zinc significantly reduces the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading causes of vision loss and blindness in the United States, HealthDay reports.

The results should benefit hundreds of thousands of Americans who currently have intermediate or advanced AMD in one eye.

The six-year study, conducted by the National Eye Institute and reported in the latest issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology, followed more than 3,500 people between the ages of 55 and 80 at 11 clinical sites around the country.


Number of U.S. Smokers Holds Steady

The number of U.S. adults who smoke remains stuck at about 25 percent of the adult population, the Associated Press reports.

A 1999 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 23.5 percent of adults, roughly 46 million people, smoke regularly. That figure is down only slightly from 24 percent in 1998 and 25 percent in 1993. The government is aiming for a 12 percent smoking rate by 2010, the AP says.

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