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Today's Health Highlights: Dec. 14, 2001

Blood Feud Lands FDA, Red Cross in Court Anthrax Cleanup Continues at Senate Building CDC Criticized for Conflicting Information During Anthrax Scare Study Finds Cholesterol Not Top Heart Attack Predictor S. Africa Must Give Pregnant HIV Women Key Drug, Court Rules A Call to Arms

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

FDA, Red Cross Headed to Court Over Blood Dispute

A federal judge has scheduled a Jan. 11 hearing on the Food and Drug Administration's effort to impose severe fines on the Red Cross for violations of blood safety rules, the Associated Press reported today.

In court papers filed yesterday, the FDA charged that "persistent and serious violations" continue despite a 1993 federal court order mandating improvements in blood handling by the Red Cross, the AP said.

FDA lawyer Lawrence McDade said that while the nation's blood supply is safe, the goal is to eliminate all risks that can be eliminated.

The Red Cross said in a statement that it has spent more than $280 million to upgrade its blood operations to meet FDA requirements, and believes "the nation's blood supply has never been safer than it is today."

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Anthrax Cleanup Continues at Senate Building

The Hart Senate Office Building is closer to being cleared of its anthrax infestation, environmental officials said today, adding that a chlorine dioxide cleansing had significantly reduced the presence of potentially lethal spores, according to CNN.

The treatment of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's offices, where a contaminated letter was opened almost two months ago, was very successful, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesman said today.

The same chlorine dioxide treatment will be used on the building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, where spores had been found after the letter was opened in Daschle's office. The treatment was to start today and was expected to take about 24 hours, CNN said.

The cleanup of four contaminated offices in the Longworth House Office Building is complete and they should be "fully functional" next week, Capitol Police said. Earlier today, Daschle said he hoped the Hart building would reopen early next month, the news network reported.

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CDC Criticized for Conflicting Information During Anthrax Scare

Postal workers and doctors in states handling anthrax cases leveled criticism yesterday at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying the CDC has been reporting conflicting information -- and sometimes none at all, according to the Associated Press.

They told CDC anthrax experts that the federal agency should have had one authoritative person reporting to the country regularly to provide accurate information on new cases and to ease public worry, the AP said.

CDC officials have said they were initially constrained by federal emergency laws and by the early criminal investigation. "We were not prepared for the layers of collaboration that would be required in this,'' the CDC's Dr. Julie Gerberding said yesterday. "We recognize we have a long way to go.''

Most officials at the meeting agreed the CDC has done a mostly heroic job the past 10 weeks, considering it was handling a bioterrorism attack and a disease that had not been detected in humans in 25 years. But they said the agency could have avoided confusion by steering away from terms like "preliminary" and "presumptive," which clouded understanding of exactly how many anthrax cases there were and which tests were definitive, the AP said.

To date, the CDC has confirmed 18 cases of anthrax, five of them fatal.

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Study Finds Cholesterol Not Top Heart Attack Predictor

Routine cholesterol screening is a crucial part of cardiovascular disease prevention, but a new study says the measure of two other blood fats may be an even better predictor of heart attack risk, HealthDay reported today.

Variation in the molecules apolipoproteins B and A-1 (apoB and apoA-1) has been previously linked to the risk of heart disease. But the latest study is among the largest yet to assess the two markers. A report on the findings appears in the Dec. 15 issue of The Lancet.

The study, done by the Swedish drug firm AstraZeneca, analyzed blood fats and heart attack risk in more than 175,000 Scandinavians between the ages of 16 and 83, most of whom were participants in cholesterol screening efforts. The risk of death was greatest for people who had elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the "bad" cholesterol), apoB, and another class of blood fats called triglycerides, the study found. The risk was lowest for those with more high-density lipoprotein (HDL, the "good" cholesterol) and apoA-1. However, people whose ratio of apoB to apoA-1 was highest (in other words, those who had high B but low A-1) were most at risk, the researchers said.

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S. Africa Must Give Pregnant HIV Women Key Drug, Court Rules

South African AIDS activists and pediatricians won a landmark lawsuit against the government today, forcing it to provide a key drug to expectant mothers infected with HIV, the Associated Press reported.

A judge in Pretoria ordered that the government had to make the drug nevirapine available to the women giving birth in public hospitals and that the government had to institute a nationwide program to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The government was given until March 31 to report back to the court on how the program -- which is to include counseling, HIV testing and follow-up treatment -- is being implemented. Some 200 babies are born HIV-positive every day in South Africa, and studies show nevirapine can reduce the transmission of the virus from mother to child by up to 50 percent.

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A Call to Arms

When young baseball pitchers regularly throw more than 75 pitches in one game, they'll probably have some pain and they'll possibly do serious damage to their elbows or shoulders, a new study says, HealthDay reported today.

Stephen Lyman, an epidemiological consultant to the American Sports Medicine Institute and the chief author of the study, believes those are good reasons for coaches and parents to keep close count on how often a young player goes to the mound and how many times he throws.

Lyman says, "The elbow, in particular, is very vulnerable in 9- to 12-year-olds because it is still growing. If a child complains of pain in the elbow, it's something to be concerned about because it could signal damage to growth plates of the bones."

The study, published in the December issue of the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, was conducted at the request of concerned parents, Lyman says.

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