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Today's Health Highlights: Dec. 17, 2001

Mail Anthrax Was Made in U.S., White House Says Scientists Develop Cold Medicine That Really Works President Has Four Noncancerous Lesions Removed Air Pollution Linked to Birth Defects Study: Many EMTs Can't Help Allergic Shock Victims Pets Owners, Do You Make Your Furry Friends Sick?

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

Anthrax Spores in Mail Were Home-Grown: White House

Anthrax spores that contaminated U.S. mail in October were apparently produced in the United States, the White House said today, according to an Associated Press report.

Press secretary Ari Fleischer said the evidence is not conclusive but it is increasingly "looking like it was a domestic source.'' He said officials still did not know who delivered the anthrax. Later, President Bush said the government is mystified by the case. "We're still looking on that. We've all got different feelings about it," he said.

Army officials are doubtful that the anthrax in the letters mailed to Congress originated at a military medical research center, even though spores in both places were a genetic match, AP said.

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease obtained its supply from the Agriculture Department and shared it with five labs in the United States, Canada and Britain, spokesman Chuck Dasey said yesterday.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the FBI was looking at various government programs, including a contractor who worked for the CIA, as a possible source of the anthrax, the AP said.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield confirmed yesterday that the agency had some anthrax it used "to learn about potential biological warfare threats.'' But he said that the CIA did not mill any of its samples into powdered form and that none of its supply is missing.

Technicians, meanwhile, ran into more problems in trying to sanitize a Senate office building in Washington, D.C., that had been contaminated by lingering spores from an anthrax letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in mid-October, AP said.

Attempts to pump poisonous gas into the Hart Senate Office Building's ventilation system to kill any remaining spores failed early today, Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said. A "mechanical problem'' kept the gas from reaching the saturation point needed to kill the anthrax. Technicians worked for six hours before they abandoned the effort.

Also today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began training 200 state and local health officials on how to recognize smallpox and quickly contain a possible outbreak spread by terrorists, the AP reported.

"It's a sad day that we feel this meeting is necessary,'' said Dr. Walter Orenstein, chief of the CDC's National Immunization Program. "I hope and pray that this is a big waste of time.''

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Scientists Develop Cold Medicine That Really Works

Scientists have developed the first medicine proven to reduce the length and severity of the common cold, the Associated Press reported.

The drug, called pleconaril, makes a runny nose completely clear up a day sooner than usual and begins to ease the symptoms within a day. Experts say there is little doubt the medicine makes people feel better sooner if their cold is caused by a rhinovirus, the most common culprit.

The findings were presented today by Dr. Frederick Hayden of the University of Virginia at an infectious-disease conference in Chicago sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology. The research was financed by ViroPharma Inc. of Exton, Pa., which is developing the drug and has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for approval to market it.

The company has not said how much it will charge for the medicine, which would be sold by prescription under the brand name Picovir, but officials said it is likely to cost as much as antibiotics, which typically are more than $40.

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President Has Four Noncancerous Lesions Removed

President Bush had four noncancerous lesions removed from his face last week, the White House said today, according to the Associated Press.

The lesions were removed with liquid nitrogen during a brief procedure Friday at the White House, Press secretary Ari Fleischer said. The president had one lesion on each cheek, his forehead and temple. The spots were seborrheic keratoses, which are waxy -- or scaly-looking -- growths that are not cancerous and become very common as people age, Fleischer said.

Fleischer disclosed the procedure after reporters noticed spots on the president's face during an afternoon appearance celebrating the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr. In August, during Bush's first physical as president, doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital removed three small actinic keratoses lesions from his face. That form of lesion can develop into cancer.

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Study Ties Air Pollution to Birth Defects

Women exposed to high levels of ozone and carbon monoxide through air pollution were three times more likely to have babies with cleft lips and palates and defective heart valves, a new study says, according to the Associated Press.

For years, scientists have known of a correlation between air quality and infant illnesses. Now, for the first time, the southern California study links air pollution and birth defects. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles looked at thousands of pregnant women in the Los Angeles area from 1987 to 1993, and compared those living in areas with relatively dirty air to those living in cleaner areas.

The scientists found that the greatest risk occurs during the second month of pregnancy, when a fetus develops most of its organs and much of its facial structure, according to the study, first reported on yesterday by The Los Angeles Times. The study is to be published in the Dec. 28 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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Study: Many EMTs Can't Help Allergic Shock Victims

Severe allergic reactions sent more than 84,000 people in the United States into anaphylactic shock last year, and almost 500 died because they didn't get medical intervention quickly enough, according to studies by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a research and education organization.

FAAN is using its findings as ammunition in its fight to change laws nationwide that prevent basic Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) from carrying and using epinephrine, the most effective antidote to anaphylactic shock, HealthDay reported today.

Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction so swift and intense that it can cut off a sufferer's breathing and kill him or her. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is secreted naturally from the adrenal medulla. It is often prescribed to allergy sufferers so they can carry it with them and inject it when needed.

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Pets Owners, Do You Make Your Furry Friends Sick?

Scientists who worry about the spread of nasty germs from animals to people have found the opposite can also happen: Cats and dogs catch bad things from their owners, the Associated Press reported today.

Canadian researchers documented 16 cases of dangerous, hard-to-treat staph infections in horses, cats and dogs. They believe all of the infections probably began with owners or veterinarians infecting the animals.

The germ is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- called MRSA for short -- a microbe that until recently was seen only in hospitals, where it often spreads to elderly or seriously ill people who have open wounds or tubes. Healthy people may carry it on their skin without getting sick, the AP said.

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