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Today's Health Highlights: Dec. 27, 2001

New MRI Technique Detects Coronary Artery Disease Red Cross Appeals for Blood Donations Childhood Traumas Increase Suicide Risk Is There a Link Between Mono and Multiple Sclerosis? Supplement May Cause Cancer Risk: Study Ebola Death Toll in Africa Rises to 18

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

MRI Technique Can Detect Diseased Coronary Arteries: Study

An imaging technique that uses an MRI device can detect most diseased coronary arteries and spare many heart patients a more invasive, expensive and uncomfortable test, according to an Associated Press report.

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, has been used for the past 10 years to study very large blood vessels such as the aorta. Patients must lie inside the MRI machine, a giant electromagnet that yields 3-D images of the body.

Now doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have adapted the technology to produce a series of high-resolution images of the relatively small coronary arteries.

A new study -- the first to try the system at several hospitals and on previously untested patients -- found it detected every diseased coronary artery in 75 percent of the patients and found the most life-threatening blockages in 89 percent, the AP said. The research was reported in the Dec. 27 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

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Red Cross Appeals for Blood Donations

Only months after a post-Sept. 11 surge of blood donations, the American Red Cross says supplies are running low, the Associated Press reported.

Red Cross officials said yesterday that most of their 36 regional blood centers have half their normal supply of blood platelets for this time of year. Blood platelets, which are used to help stop bleeding in cancer patients, spoil after five days.

Blood and platelet supplies are typically low during the holiday season, with Americans on vacation or busy shopping. But platelet levels are unusually low now, with 32 regions having only about a half-day supply, said Susan Kluesner, a spokeswoman for the St. Paul, Minn.-based North Central Blood Services of the American Red Cross.

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Childhood Traumas Increase Suicide Risk

Traumatic childhood events, from sexual and physical abuse to the divorce of one's parents, significantly increase the odds that a person will attempt suicide, government researchers say.

Enduring more than one painful experience multiplies the odds of a suicide attempt, and those with seven adverse episodes as children have a 51-fold higher risk of trying to take their own lives as teens and a 30-fold higher risk of doing so as adults, the study says.

Still, the vast majority of people who suffer childhood traumas don't try to take their own lives, the research shows. The findings, by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appear in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Is There a Link Between Mono and Multiple Sclerosis?

Researchers say they have turned up a possible link between multiple sclerosis and the Epstein-Barr virus, which is best known as the cause of infectious mononucleosis, HealthDay reported yesterday.

Going through the records of two large studies in which thousands of women gave blood samples, a team led by Dr. Alberto Ascherio of the Harvard School of Public Health found that unusually high levels of antibodies triggered by the virus are associated with the onset of MS.

Epstein-Barr is one of the most common viruses, infecting as many as 95 percent of American adults. The immune system normally produces antibodies against the virus, but the levels of those antibodies generally decline after a few months.

In Ascherio's study, elevated levels of antibodies were associated with a four-fold increased risk of MS, a chronic degenerative disease in which repeated episodes of inflammation destroy the covering of nerve cells, causing weakness, movement problems, pain and paralysis. MS affects about 350,000 Americans.

The study appears in the current Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Supplement May Cause Cancer Risk: Study

Chromium picolinate, the nutritional supplement embraced by fitness fanatics and bodybuilders, is becoming popular among diabetics who believe it will keep their blood sugar under better control. But an Arizona scientist -- Diana Stearns, assistant professor of biochemistry at Northern Arizona University -- has discovered that hefty doses of the supplement cause mutations in the cells of hamsters, according to HealthDay.

It's not clear if these findings also apply to people, but they raise the possibility that the controversial supplement may cause cancer. However, a doctor who represents the supplement industry says the study is "very bad science" because it didn't use live animals and relied on unreasonably high amounts of chromium picolinate.

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Ebola Death Toll in Africa Rises to 18

The Ebola outbreak in Central Africa has claimed its 18th victim.

The death occurred in the village of Mbomo in the Republic of Congo, bringing to five the number of people who have died of the often fatal virus in that country. Another 13 people have died in the neighboring nation of Gabon, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

The World Health Organization said last week it believed the outbreak had reached its peak. Agency officials said 203 people in both countries who had contact with those infected would be observed for the next few weeks for any symptoms, the AP said.

Ebola is one of the most dangerous viral infections facing humans; there's no cure and up to 90 percent of those infected die.

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