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Today's Health Highlights: Dec. 28, 2001

Sobering News on the Carnage of Drunken Driving Fumigation of Anthrax in Senate Building Resumes Is Snoring a Hormonal Hurricane? MRI Technique Can Detect Diseased Coronary Arteries: Study Childhood Traumas Increase Suicide Risk

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

Study Quantifies the Carnage of Drunken Driving

If you're thinking about hitting the road after guzzling champagne on New Year's Eve, consider this: Drunken drivers are 13 times more likely to kill someone than an average sober driver, a new study says, according to HealthDay.

"A drunken driver who takes a five-mile trip exposes other people to as much risk as a sober driver who drives for 65 miles," says Steven Levitt, professor of economics at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study into the risks of mixing alcohol and driving.

While public awareness of drunken driving has grown over the last two decades, 16,653 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents in 2000. That's 40 percent of all traffic deaths, according to federal figures.

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Senate Building Anthrax Fumigation Restarts

A third attempt to destroy residual anthrax spores in the heating and ventilation system of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., began today, the Associated Press reported..

Technicians pumped steam into the system to raise humidity, but at first, as in a past attempt, it remained below optimum levels, which were reached in a successful test yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency said that after some "normal engineering adjustments,'' anthrax-killing chlorine dioxide started pouring in just after dark. The process was expected to be completed before dawn tomorrow, and after that another 72 hours of testing probably will be necessary before the building is declared safe, experts said.

Officials have refused to speculate when the building might reopen. Two previous attempts to clean the building failed to eliminate the potentially deadly spores. The building has been closed since Oct. 17 because of an anthrax-laced letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

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Is Snoring a Hormonal Hurricane?

There may be a biological cause for those snorts, chokes and gasps that come from the man's side of the bed in the middle of the night. And biology may explain why more men than women have the disorder called sleep apnea, HealthDay reported today.

The cause? Hormones.

A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin's School of Veterinary Medicine finds that estrogen seems to protect female rats against the type of oxygen deprivation common in obstructive sleep apnea.

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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 current issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

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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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