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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 11, 2002

Stress Strikes Those Closest to Sep. 11 Attack Bone Loss Drug May Help Prevent Breast Cancer Mon Cherie, the Pill, It's Free! Irradiated Anthrax Mail Sickens Federal Workers Lightening Up the Smokes Eases OR Recovery Fen-Phen Settlement Finalized Study Investigates Other Homeland Security Threat: Animals

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

Stress Strikes Those Closest to Sep. 11 Attack

This isn't unexpected news, but it's certainly a confirmation of the devastating effect from the terrorist attack on New York City's World Trade Center last Sep. 11.

The Associated Press is reporting a new survey saying that fully 40 percent of the people who lived closest to the site of the collapse of the two 110-story buildings have had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder including emotional numbness, depression and sleep loss.

More than 400 lower Manhattan residents were interviewed, and almost half also indicated symptoms like nose, throat and eye irritation.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the symptoms were most likely to be temporary for the vast majority of New Yorkers who suffered through the attack and the aftermath.

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Bone Loss Drug May Help Prevent Breast Cancer

A Solomon-like decision for older women who have a history of breast cancer in their family has just been made a little easier.

ABC News reports that a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicates that post-menopausal women with high levels of estrogen in their blood are significantly more likely to benefit from a bone disease drug than women who have low estrogen levels.

The medication is raloxifene, which is FDA-approved only for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease most often found in women who have completed menopause.

Because raloxifene has a long history of use with relatively mild side effects, the fact that it could be used to prevent breast cancer would allow women to make a decision more easily.

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Mon Cherie, the Pill, It's Free!

It's the ultimate in birth control: French women can now get the so-called "morning-after" birth control pill for free from a pharmacy. And no prescription is required.

As reported in the on-line edition of The New York Times, the French government passed a law last November that allowed school nurses to distribute the pill in high schools. The latest decree, just issued, makes it available to the whole population.

The pill is taken within 72 hours following intercourse and prevents fertilization of the egg.

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Irradiated Anthrax Mail Sickens Federal Workers

At least 11 Commerce Department workers were sickened in Washington, D.C., yesterday when a package irradiated as part of the government's anthrax protection process gave off a noxious gas, reports the Associated Press.

D.C. Fire Department officials say the workers complained of nausea, breathing problems and throat irritation. Two were admitted to a hospital. Their conditions were not known.

The package was reportedly copy paper that had been tightly wrapped in plastic. Authorities believe the irradiation process may have caused the paper to give off hydrocarbons that are harmful if concentrated and the gas would have been trapped in the package due to the wrapping.

All mail to federal buildings has been irradiated since two letters containing anthrax were sent to Capitol Hill last fall.

Postal officials have previously said that the screening process for anthrax spores or other biological agents could damage such perishables as film or medication. Yesterday's incident was the first indication that the process could also cause health problems.

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Lightening Up the Smokes Eases OR Recovery

Smokers facing elective surgery on bone joints heal better and recover faster if they quit or cut down their tobacco intake several weeks before the operation, reports HealthDay.

Danish researchers say they've found that smokers undergoing hip and knee replacements who tried to quit six to eight weeks before surgery had fewer wound complications and a lower risk of cardiovascular trouble after the procedures.

They also spent fewer days in the hospital recovering than did full-bore smokers, according to the study, which appears this week in the journal The Lancet.

While other researchers have found that smoking impedes wound healing, the latest work is the first randomized trial to look at the impact of smoking cessation programs on post-operative outcomes, said the researchers.

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Fen-Phen Settlement Finalized

A $3.75 billion settlement to thousands of people who took the recalled diet drug combination fen-phen became final this week when no one challenged the case, reports the Associated Press.

Health insurers and plaintiffs could have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the settlement, but no one came forward by the Jan. 2 deadline.

The settlement, with drug maker American Home Products, currently includes about 295,000 people.

American Home Products had sold Pondimin, the fenfluramine half of fen-phen, and Redux, in the same chemical family. The drugs had been taken by an estimated 6 million people before they were pulled from the market in 1997 because of concerns that they caused heart-valve damage in some people.

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Gov't Investigates Other Homeland Security Threat: Animals

While much government activity has been occupied with fighting terrorism, officials with the General Accounting Office (GAO) have been studying a different type of homeland security - protecting the nation against threats from pesky animals.

In order to approve the Agricultural Department's budget, the GAO has been asked by Congress to study the dangers posed by such critters as blackbirds, beavers, woodchucks, deer and other animals, reports the Associated Press.

Among their findings of damages caused by animals in this country are these:

  • Rodents cause 27,000 injuries a year;
  • $1 billion in damage a year results from cars hitting deer.
  • 15 deaths a year are from snake bites.
  • 6,000 collisions between birds and airplanes occurred in 2000. Starlings are in fact known as "feathered bullets" because they can cause so much trouble.
  • $70 million in annual livestock losses are sustained from predators, mainly coyotes.
  • Odd incidents involved planes being damaged by wingless creatures, including turtles, alligators, foxes and woodchucks that apparently lumbered or skittered onto rural airstrips.
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