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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 12, 2002

Smallpox Prevention Strategies at Top of Government's List HIV Poses Increased Cancer Risk For Women Spanish Clementines Still Don't Fly With USDA Curbing Your Appetite: New Findings Show How It Can Be Done Health Team Plans Return to Ebola-Stricken Region Postal Workers' Anthrax Risk Getting Smaller

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

Smallpox Prevention Strategies at Top of Government's List

As public health officials scramble to prepare for possible attacks of bio-terrorism, preventing an outbreak of smallpox, a highly contagious and deadly disease, remains a top government concern.

In an interview on CBS' The Saturday Early Show, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, said the government has ordered hundreds of millions of doses of smallpox vaccine.

But at first, the vaccine would only be given to those who had come in contact with people already infected with smallpox, Koplan said.

"One can protect against infection or the illness from the infection of smallpox in the first four days after exposure to the virus, which gives us a window of opportunity to come in and vaccinate people and prevent the illness," he explained. "Nevertheless, no one says control of a smallpox outbreak would be easy, it would be hard work."

Another strategy for using the vaccines may be giving shots to "first-responders," such as ER physicians and other medical professionals who first come in contact with those infected.


HIV Poses Increased Cancer Risk For Women

Women who have HIV face an increased risk of cervical cancer, as well as cancer of the vulva and anus, according to a report in The Lancet.

Researchers with Columbia University made the conclusion after following 481 HIV-infected women and 437 HIV-negative women for three years.

The HIV-positive women were 16 times more likely than the HIV-negative women to develop precancerous lesions, according to wire reports. And two percent of the HIV-positive women went on to develop invasive genital cancer.

Because of the increased cancer risk, the researchers recommend that HIV-positive women should receive a thorough inspection of the vulva and perianal region, and those with abnormalities should receive an inspection of vaginal and cervical cells.


Spanish Clementines Still Don't Fly With USDA

If you've got a craving for those sweet clementines from Spain, you may just have to take a trip to Barcelona.

That's because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided not to lift a ban on the seedless, easy-to-peel citrus fruit. Continuing concerns about the Mediterranean fruit fly being transported to the United States is the reason, according to wire reports.

The ban was imposed late last year after medfly larvae were found in clementines in Maryland and North Carolina.

A USDA report has since criticized Spain's program for monitoring and trapping medflies, saying the program lacked government insight and consistency.

Spanish officials reportedly say the ban is unjustified, and Spanish growers last month demonstrated against the ban, calling for a retaliatory boycott on U.S. crops.

Medflies pose one of the world's greatest agricultural threats, with the potential to ravage more than 250 kinds of fruits, nuts and vegetables. But the insect itself isn't a hazard to humans.


Curbing Your Appetite: New Findings Show How It Can Be Done

It may take a while, but scientists are getting closer to finding out how we can control our appetite.

Researchers say they've found more information about the enzymes in the brain that curb our hunger.

According to wire reports, previous research has shown that the compound C75 can suppress the appetite of obese mice by blocking an enzyme called fatty acid synthase, causing the mice to eat less and lose weight.

The new research shows that two brain chemicals, AgRP and NPY, which send instructions to eat when fasting, are disrupted in the presence of C75, and two other brain messengers, CART and POMC, which typically decline during fasting, are also altered in C75's presence.

Researchers say that the findings could eventually lead to new treatments for obesity, but that much more research is necessary before the compound can be tested on humans.

The findings appear in the Jan. 8 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Health Team Plans Return to Ebola-Stricken Region

A team of international health experts that was forced to leave an African area rife with the deadly ebola virus wants to return to the region as quickly as possible.

CBS News says the medical professionals met yesterday with local officials on how they can return to the region they were forced to leave four days before.

Threats from residents forced the 17-member team to get out of the Gabonese jungle town of Mekambo, where the ebola outbreak has claimed the lives of 25 people so far.

The trouble started, according to CBS, because many residents blamed the deaths on witchcraft and vampires, rather than the virus, and they blamed the outsiders for the problems. For example, the villagers didn't like either the health team's ban on eating ape meat, regarded as a delicacy in Gabon, or its attempts to halt traditional burial practices that can spread the disease, such as washing corpses and removing body parts.

Ebola is one of the world's most deadly viruses, killing between 50 percent and 90 percent of those it strikes. There have been 21 cases and 18 fatalities reported in Gabon and 13 cases and seven fatalities in the neighboring Republic of Congo.


Postal Workers' Anthrax Risk Getting Smaller

To papraphrase the Rolling Stones: Time is on the side of postal workers exposed to anthrax spores.

Wire service reports say that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) met with mail workers in Washington, D.C., yesterday and explained that postal employees' risk of getting anthrax was diminishing.

But the Associated Press also reports the CDC experts acknowledged that the guidelines established during the anthrax scare in the fall were made without the advantage of years of testing and research.

The CDC officials told the workers that the more time that passed with the workers being symptom-free, the less likely they were of getting anthrax.

The postal workers expressed particular concern about conflicting advice they were given after many took antibiotics for 60 days following exposure to anthrax in Washington, New Jersey and elsewhere. Five people have died and 13 were infected with anthrax since the beginning of October.

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