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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 3, 2002

Broken Heart May Be Able to Mend Itself 'Fat City' Really Does Exist FTC Warns Marketers of Dubious Bio-Terror Products Senior Drug Cards Save Little: Gov't Senate Letter a Harmless Anthrax Copycat Children's Vaccine Shortage to Continue

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

Broken Heart May Be Able to Mend Itself

An adult's heart may be able to generate new cells to repair its own damage, HealthDay reported today. The findings appear to confirm recent research that suggests that even mature organs contain stem cells that can multiply to grow new tissue.

Researchers led by Dr. Piero Anversa, director of the cardiovascular research institute at New York Medical College, found the self-repairing cells while studying the hearts of eight men who had died of unrelated causes. Last year, the same researchers reported they had found evidence of new growth in the area where a heart attack had caused muscle damage.

Anversa's group is working to extend the findings. He says he cannot be specific because the new work is awaiting scientific publication.

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'Fat City' Really Does Exist

Living in "fat city" usually implies you're on top of the world, but an annual survey treats the term in a much heavier light. In Men's Fitness magazine's new ranking of America's 50 fattest cities, Houston is this year's heavyweight.

The magazine's February issue says researchers weighed mortality data and obesity statistics with lifestyle factors like availability of exercise facilities, public parks and open space. They also considered behaviors like fruit and vegetable consumption, TV watching and availability of junk food.

The Top 5 fattest cities in the 2002 survey are:

  1. Houston
  2. Chicago
  3. Detroit
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Dallas

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FTC Warns Marketers of Dubious Bio-Terror Products

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it has issued warnings to 71 promoters of purported anti bio-terrorism products, including devices like gas masks, air filters, protective clothing and ultra-violet light products that purport to kill anthrax.

The agency warned the unnamed marketers that stringent standards and rigorous tests are required before the products could be certified as truly capable of deterring biological and chemical threats.

The e-mail warnings stem from an Internet search of more than 200 Web sites that market bio-terrorism related products, the FTC said. The companies were told that unless their assertions could be supported by "competent and reliable scientific evidence," the claims must be removed from the sites.

The government issued 50 similar warnings to other marketers in November.

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Senior Drug Cards Save Little: Gov't

Discount prescription drug cards available to older Americans offer only meager savings, particularly in urban areas, government figures suggest.

The cards, which are marketed by private companies, charge seniors a modest fee, usually $12 to $25 per year, in exchange or discounts, according to the Associated Press. But savings are minimal for many of the most popular name-brand drugs, data collected by the General Accounting Office finds.

On average, seniors in three large cities -- Washington, Chicago and Seattle -- see savings of 8.2 percent on 12 name-brand drugs bought with drug discount cards compared with buying retail. The savings were more significant -- close to twice as much -- in a rural area in Georgia the GAO examined.

The savings also were more significant for generic drugs. Drug discount programs charged an average 37 percent less than retail for generics. However, the price of generic versions are much lower to begin with, so seniors saved only a few dollars per prescription.

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Senate Letter a Harmless Anthrax Copycat

A threatening letter containing a powdery substance was opened barely 20 feet from the Senate chamber today in what Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called an apparently harmless "copycat mailing" of last fall's anthrax attack.

"The early test showed in this case that it was not anthrax," Daschle told reporters. "While we don't know what the substance was, we hope to find out in the next 48 hours."

The Associated Press reported that discovery of the letter in Daschle's second-floor suite of offices sent an emergency team rushing to the Capitol and prompted officials to briefly quarantine some areas of the building.

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Children's Vaccine Shortage to Continue

The national shortage of the DTP vaccine, which protects children against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, will continue through at least the middle of the year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today.

The CDC did not estimate when the shortage of DTP might end, according to an Associated Press story. It has been in short supply since 2000, when two manufacturers quit making it, leaving Aventis Pasteur and GlaxoSmithKline as the only U.S. suppliers.

The shot is typically given to children in a series of five doses -- beginning during the child's first six months and ending at age 4 to 6. During the shortage, the CDC said, doctors can defer the fourth and, if necessary, fifth doses. The first three doses are more critical because the diseases can strike harder against infants.

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