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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 8, 2002

Tampa Death Pilot had Prescription for Acne Drug Linked to Suicide Anthrax Blood Treatment Stockpiled Blood Supplies Shrink Again Stem Cell Research Shows Promise for Parkinson's Serotonin Boosters May Bring on Stroke Teen Girls Approaching Boys in Car Wreck Rates Happiness is Friends: Study

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

    Tampa Death Pilot had Prescription for Acne Drug Linked to Suicide

    Could a prescription acne drug provide clues as to why a 15-year-old student pilot flew a single engine plane into a Tampa office building last weekend, killing himself?

    Wire services report that Charles Bishop had a prescription for Accutane, a powerful "court-of-last-resort" acne medication, but law enforcement officials aren't necessarily offering a cause-and-effect relationship.

    "We are aware that he had a prescription,'' Tampa police spokeswoman Katie Hughes told the Associateed Press. "We don't know if he was taking it, how long ... we don't know those details.''

    The wire service quotes the FDA as saying that 147 people who had taken Accutane between 1982 and 2000 either committed suicide or were hospitalized for suicide attempts. The drug affects the central nervous system and already has strict regulations for its use by pregnant women.

    Anthrax Blood Treatment Stockpiled

    Blood taken from soldiers who have received the anthrax vaccine is being stockpiled by the government as a possible treatment if future anthrax cases develop among Americans, reports the Associated Press

    Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday that the blood contains a protective protein that may neutralize the toxin that the bacteria creates in the blood. Antibiotics only kill the anthrax bacteria itself.

    The treatment, called immune globulin, is experimental and would require approval from the Food and Drug Administration, but a CDC official said the therapy has been successful with other diseases and that "we could rush this through" if anyone else contracts anthrax and needs it.

    There have been 18 confirmed cases of anthrax infection and five deaths since the still-unsolved series of mail attacks took place last fall.


    Blood Supplies Shrink Again

    Despite massive blood donations in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the nation's blood supply has dwindled to pre-attack levels, and some places are again reporting shortages.

    Supplies of O-negative -- the only type of blood everyone can use -- are in especially short supply.

    "We're back to begging for volunteer blood donors," says Joyce Halvorsen of the Community Blood Bank in Lincoln, Neb.

    Adds Jim McPherson of America's Blood Centers, which supplies about half the nation's blood: "We're seeing a trickle [of donors]. It's a little disheartening."

    Supplies of blood traditionally drop in winter, as regular donors often get sidetracked by snowstorms, flu and the holidays, the Associated Press reports.


    Stem Cell Research Shows Promise for Parkinson's

    Embryonic stem cells transplanted from mice into the brains of rats that have the equivalent of Parkinson's disease become dopamine-producing neurons and restore lasting motor function, a new study says.

    According to a HealthDay report, the researchers say the findings raise hope of someday transplanting human embryonic stem cells into patients with Parkinson's disease, rather than relying on donor fetal brain tissue, which is both controversial and hard to obtain in sufficient quantities.

    President Bush limited federal expenditures on stem cell research last year because of the controversy over use of human embryos.

    The findings appear in today's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


    Serotonin Boosters May Bring on Stroke

    Taking drugs that target the neurotransmitter serotonin -- including certain antidepressants, migraine therapies and diet pills -- could trigger stroke by narrowing blood vessels in the brain, says a new study, according to HealthDay.

    Boston researchers report that combinations of certain drugs that enhance serotonin may lead to a rare condition known as Call-Fleming syndrome. Patients with the syndrome suffer from sudden, excruciating headache, seizures and stroke.

    The findings could lead to changes in how patients with sudden-onset, severe headaches are treated, say the researchers, since current therapies often involve giving patients drugs that enhance serotonin, a hormone that both transmits signals between neurons and causes narrowing of blood vessels.

    The findings appear in today's issue of the journal Neurology.


    Teen Girls Approaching Boys in Car Wreck Rates

    Another gender gap is closing, but this one won't have females tooting their horns with pride, HealthDay reports today.

    The youngest female drivers are catching up to their male counterparts when it comes to being road hazards, statistics show. In 2000, 16-year-old girls got into 175 car wrecks per 1,000 licensed drivers, up from 160 in 1990, according to recent figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At the same time, the wreck rate for boys that age fell to 210 from 216, the agency says.

    The chief reason: The number of miles girls who are 16 to 19 drive each year has soared 75 percent since 1975, to 6,870, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. For boys, mileage is up by only 16 percent, to 8,200 a year, over the past 25 years. The trends were reported yesterday by USA Today.


    Happiness is Friends: Study

    The happiest people tend to have extensive social networks, but having a lot of friends doesn't necessarily guarantee happiness.

    That's the conclusion of new research, wire reports today say. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois evaluated 222 college students and placed them into three groups: those who were overwhelmingly happy most of the time; those who were overwhelmingly unhappy; and those whose moods were average.

    Those who fell into the happiest range said they spent the least amount of time alone and the most time socializing with others. But some members of the unhappiest group also reported having satisfactory social ties. Characteristics such as extroversion, low neuroticism and low levels of psychopathology, however, were associated with happiness.

    And contrary to previous findings, the study, which appears in the January issue of Psychological Science, showed no connection between happiness and such factors as wealth, beauty, religious involvement or exercise.

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