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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 1, 2001

NYC Anthrax Death: No Mail Link So Far Stem Cell Registry Nears Online Posting Walk Away From Breast Cancer

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

No Mail Connection So Far in NYC Anthrax Death

Investigators have found "no clues" to suggest the mail is to blame for the mysterious anthrax death of a New York City hospital worker. But a federal health official said today that the bacteria that killed her is indistinguishable from germs found in tainted letters sent to New York and Washington, the Associated Press reported.

The anthrax threat, meanwhile, appears to have extended in a few directions:

In the Midwest, two hundred mail workers in Kansas City, Mo., were being urged to take antibiotics after traces of anthrax were found in two bags of employee trash at a specialized postal facility housed in an underground complex there. Anthrax was also found at a private postal maintenance center in Indianapolis on equipment that had been sent from a contaminated mail-processing center in Trenton, N.J.

Still more anthrax was discovered today in government buildings. Preliminary tests showed spores in four U.S. Food and Drug Administration mailrooms in the agency's Rockville, Md., buildings. The agency closed all mailrooms for cleaning and put its mail handlers on preventive antibiotics, while waiting for conclusive test results, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, The New York Times reported that in New York, the Postal Service announced tests showed anthrax on two more mail-sorting machines at the Morgan Station center in Manhattan, raising the total to six contaminated machines.

And in what marked the first sign of anthrax in Europe, a laboratory in Lithuania confirmed today that traces of the bacteria were found in at least one mailbag from the U.S. Embassy, the AP said.

In New York City, meanwhile, investigators today were trying to piece together the final days of the 61-year-old hospital worker who became the first inhalation-anthrax fatality with no known ties to the U.S. Postal Service or the media.

Complicating the investigators' efforts was the fact that the victim, Kathy Nguyen, was too ill to speak after being hospitalized at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan Oct. 28 with the most dangerous version of anthrax, according to The Times.

Environmental testing at her Bronx apartment and at the hospital where she worked found no trace of anthrax. Also testing negative, according to Dr. Steven Ostroff of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was the dead woman's clothing, which had initially tested positive for the presence of anthrax spores, the AP reported.

But Ostroff added that investigators have determined that the anthrax that killed Nguyen is "basically indistinguishable'' from that in letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, NBC and the New York Post.

However, officials cannot pin her exposure to the lethal bacteria in the mails. "We are reviewing the routes that mail might have traveled to reach her,'' said Dr. Julie Gerberding of the CDC, speaking in Washington. "So far we have found no clues to suggest that the mail or the mail handling was the cause."

Nguyen, a supply room worker at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, died yesterday, becoming the fourth person to succumb to inhalation anthrax since the mail-by-terror campaign began early last month. The other victims were two Washington, D.C., postal workers and an editor with a Florida-based supermarket tabloid.

Authorities were awaiting test results for a co-worker at the Manhattan hospital who has a suspicious skin lesion. But New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani today said preliminary anthrax tests were negative.

Nguyen's death also has heightened worries that the anthrax campaign, previously limited to postal, government and media employees, could be spreading to a new group of Americans, the AP reported.

"We need to find out how she was infected," said U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. "It's very strange."

Elsewhere, a 51-year-old Delaware resident who works as a mail processor in the Bellmawr, N.J., regional mail facility may be the latest anthrax victim. The mail facility is about 35 miles from the Hamilton, N.J., mail distribution center, where several cases of anthrax have been confirmed, the AP reported.

The man, who plans to return to work tomorrow, developed a skin lesion Oct. 13 and blood tests were positive for the anthrax germ, acting state Health Commissioner George DiFerdinando said last night. Further tests to confirm whether the man has anthrax were pending.

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Stem Cell Registry Almost Ready

A much-awaited registry of human embryonic stem cells available for federally financed research should be ready for scientists and the public within a week, The New York Times reported today.

Dr. Wendy Baldwin of the National Institutes of Health, which is coordinating the research, told a Senate subcommittee yesterday that the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry was almost ready for posting on the Internet after several delays.

Stem cells have the ability to grow into any of the body's more than 200 cell types, and scientists hope to use them to create replacement tissue that might cure many ailments, including spinal cord injury, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and damaged heart tissue. The controversial process has raised moral objections by many because obtaining the cells requires destroying human embryos.

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Walk Away From Breast Cancer

If you want to lower your risk of breast cancer, get off the couch and go for a long walk every day.

If you do, your risk of developing breast cancer may drop up to 40 percent, even if you've been a couch potato until now, reports a new Canadian study, according to HealthDay.

"There are very few modifiable risk factors for breast cancer, but now we know that physical activity does reduce the risk," says lead study author Dr. Christine Friedenreich, an epidemiologist and research scientist for the Alberta Cancer Board, and adjunct associate professor at the University of Calgary.

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