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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 14, 2001

State Dep't. Searches for Anthrax Letter Aspirin Proves Its Worth -- Again -- With Stroke Victims Artificial Heart Recipient Suffers Stroke New Angina Drug Helps Ease the Pain Jury Sides With Tobacco Companies

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

State Dep't. Hunts for Undiscovered Anthrax Letter

The State Department prepared to sort through three weeks' worth of unopened mail, searching for an anthrax-tainted letter officials believe passed through the department's mail center but has yet to be discovered, the Associated Press reported today.

Anthrax contamination turned up in eight of 55 tests taken from a State Department remote mail facility in Sterling, Va., and that's a strong indication that a spore-laden letter remains to be found, officials said yesterday, according to CNN.

"We have to assume that, one, there is a contaminated letter of some kind in our system, and second of all, that we will eventually find it in one of these mail rooms or pouch bags," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Officials long have suspected that an undiscovered letter was to blame for a State Department mail handler becoming infected with inhalation anthrax, the most dangerous form of the disease.

Meanwhile, in the first known case of anthrax contamination at a nongovernmental facility in the Washington, D.C., area, eight mail facilities on the campus of Howard University underwent a cleanup process yesterday after the school's main mailroom tested positive for trace amounts of anthrax, CNN reported.

University spokeswoman Sheila Harvey said the mail sorting facilities were closed, and cleanup by a private contractor was scheduled to be completed yesterday. Separate follow-up testing of those mailrooms is ongoing, and results are expected back with the next 48 hours, Harvey said. The rest of the campus remains open.

The university gets its mail directly from Washington's Brentwood Road mail sorting facility, which has been closed because of anthrax contamination from at least one letter that was sent to the Capitol Hill office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

And today, the American Federation of Teachers reported that traces of anthrax were found at its national headquarters in Washington, AP reported. The source was a set of mail trays that had come from the Brentwood mail facility before it was shut down. The organization's mailroom is closed, but city health officials have not recommended testing for any employee.

The AP also reported today that the College Board said it was contacting thousands of high school students and offering them a chance to retake the test or get a refund because their SAT exams are apparently stuck in New Jersey post offices because of the anthrax scare.

The College Board estimates mail delays held up the answer sheets of as many as 7,800 students out of about 550,000 who took the college admissions test on Oct. 13, the AP said.

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Aspirin Proves Its Worth -- Again -- With Stroke Victims

Plain over-the-counter aspirin is just as good as the prescription drug warfarin in preventing second strokes for patients at risk because of fat-clogged blood vessels, a study finds, HealthDay reported today.

"The two medications didn't differentiate from one another in any significant way," says lead investigator Dr. J. P. Mohr, director of the stroke unit at Columbia University in New York City.

The seven-year study included more than 2,200 people who had had strokes because of blockages in arteries leading to the brain. There was no difference in how well the two treatments worked or in their side effects, says a report in the latest issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

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Artificial Heart Recipient Back on Ventilator

The world's first patient to receive a self-contained artificial heart suffered a stroke and is back on a ventilator, his surgeons said today.

Robert Tools, 59, had the stroke Sunday at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, said Dr. Laman Gray, one of the surgeons who implanted the plastic-and-titanium AbiorCor heart on July 2, the Associated Press reported.

Gray said he believed the stroke was caused by a blood clot. Initially, Tools couldn't move his arms or legs, but he was able to move his legs last night, Gray said.

Dr. Robert Dowling, Tools' other surgeon, characterized the patient's condition as serious. "His condition is slightly better than someone with a heart because we don't have to worry about the heart,'' Gray said.

Doctors had said early on that strokes were among the risks for artificial heart patients. The AbioCor was designed with a smooth plastic lining to decrease the chance of blood clots forming, the AP said.

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New Angina Drug Helps Ease the Pain

A novel drug that boosts the heart's ability to burn sugar can modestly ease chest pain, potentially offering the first new treatment for this common health problem in two decades, the Associated Press reported today.

Doctors already have three categories of medicines to treat the chest pain, called angina, that results from clogged arteries in the heart. Experts say the new medicine offers an alternative as well as a possible add-on to the usual drugs, since it works in a completely different way.

The pill, called ranolazine, was developed by CV Therapeutics of Palo Alto, Calif., which sponsored the large-scale testing reported today, according to AP. The drug is the first of a new class of medicines called pFOX inhibitors. The name stands for partial fatty acid oxidation inhibitor.

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Jury Sides With Tobacco Companies

A jury rejected a lawsuit today that sought to force four tobacco companies to fund annual medical tests for 250,000 healthy West Virginia smokers, the Associated Press reported.

The six-member jury, nearly all of them former smokers, concluded that cigarettes aren't a defective product and manufacturers were not negligent in designing, making or selling them, the AP said.

The jurors also said smokers with a five-year, pack-a-day habit do have an increased risk of contracting disease but don't need medical monitoring.

The lawsuit, essentially structured as a product liability case with medical monitoring as the proposed remedy for wronged consumers, was the first of its kind to be tried in the United States, according to the AP.

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