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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 19, 2001

Senate Offices Reopen After Anthrax Scare Americans Want Smallpox Vaccine AMA's New Leader Draws Criticism Relax Your Way to Better Health Power Lifts Lift Energy New Index Flags Post-Op Pneumonia Risk

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

2 Gov't. Buildings Reopen After Anthrax Testing

Two of the Senate office buildings that had been closed for anthrax testing over the weekend reopened today, but a third building remains shut, CNN reported today.

Capitol Police said the Dirksen and Russell buildings have reopened, but the Hart Senate Office Building, closed last month when an anthrax-laden letter was found in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., will remain closed, according to the Associated Press .

The Dirksen and Russell buildings were closed Saturday after a letter mailed to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and similar to the one sent to Daschle, was discovered in the 280 barrels of mail that had been quarantined after the contaminated Daschle letter was opened, the AP said.

Capitol Police said the letter sent to Leahy was being analyzed at the Army's Fort Detrick in Maryland; test results are not expected for several days.

The envelopes addressed to Daschle and Leahy were similar, except for the name and address. They both had block printing with a slight slant to the right and an Oct. 9 postmark from Trenton, N.J., along with the same, nonexistent school listed as the return address, the AP said.

The FBI said all congressional mail set aside after discovery of the Daschle letter has been inspected, and the Leahy letter was the only suspicious piece.

Meanwhile, Chilean health authorities said today they had discovered anthrax in a letter that had been sent from Florida to the South American country, wire reports said.

Health Minister Michelle Bachelet told a news conference that 13 people who may have been exposed to the bacteria were taking antibiotics to counter any effects but that none of them had shown signs of illness. A government official said the envelope was addressed to a private office in Santiago and was discovered last week. It raised suspicions because it appeared to carry a Swiss postage stamp but was postmarked in Florida.


Americans Want Smallpox Vaccine, Poll Finds

Three-fifths of all Americans say they would want smallpox vaccinations if they were widely available, according to an Associated Press poll. The majority said they wanted the vaccine even when they were told that serious side effects could result.

About half the respondents say they are concerned about the threat of a smallpox attack and think last month's anthrax attacks are the beginning of an extended terrorist campaign, according to the poll conducted by ICR of Media, Pa.

The survey comes on the heels of a U.S. decision not to destroy its stockpile of smallpox vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will keep the deadly germ hidden but on hand in case it is needed to fend off a bioterrorist attack, according to CNN.

If someone can make smallpox into a weapon, we may need more new vaccines to deal with it, said one official. And the way to research drugs is by using the live virus.

The United States and Russia are the only two nations with a known stockpile of the virus, but some experts are concerned that some of Russia's stock may have leaked into nations like Iraq and into terrorists' hands.

The Clinton administration was leaning toward destroying the virus. Smallpox was declared eradicated worldwide several decades ago by the World Health Organization, and it was felt keeping such a virus on hand was unnecessary.


New AMA Chief Draws Fire

The American Medical Association today named as its new top executive the president of a trade group for the over-the-counter drug and dietary supplement industries, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Michael D. Maves replaces Dr. E. Ratcliffe Anderson, who was fired in June in a dispute about his authority over the nation's largest group of physicians. Maves, 53, is a head and neck physician who leads the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a 120-year-old national trade group representing U.S. makers of nonprescription drugs and dietary supplements.

The AMA touted Maves' previous involvement in other medical groups, including a five-year stint as executive vice president of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

But his appointment drew immediate fire from AMA critics, who said his efforts on behalf of the unregulated dietary supplement industry will undermine the AMA's reputation.

It's "a very odd choice,'' said Dr. Jerome Kassirer, professor at Tufts and Yale University and a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.


Relax Your Way to Better Health

Researchers have come up with more evidence that self-hypnosis and other relaxation techniques can strengthen your immune system, HealthDay reported.

The study, reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, looked at 33 medical and dental students at Ohio State University as they faced the dreaded first major exam of the term. All participants were screened to make sure they would be susceptible to hypnosis.

Blood was drawn from each subject before any relaxation techniques had been used and again three days before the exams. By this time, about half the participants (10 women and seven men) had started using self-hypnosis techniques alone and in formal group sessions. A control group went about life as usual.

At the end of the study, students who had used self-hypnosis techniques showed a 26 percent to 39 percent difference in the activity of T-lymphocytes, the white blood cells that are crucial indicators of immune response. The ability of the T-lymphocytes to respond to a challenge dropped 24 percent to 33 percent in control-group students compared with the relaxing group as exams approached. Students who practiced self-hypnosis most frequently showed the best immune responses.


Power Lifts Lift Energy

Men in their 70s who are getting frail may recapture at least some of their youthful vigor with a regimen of power weight lifting and a bit of testosterone, says Dr. Michael O'Grady of Emory University in Atlanta.

He and his colleagues studied 32 men whose average age was 75 and who had extremely low testosterone levels. They were so weak they were barely able to walk around their own homes, according to the Associated Press.

The researchers started the men out slowly with exercise, and by the end of a year, the men who did exercise and took the hormone had improved their performance six-fold, the researchers say.

But testosterone is not a quick fix, caution the experts. Taking it means having to be closely monitored for signs of prostate cancer, the AP reported.


New Index Flags Post-Op Pneumonia Risk

A new index that pays more attention to a patient's overall medical history, instead of just his heart health, could warn doctors who is most at risk of developing pneumonia after major surgery, a HealthDay story reported today.

Armed with that information, says the study, physicians could decide whether the risk of pneumonia -- which, depending on the operation, occurs in 9 percent to 40 percent of patients -- merits special precautions after the procedure or canceling the surgery altogether. The findings appear in the Nov. 20 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

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