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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 2, 2001

N.J. Accountant's Anthrax Linked to Office Mailbox Excess Iron Lays Out Welcome Mat for Bacteria U.S. Surgeon General Is Leaving

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

Anthrax Found in N.J. Victim's Office Mailbox

Anthrax has been found in the office mailbox of a New Jersey accountant who contracted the skin form of the disease, indicating she was exposed through the mail like other victims, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told the Associated Press today.

Thompson said investigators have found traces in the mailbox of the 51-year-old woman. The case had puzzled them because she had no apparent connection to the Postal Service, the government or media outlets, all of which had been targets of anthrax-tainted mail. "It's a good sign,'' he said, adding it was "a good indication'' that the woman, who is recovering and back to work, contracted the highly curable form of infection through her mail.

Federal officials also officially confirmed the 17th case of anthrax infection, a New York Post worker who had already been diagnosed by local authorities, Thompson said.

The overall investigation was stalled, though, with authorities saying they have no firm evidence to lead them to those behind the anthrax outbreaks.

"We are doing everything we can to get all the facts,'' President Bush said today, appealing to the public for help.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge echoed the president's words in a White House briefing.

"We have not precluded any possibility,'' Ridge said. "We enlist American citizens to help us.''

Ridge also said the high state of alert issued by the federal government on Monday would remain in place indefinitely, the AP reported.

Almost a month into the anthrax mystery, officials said they had little to go on and still could not say whether the deadly plot originated at home or abroad.

"The current investigation puts us at mailboxes in Trenton, where the three critical letters were mailed,'' FBI Director Robert Mueller said. He was referring to anthrax-laden letters postmarked in Trenton, N.J., that went to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, NBC and the New York Post.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported today that the strain of anthrax that killed a 61-year-old New York City hospital worker two days ago is indistinguishable from the germ-laden letters sent to Daschle and media companies in New York City and Florida.

That only seemed to complicate an already puzzling mystery because investigators said they found "no clues" to suggest the mail system was to blame for Kathy Nguyen's death from inhalation anthrax, the most dangerous form of the disease.

Environmental testing at her New York apartment and at the hospital where she worked found no traces of anthrax. Also testing negative was her clothing, which had initially tested positive for the presence of anthrax spores, the AP reported.

Nguyen, who worked in the supply room at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, was the fourth person to succumb to inhalation anthrax since the attacks began early last month. The other victims were two Washington, D.C., postal workers and an editor with a Florida-based supermarket tabloid.

Signs of the deadly germ, meanwhile, appear to have now shown up in at least three other countries:

In India, the health secretary of the western Maharashtra State said today that powder found in an envelope in a government office tested positive for anthrax and would be examined further, according to The Times.

Pakistan's largest newspaper, the Daily Jang, evacuated some of its editorial offices today after an envelope containing a white powder tested positive for anthrax, the newspaper and doctors said. The reporter who opened the letter on Oct. 23 and dozens of other staff members were put on antibiotics as a precaution, the AP reported.

And in Lithuania, most of the 120 employees at the U.S. Embassy are taking antibiotics -- although none showed symptoms of anthrax -- after a laboratory in the Baltic country confirmed yesterday that traces of anthrax were found in at least one mailbag at the embassy.

However, the news continues to improve in Washington, D.C., where it has been almost a week since a new infection turned up.

The nine U.S. Supreme Court justices and some of the other 400 people who work in the court's building returned to their offices today, although the court building remained closed to the public as it has been since a small amount of anthrax was found in the basement mailroom, the AP reported. Environmental tests indicated anthrax contamination in the mailroom only, and the justices are slated to return to their regular courtroom Monday, CNN reported.

And on Capitol Hill, an aggressive cleanup was under way in the Hart building, where the Daschle letter was opened. Workers were sealing doors and windows as they prepared to fill the nine-story building with a killing gas. Chlorine dioxide is expected to kill everything it touches -- mice, rats, roaches, and anthrax spores, the AP said.

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Excess Iron Puts Out Welcome Mat for Bacteria

Too much iron in the diet could be making people more susceptible to intestinal infections, a new study claims.

And that calls into question whether U.S. food makers need to fortify foods with iron, says one of the nutritionists who conducted the research, HealthDay reported.

The body needs a certain amount of iron to survive. But, excessive amounts of the mineral can increase the risk of heart disease, affect the immune system and damage the liver over time, as well as make people more receptive to intestinal bacteria like those that cause food poisoning, the study says.

Researchers at Ohio State University examined human cells that were given too much iron and then exposed to the bacteria Salmonella enteritidis. The bacteria had an easier time entering cells with a high iron content and survived in greater numbers in high-iron cells, the study finds.

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U.S. Surgeon General Is Leaving

U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, a Clinton appointee who angered the Bush administration last summer with a medical report on sexuality, says he will leave the government in February.

"My term ends on Feb. 13, and I don't plan to stay on,'' Satcher said today in an interview with the Associated Press.

Satcher rankled the White House last summer when his office released a report that found there was no evidence showing that teaching sexual abstinence in schools was successful. It called for schools to encourage abstinence among students but also teach birth control techniques. Additionally, the report found there was no evidence that a gay person could become heterosexual.

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