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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 20, 2001

Elderly Conn. Woman Has Inhalation Anthrax Contraceptive Patch Wins FDA Nod Court Order for Assisted Suicide Extended Throngs Respond to Baby Teeth-Nuke Testing Study FDA OKs Controversial Gel, Reluctantly Menstrual Woes Linked to Diabetes Risk Heart Recipient Continues to Falter

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

Elderly Woman in Conn. Has Inhalation Anthrax

An elderly woman who lives on her own in the farm country of southwestern Connecticut has inhalation anthrax, initial test results disclosed today, the Associated Press reported.

The woman, who is in her 90s, was hospitalized in critical condition, Gov. John Rowland said. She tested positive for the more deadly inhaled form of the disease in five separate tests conducted by the Department of Public Health and Griffin Hospital in Derby, Rowland said.

More tests were being conducted by experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the results were expected tomorrow, the AP reported.

Rowland said the woman lives in Oxford, a rural community of about 9,800 people 30 miles southwest of Hartford. She was originally treated for pneumonia and admitted Friday to the Derby hospital after being brought in by a family member, said the hospital's president, Patrick Charmel.

The FBI and state police have secured the woman's home and are conducting a criminal investigation, Rowland said. The woman lives by herself and has a limited routine.

Meanwhile, an anthrax-contaminated letter addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy in Washington, D.C., but apparently sent by mistake to the State Department, contained enough of the deadly bacteria to kill two people, The New York Times reported today.

According to one federal law enforcement official, a sample taken from a plastic evidence bag containing the still-unopened letter had at least 23,000 anthrax spores, which would kill more than two people, the AP reported today.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were three times more anthrax spores in the single sample taken from the plastic bag than in any of the other 600 bags of mail for Capitol Hill that were examined by the FBI before it found the Leahy letter, the AP said.

FBI officials also suspect the anthrax in the Leahy letter is "comparable to the highly refined material" sent last month to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., The Times said.

And, at the Pentagon, officials began taking new precautions today against anthrax-tainted mail by requiring that all mail be opened, visually inspected, X-rayed and tested for biological or chemical materials, the AP reported. Once checked, mail will be held for up to three days to await test results before delivery inside the building.

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Contraceptive Patch Wins FDA Nod

The Food and Drug Administration today approved the sale of the world's first contraceptive patch, giving women an option considered as safe and effective asthe pill but easier for some to use, the Associated Press reports.

Ortho-Evra emits through the skin low doses of the same hormones used in birth control pills - but requires women to remember to use it weekly instead of daily like a pill. But the FDA, in approving the matchbook-sized beige patch, warned that Ortho-Evra may not work as well for women who weigh more than 198 pounds.

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Court Order for Assisted Suicide Extended

A federal judge today extended a court order that has temporarily blocked a move by the U.S. government to dismantle the nation's only law allowing physician-assisted suicide, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones gave the state of Oregon and the U.S. Justice Department up to five months to prepare their arguments. The state has asked Jones to permanently block a Nov. 6 order by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft that effectively barred the physician-assisted suicide law by prohibiting doctors from prescribing lethal doses of federally controlled drugs to terminally ill patients.

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Throngs Respond to Baby Teeth-Nuke Testing Study

Scientists in New York say they're overwhelmed by the response from adults who once donated their baby teeth for a survey about radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests and now wish to participate in a follow-up survey, the Associated Press reported.

Almost 1,000 people have called or e-mailed the scientists since a St. Louis newspaper published a story Nov. 9 about a new study trying to determine whether teeth donors developed cancer and other health problems years later as a result of the fallout, the AP said.

The study began after 85,000 teeth were found in an old bunker at Washington University where they'd been stored since the 1970s. The teeth were part of the St. Louis Baby Tooth Survey, in which thousands of children from the region donated their teeth for the project, the AP said.

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FDA OKs Controversial Gel, Reluctantly

The Food and Drug Administration made an unprecedented about-face yesterday, approving a gel that promises less internal scarring for women undergoing certain gynecologic surgeries, even though regulators originally deemed the product too risky, according to the Associated Press.

The FDA had initially rejected Lifecore Biomedical Inc.'s Intergel because studies showed that women given the gel during open pelvic surgery had only one fewer internal scar but almost twice the risk of infection as women given standard treatment.

Lifecore became the first company to test a new law ordering the FDA to allow appeals without making manufacturers go to court. Mediators ruled in September that the FDA had erred and should approve Intergel, and yesterday the agency did, the AP said.

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Menstrual Woes Linked to Diabetes Risk

Women who have irregular or very long menstrual cycles have a higher risk of developing diabetes, a study finds, according to HealthDay.

"Over an eight-year follow-up, the risk was twice as high, even after we adjusted for body mass and other factors," says Dr. Caren G. Solomon, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and leader of a team reporting the finding in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But she says women with such menstrual abnormalities needn't panic because the risk can be reduced markedly by lifestyle measures, most notably regular exercise and weight control.

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Heart Recipient Continues to Falter

The world's first recipient of a self-contained artificial heart suffered bleeding in his brain this week in the same area damaged by a stroke 10 days ago, the Associated Press reported.

The bleeding caused swelling and made the patient, Robert Tools, 59, of Franklin, Ky., less responsive, his surgeon, Dr. Laman Gray, said yesterday.

Tools received the AbioCor mechanical heart on July 2 at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. He improved after the implant, but the stroke Nov. 11 left him partially paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak. He has been on a ventilator since, the AP said.

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