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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 22, 2001

Investigators Seek Clues in Elderly Woman's Anthrax Death FDA OKs First Sepsis Drug CDC Probing Knee Surgery Deaths Campaign to End Smoking at Sports Events Kicks Off

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

Officials Hunt for Clues in Latest Anthrax Death

The death of a 94-year-old Connecticut woman from inhalation anthrax has left investigators scrambling for clues as to how someone who rarely ventured outside her home contracted the rarest and most dangerous form of the disease, the Associated Press reported today.

Federal investigators scoured the home of Ottilie Lundgren today, sifting through trash and mail in an attempt to explain how the woman became infected with the disease. She stopped driving years ago and rarely left her home without the help of friends and neighbors, the AP said.

Nearly two dozen investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined crews from the FBI and state health department in the search of the woman's ranch-style home.

"Each and every thing in that household will be looked at," state police spokesman J. Paul Vance said today.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson confirmed yesterday that Lundgren, who lived alone in the small, rural town of Oxford, died yesterday of inhalation anthrax.

Lundgren's death brings to five the number of Americans who have succumbed to the disease since the anthrax attacks began early last month; six others have been stricken with inhalation anthrax but have recovered.

What's puzzling about Lundgren's death is that, unlike all but one of the other victims, she had no direct connection to the U.S. postal system, federal agencies or a media company.

Lundgren had been undergoing treatment at Griffin Hospital in nearby Derby after she was admitted last Friday with what doctors at first thought was pneumonia, according to hospital officials.

Gov. John Rowland expressed puzzlement yesterday that an elderly woman, living in a small mill town far from where other bioterrorism-related anthrax cases were reported, came down with the illness. "This is an extraordinary circumstance," he said, according to a HealthDay report.

"We have no reason to believe that Oxford, Connecticut, or this woman were a target," Rowland added. "We have never been a target of terrorism. I still don't believe we are."

Oxford, a town of 9,800 people, is located in Connecticut's Naugatuck River Valley, about 25 miles northwest of New Haven.

Thus far, no other Connecticut residents have been diagnosed with anthrax, and no one else has anthrax-like symptoms.

The governor said that the mail is the chief suspect so far in the Lundgren case. The woman didn't "go out much," her trips were confined to church and the local hair salon, he added. "We're treating this as a criminal event," he said.

A large mail processing facility in Wallingford, Conn., and a smaller post office in Seymour, a town to the south of Oxford, both tested negative for anthrax traces, according to a U.S. Postal Service official. But Rowland said 1,500 postal workers in Wallingford and another 30 at the Seymour office would be given prophylactic antibiotics if they want.

Nine of the 10 previous inhalation anthrax cases were traced to anthrax-tainted mail sent to high-profile politicians or media outlets in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Florida. However, the 10th fatality, a 61-year-old woman in New York City, remains a mystery -- the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says it found no traces of anthrax in her apartment or workplace, and tests of the subway she rode also turned up negative.

Meanwhile, Chile said today that U.S. health officials have confirmed that a letter sent from Switzerland to the South American nation was tainted with anthrax. The letter containing the anthrax spores was received last week by a pediatrician at a children's hospital in Santiago, the Health Ministry said, the AP reported.

It appeared to be the first case of the deadly bacteria in mail outside the United States since contaminated letters first surfaced early last month.


FDA OKs First Sepsis Drug

Federal regulators have approved the first drug that attacks sepsis, an often-deadly bacterial infection of the bloodstream that strikes about 750,000 Americans a year.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of Xigris yesterday, and manufacturer Eli Lilly & Co. said it would ship the drug to hospital intensive-care units within days, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA cautioned that Xigris is to be used only for sepsis patients deemed least likely to survive. When given to such people, the drug can cut the chances of death 13 percent.

Sepsis can strike anyone; it can be a complication of trauma, surgery, pneumonia and numerous other illnesses. Approximately 225,000 Americans die each year when the infection sets off a chain of chemical reactions that destroy their organs, according to the AP.

"We're talking about tens of thousands of lives per year potentially saved by this product if used appropriately," said Dr. Jay Siegel, the FDA's director of blood therapies.


CDC Probing Knee Surgery Deaths

Health officials are calling on the nation's doctors to report any suspicious cases of joint surgery infection following the sudden and mysterious deaths of three Minnesota men who suffered catastrophic infections after elective knee surgery, according to HealthDay.

In a press conference yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is investigating a "few" potential cases of complications after joint surgery since Oct. 1, but has yet to confirm any additional patients.

The men, ages 23, 60 and 78, died earlier this month within one to four days of their operations at two hospitals. Surgery on two of the men was done in a St. Cloud hospital northwest of Minneapolis; the other operation was done at a hospital 70 miles away. Lab tests turned up the lethal bacteria Clostridium sordellii in the blood of the 23-year-old victim.

Although the two other men had similar symptoms, including a steep drop in blood pressure and severe abdominal pain, investigators haven't been able to determine what kind of germ, if any, killed them.

Meanwhile, federal health officials said yesterday that the deaths of the men do no merit a national moratorium on the knee procedures. Minnesota health officials Sunday urged hospitals and surgery centers in the state to suspend the operations for one week. But Dan Jernigan, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said yesterday that federal officials had no plans to call for a national moratorium, according to the Associated Press.


Campaign to End Smoking at Sports Events Kicks Off

The "Tobacco Free Sports Campaign,'' an attempt to end cigarette promotion and smoking at sports events, was launched today by leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the governing bodies of motor racing, soccer and the Olympics, the Associated Press reported.

The campaign was announced as delegates from 191 nations opened a new round of negotiations on an international treaty intended to combat smoking through such measures as tax hikes, marketing restrictions and labeling controls, the AP said.

The WHO said sponsorship of sports events targets the young. In the United States, the major domestic cigarette companies reported spending $113.6 million on sports and sports events in 1999, the agency said.

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