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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 30, 2001

First Artificial Heart Recipient Dies Anthrax Letter Found in Conn. Home Near Latest Victim Cancer Claims Ex-Beatle George Harrison Half of Those at Risk of HIV Not Tested Heart Shrinkage in Space to Be Studied British Lawmakers Approve Ban on Creating Human Clones Third Case of Mad Cow Disease Found in Japan

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

First Artificial Heart Recipient Dies

Robert Tools, the first person to receive a fully self-contained artificial heart, died today of internal bleeding and organ failure after living with device for 151 days, the Associated Press said.

His death was announced by Drs. Laman Gray Jr. and Robert Dowling, who implanted the softball-sized device on July 2 at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky.

The hospital said severe abdominal bleeding began yesterday, caused by continuous anti-coagulation problems that Tools, 59, had experienced since the landmark surgery. His organs began failing last night and he died early this afternoon.

The hospital said the death was unrelated to the stroke Tools suffered Nov. 11. The hospital also said the deterioration of his condition was not caused by complications or any malfunction of the experimental AbioCor heart device. Tools, a retired telephone company worker, had been suffering from congestive heart failure, diabetes and kidney disease when he received the device.


Anthrax Letter Found in Home Near Latest Victim

Traces of anthrax have been found on a letter sent to a home near that of the 94-year-old Connecticut woman who died of the disease, health officials said today, according to HealthDay. But the officials were not sure what, if anything, that suggests.

The contaminated letter was found at a home in Seymour, about two miles from the Oxford home of Ottilie Lundgren, said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No one in the Seymour house has fallen ill, officials said, and the letter is now in the custody of the state health department. The letter was typical and not threatening, Koplan added.

Koplan also said postal investigators confirmed that the letter passed through the same Trenton, N.J., sorting facility that handled anthrax-laden mail destined for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy in Washington, D.C. But other than the proximity, officials could find no obvious connection between Lundgren and the unidentified residents of the home where the latest letter was found.

Meanwhile, USA TODAY, quoting a senior law enforcement official, reported that government scientists will use a small robot to open the letter sent to Leahy, in hopes of preserving forensic evidence that might identify the source of the anthrax-by-mail attacks.

The testing was expected to begin today, said CNN, quoting unidentified sources. The Leahy letter is believed to contain billions of potentially deadly anthrax spores; Leahy has said there were enough spores to kill 100,000 people.

And the Associated Press reported that crews were to pump deadly chlorine dioxide gas into the Hart Senate Office Building tonight, trying to kill residual spores of the anthrax that shut down the building almost seven weeks ago. The building houses Daschle's suite of offices.

Eighteen people have been infected since the anthrax bioterrorism mail campaign started early last month; five have died, all from inhalation anthrax.


Cancer Claims Ex-Beatle George Harrison

George Harrison, the Beatles' lead guitarist and a spiritual seeker who added a touch of mysticism to the band's music, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He was 58, HealthDay reported today.

Harrison died at 1:30 p.m. yesterday at a friend's home in Los Angeles; announcement of his death came early this morning.

Harrison had been fighting cancer for years. A heavy smoker for much of his life, he was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997 and was treated in Switzerland earlier this year for a brain tumor, HealthDay said.

He underwent experimental radiosurgery at New York's Staten Island University Hospital earlier this month and later went to UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles for more conventional treatment, ABC News reported.


Half of Those at Risk of HIV Not Tested

Only about half the people at highest risk for HIV have been tested for the virus that causes AIDS, which suggests that U.S. infection rates could be higher than health experts thought, government researchers reported yesterday.

Only 54 percent of people who reported being at high or medium risk -- including intravenous drug users and gay men -- said they had been tested for HIV, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, according to the Associated Press.

The study, released in advance of World AIDS Day tomorrow, cited lack of access to testing centers and a perceived lack of confidentiality as reasons some people don't get tested, the AP said.


Heart Shrinkage in Space to Be Studied

Astronauts who bravely spend long stretches in orbit return to Earth with a little less heart.

So far, this heart shrinkage, or cardiac atrophy, has not caused health problems for astronauts, even those who have spent months in orbit aboard the Russian outpost Mir or the international space station now flying 250 miles above Earth, the Associated Press reported.

But a team of Dallas-based scientists is embarking on a long-term NASA-funded study of why hearts shrink in space and whether it is something to be concerned about.

"The first thing is to find if it's something we have to prevent,'' said Dr. Benjamin Levine, principal investigator for the $1.7 million study. Levine is medical director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, a collaboration between the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and Presbyterian Hospital.


British Lawmakers Approve Ban on Creating Human Clones

British lawmakers have approved an emergency bill barring scientists from using cloning techniques to produce babies, and Queen Elizabeth II is expected to approve the measure next week, the Associated Press reported today.

The bill prohibits the planting of cloned embryos in a womb. But it would still permit scientists to use cloning to create embryos for stem-cell research, the AP said.

Stem cells are the "master cells" found in embryos that can grow into all the types of cells found in the human body. Doctors hope to one day cure or treat hundreds of diseases by manipulating stem cells to grow into tissue needed for transplants.


Third Case of Mad Cow Disease Found in Japan

Japanese authorities discovered the third case of mad cow disease in that country today, adding to concern that the brain-wasting bovine illness may be spreading, the Associated Press reported.

Japan is the only country in Asia whose herds have been affected by the disease, which has ravaged Europe's beef industry, and officials have been scrambling to contain it since the first case was discovered in September.

Jittery consumers got more to worry about today, when Japan's Health Ministry announced that a Holstein cow slaughtered on a farm near Tokyo tested positive twice for mad cow disease. The finding came nine days after the nation's second case of the disease, in a Holstein raised on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.

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