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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 4, 2001

U.S. Begins Crash Course in Smallpox Anthrax Found in VA Hospital Ground Zero Workers Get Health Exams

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

U.S. Begins Crash Course in Smallpox

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, taking action for a possible smallpox outbreak that only a month ago was dismissed as theoretical, has begun training small teams to recognize and treat the disease so that they can respond quickly anywhere in the country.

The New York Times reports that the agency has vaccinated 140 epidemiologists against smallpox, which was declared eradicated from the planet in 1980. But small quantities of the virus were kept in the United States and the former Soviet Union, and experts fear that rogue nations also have gotten their hands on it.

The bioterrorist attacks in which people have been deliberately sickened by mail tainted with anthrax -- a disease that also had been battled only in the abstract until early October -- has raised concerns among officials. Smallpox scares experts much more than anthrax because, unlike anthrax, it is highly contagious.

The Times reports that the CDC will start training courses in smallpox this week for its workers as well as state and local health workers, who would be the first to deal with any outbreak. Routine vaccination against this dreaded disease stopped in 1972, and officials worry that even older Americans who were vaccinated are still susceptible because the immunity has worn off. Moreover, many doctors have never seen a case of the disease, which could easily be mistaken for chicken pox.

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Anthrax Found in VA Hospital

Officials say a mailroom at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C., has tested positive for anthrax, but CNN reports that the affected area isn't near any patients.

The hospital began testing for the germ last week because it receives its mail from the same Brentwood postal facility that handled the tainted anthrax letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

Phil Budahn, the VA's public affairs director, tells CNN that there is "absolutely no indication this is a problem beyond the mailroom."

The hospital has 250 patients.

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Ground Zero Workers Get Health Exams

Firefighters who have been working at the World Trade Center since terrorists attacked and destroyed the skyscrapers on Sept. 11 were examined Saturday for a nagging cough.

The Associated Press says many of the 11,000 firefighters can't seem to shake what they're calling "World Trade Center cough."

The Environmental Protection Agency has said that the air around the disaster site exceeded safety standards, but don't expect any long-term problems -- especially if the workers wear masks during the recovery efforts. The fire department has distributed 4,000 respirators for those working at Ground Zero.

The city curtailed the number of people working at the World Trade Center, citing health and safety hazards. But that move set off a confrontation Friday between the police and New York City firefighters, who are eager to bury their dead. Eleven firefighters were arrested during the melee, and five policemen were treated for injuries.

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