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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 5, 2001

Mayo Clinic Unveils New Anthrax Test A Baby Aspirin Can Protect Mothers-to-Be U.S. Prepares for Smallpox Threat

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

New Test for Anthrax Unveiled

The Mayo Clinic and a pharmaceutical company announced today that they will make available this week a new test that can detect the presence of anthrax in less than an hour, much faster than current tests that can take days to detect the potentially deadly bacteria.

Scientists at the Rochester, Minn.,-based Mayo Clinic said they'd send free samples of the DNA test to a sampling of laboratories around the country, according to MSNBC. The test hasn't been approved yet by the Food and Drug Administration because the number of anthrax cases in humans has been so small that clinical tests have not been possible, the network said.

But, Dr. Franklin Cockerill, a microbiologist at the Mayo Clinic, said the new test is "extremely accurate" in a lab setting, CNN reported.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not plan to use the test at this time, CNN reported.

"CDC officials are consulting with the Mayo Clinic, but the CDC has not done research to validate this test," a source told CNN.

Some health experts have raised concerns that the test could show a "false negative" for those infected with inhalation anthrax because the germ's spores lie dormant in the body for days before germinating. Inhalation anthrax would show up in the blood only after it germinates, which could remain undetected by this test, according to CNN.

On other fronts, Pentagon officials announced today that anthrax had been detected in two mail boxes inside the building. One of the boxes was rented by an unidentified member of the Navy; the other was unassigned, according to The Associated Press.

The building's post office was decontaminated yesterday, and "retesting results were all negative," said a statement issued at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon Post Office receives its mail from the Brentwood Road mail distribution center in Washington, D.C., which was shut down Oct. 15 after the discovery of anthrax there that later led to the deaths of two postal workers.

Meanwhile, the Hart Senate Office Building remained closed today. It houses Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office, which received a highly dangerous anthrax-contaminated letter last month.

But the Longworth House Office Building, shut down Oct. 26 when health inspectors discovered traces of anthrax in three lawmakers' offices, reopened today except for the three contaminated offices.

Finally, 300 co-workers, neighbors and friends mourned the death of a New York City hospital worker today as investigators chased leads to the anthrax that killed her. Another inhalation anthrax victim, a New Jersey postal worker, came home from the hospital today, and a third -- a mail handler at the State Department in Washington -- was removed from intensive care.

The New York hospital employee, Kathy Nguyen, was remembered at a funeral organized by her neighbors and fellow union members, the AP reported.

Investigators continued to pursue leads that could explain how Nguyen, who had no apparent connection with the mail, contracted inhalation anthrax. Among the possibilities: she might have had a second job at a restaurant, the AP said.

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A Baby Aspirin Can Protect Mothers-to-Be

If you're pregnant, a daily dose of aspirin may save your life. A new study shows that pregnant women at high risk for preeclampsia -- a dangerous form of high blood pressure -- may reduce that risk by taking a low-dose aspirin every day, HealthDay reports.

"We knew from [previous studies] that a uterine Doppler test would predict women at high risk for preeclampsia, [and] our current review shows that aspirin has substantial benefit in these high-risk women," says Aravinthan Coomarasamy, study author and researcher at Birmingham Women's Hospital in Birmingham, England.

A Doppler exam is a type of ultrasound that uses harmless radio waves to measure the speed at which blood flows through the vessels. If the test indicates a blockage or other problem that could hamper blood flow to the uterus, many doctors believe the risk for preeclampsia increases. And it is for these women that experts say the aspirin therapy is promising.

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U.S. Prepares for Smallpox Threat

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 they can respond quickly anywhere in the country.

The New York Times reported yesterday 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 have gotten their hands on it.

The recent bioterrorist attacks in which people have been deliberately sickened or killed by mail tainted with anthrax have raised concerns among U.S. officials. Smallpox worries experts much more than anthrax because, unlike anthrax, it is highly contagious.

The Times reported 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 the 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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