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Today's Health Highlights: Nov. 9, 2001

FBI Releases 'Profile' of Anthrax Assailant Report: Ex-Beatle Treated for Brain CancerFederal Judge Blocks Ashcroft's Suicide Directive Baby Teeth From Cold War Study Turn Up

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

FBI Issues 'Portrait' of Anthrax Terrorist

The terrorist who mailed anthrax-laced letters is probably a man, somewhat of a loner with scientific ability who "lacks the personal skills necessary to confront others" face to face, the FBI said yesterday, according to the Associated Press.

The culprit "did not select his victims randomly," the FBI said in a three-page, carefully worded assessment issued more than one month after the disease first surfaced. He "may hold grudges for a long time, vowing that he will get even with 'them,' one day," the AP reported.

The FBI issued the profile hours after Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge expressed hope that the anthrax attacks were on the wane. But he acknowledged that investigators were "still no closer to identifying specifically the origin of the anthrax or the perpetrators."

The anthrax-by-mail bioterrorism attack has killed four people and sickened 13, the AP said, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics.

Three tainted letters have been found so far, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and The New York Post. The FBI said that a fourth letter may have been addressed to a Florida tabloid publishing company where two men became ill from anthrax and one died. Officials acknowledge there may be other deadly letters that have not been discovered, or are buried in mountains of mail set aside since the outbreak of the disease, the AP said.

Elsewhere yesterday, a federal judge denied an injunction from New York City postal workers to shut down a large processing facility in Manhattan due to possible anthrax contamination. But, he did order the testing of another postal facility nearby, CNN reported.

In a preliminary decision, U.S. District Judge John Keenan said the union had not shown there is a "likelihood of irreparable harm" if the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center is not shut down.

The union had filed a preliminary injunction to shut down the facility after six machines at Morgan tested positive for anthrax Oct. 26. The facility remained open while the machines and surrounding areas were decontaminated, CNN said.

Also yesterday, it was announced that anthrax has been found at four small New Jersey post offices that send mail to the processing center where contaminated letters were forwarded to Washington, D.C., and New York City, the AP reported.

Tests found traces of anthrax spores in the satellite offices, a state official told the AP on condition of anonymity.

The post offices are in Rocky Hill, Princeton Borough, Trenton and Jackson Township, the source said. Fifteen samples were taken at each of the post offices; one sample from each came back positive.

All four facilities send mail to the regional processing center in Hamilton, N.J., which handles mail from 46 smaller post offices across central New Jersey.

Authorities say three tainted letters came through the Hamilton plant on their way to the Washington office of Senate Majority Leader Daschle and to the New York offices of NBC and The New York Post.

No new anthrax cases have been reported for more than a week, and Ridge, asked at a White House news conference whether the initial threat had been shut down, expressed hope that that was the case. "We're prayerful, we're hopeful. We hope this is the last we ever'' have to deal with the issue, he said.


George Harrison Treated for Brain Cancer

Ex-Beatle George Harrison is undergoing radiation treatments for a brain tumor. But, experts say it won't stop the spread of cancer from his lungs, according to ABC News.

Harrison is receiving a treatment known as "fractionated radiation therapy" at New York City's Staten Island University Hospital. It's to treat the metastatic tumor in his brain that spread from his lung, ABC News said.

The therapy focuses high-dose beams of radiation directly at the tumor, to avoid as much healthy brain tissue as possible. The beam is also rotated around the body so it can attack the tumor from all directions, the network said.

The technique used at Staten Island is completely non-invasive, and in almost all cases is an outpatient procedure.

Tumor experts say the treatment isn't a cure for cancer, but can improve quality of life.

Earlier in the year, Harrison had a tumor removed from his lung in the United States, and more recently received radiation therapy in Switzerland for a brain tumor, ABC said.


Federal Judge Blocks Ashcroft Suicide Directive

Oregon doctors can prescribe lethal medicines again to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives now that a judge has temporarily blocked a federal order that had essentially shut down the state's unique assisted-suicide law, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones granted a temporary restraining order that was requested by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, several terminally ill patients and others. The order is effective until Nov. 20.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft had warned doctors earlier this week that they risked losing their licenses if they prescribed federally controlled drugs to terminally ill patients for anything other than pain management, according to a HealthDay report.

"Federal law supercedes state law and may not be nullified by legislative decisions of individual states," Ashcroft wrote in a directive to Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) administrator Asa Hutchinson. DEA agents were to monitor and prosecute doctors who violated the directive.

Ashcroft's move reversed a 1998 ruling by his predecessor, Janet Reno, that allowed physician-assisted suicide in states that authorize the practice.

Oregon, which is the only state that allows doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives, filed suit challenging Ashcroft's authority to limit doctors' medical practices.


Baby Teeth From Cold War Study Turn Up

About 85,000 recently discovered baby teeth that were collected from 1959 to 1970 could help pinpoint whether fallout from Cold War nuclear bomb tests caused cancer and other health problems years later, researchers say, according to an Associated Press story.

The teeth from the St. Louis Baby Tooth Survey determined that children were absorbing radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests by the United States and the Soviet Union. The study received international attention and helped persuade the nation to adopt a 1963 treaty banning atmospheric bomb tests.

The teeth were found in May in hundreds of boxes in a school bunker where they'd been stored since the 1970s. They were in small envelopes fastened by rusty paper clips to cards that detailed each child who gave a tooth to science instead of the tooth fairy.

"We flipped out when we heard about the 85,000 teeth," Joseph Mangano, national coordinator with the independent, nonprofit Radiation and Public Health Project research group, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It was like an early Christmas present."

Researchers in New York are now hoping to find the owners of the teeth and determine whether they've experienced health problems, such as thyroid cancer, in the decades since.

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