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Today's Health Highlights: Oct. 29, 2001

More Anthrax at More Federal Sites Quitting Fen-Phen May Stop Heart Leaks

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

Anthrax Found at More Federal Buildings

Federal officials said today that traces of anthrax had been discovered in the U.S. Supreme Court building, a Department of Health and Human Services building and a State Department building, CNN reported.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, said that preliminary tests came back positive for anthrax contamination at the Cohen Building, home to several offices, including the Voice of America and the Food and Drug Administration.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the contamination there was found in a mail-handling facility across the street from the main State Department building. He added that six mail bags at the U.S. Embassy in Peru were tested and one was found to contain traces of anthrax, according to the Associated Press.

"All our mail rooms have been closed down," Boucher said.

One senior State Department official stressed that the amount of anthrax found in the mail facility was "very, very minor," according to CNN.

And at the Supreme Court building, which had been already closed for testing, officials said the building's basement mailroom had tested positive for anthrax contamination. More tests are under way, and the building will remain closed tomorrow, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said, according to CNN.

The Supreme Court was forced to convene today in a building other than its landmark site, for the first time since it was erected 66 years ago. The move was prompted by the discovery last week of anthrax in a remote mail-handling facility serving the court. The justices heard arguments at the U.S. District Court a mile from their chambers, the AP reported.

Today's developments were the latest in a string of anthrax discoveries in federal buildings. Last night, officials announced the discovery of traces of the potentially lethal germ at an offsite facility that handles mail for the Justice Department, according to CNN.

Several areas within the Landover, Md., facility, including the area where Attorney General John Ashcroft's mail is handled, revealed traces of anthrax, according to department spokeswoman Susan Dryden. As a result, the mailroom in the basement of the main Justice Department building in central Washington has been closed pending test results, which are expected tomorrow.

Mail delivery from Landover to the main Justice Department building was halted several days ago, pending those results. The Landover facility is a central distribution center for many Justice Department agencies. It received its mail from the now-closed Brentwood mail distribution center in Northeast Washington. Two mail handlers who worked at Brentwood have died of inhalation anthrax, the most dangerous form of the disease.

Concern that a second anthrax-contaminated letter -- or more -- has not yet been discovered has widened the search to thousands of businesses in Washington and 30 mail distribution centers.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said deadly germs might be "stuck" on mail somewhere, contaminating machinery in postal facilities, according to a New York Times report today. Card also said that investigators were no closer to determining whether the source of the anthrax is foreign or domestic.

There have been 14 confirmed cases of anthrax so far, including eight inhaled versions of the disease. Inhalation anthrax has killed three of those people -- the two Brentwood postal workers and an editor for a Florida-based publisher of supermarket tabloids.


Quitting Fen-Phen May Stop Leaky Heart Valves

People who took the diet pills fen-phen and developed heart problems may take solace in some new research, HealthDay reports.

A study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that for those who developed leaky heart valves while taking fen-phen, the problem doesn't get worse after a year off the pills. And for about 5 percent of those patients, their leaky valves got better, the study says.

"The strong message here is that there is no evidence that valve regurgitation, or leaky valves, gets worse over time," says study co-author Dr. Neil Weissman, director of cardiac ultrasound at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

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