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Today's Health Highlights: Oct. 30, 2001

Officials Probe Possible Home-Delivery Anthrax Doctor Charged in Internet Prescriptions for Cipro Estrogen Doesn't Stave Off Strokes

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

Home-Delivery Anthrax Possibility Probed

Authorities are "intensively investigating" the possibility that private homes are being targeted for anthrax-tainted mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service, a top federal health official said today.

"Up to [Monday], there was no evidence at all that there could be -- or is -- an individual in which there might be the reasonable question, 'Did they get infected from a piece of mail that went to their home?' " said Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institutes of Health, according to CNN. "That is being intensively investigated right now."

Fauci, speaking at a White House news conference, said the investigation turned in that direction after suspicions arose that a New Jersey woman and another in New York had contracted anthrax without coming into contact with a mail-handling facility.

New York City health officials today confirmed that a female worker at Manhattan's Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital is suffering from inhalation anthrax. The 61-year-old unidentified woman, who is listed in critical condition at Lenox Hill Hospital, works in the supply room of the Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, which has been closed for environmental testing, CNN said.

Yesterday, health officials announced that a 51-year-old New Jersey woman who works for a small accounting firm near the Hamilton, N.J., mail distribution center had been diagnosed with skin anthrax.

Meanwhile, four more places tested positive for anthrax traces today, CNN reported: The U.S. Capitol Police's bomb squad office in the Ford House Office Building in Washington, D.C.; the Friendship Heights postal facility in northwest Washington; the retail postal station at Dulles International Airport in northeast Virginia, and a feeder belt in the main U.S. Postal Service processing facility in Palm Beach County, Fla..

However, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had good news on another front: Tests of White House mail facilities and personnel are finished, and they show no signs of anthrax contamination, he said today.

In other developments, a third employee at The New York Post has preliminary signs of skin anthrax infection. The man, an editor on the paper's editorial page, was responding to antibiotics and expected to recover, CNN said.

A union representing New York City postal workers filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking to shut down a large processing center where four machines were found to be contaminated with anthrax. Postal officials had announced that the Manhattan facility would remain open during anthrax decontamination.

And mail workers in Florida sued the Postal Service yesterday to have all 3,300 employees who work in facilities from Boca Raton to Homestead tested for anthrax, according to CNN.

Thirty mail facilities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware are to be tested for anthrax, the Postal Service announced yesterday. The testing may be expanded to include approximately 200 other facilities, CNN said.

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Doctor Charged in Internet Prescriptions for Cipro

A doctor who prescribed the anthrax treatment Cipro through an Internet company has been charged with writing prescriptions for patients he didn't see, the Associated Press reported today.

The North Carolina Medical Board issued the charges yesterday against Dr. Michael Reiff Ross for writing Cipro prescriptions through the Morrisville-based Virtual Medical Group. A hearing was set for Jan. 25.

"In layman's terms, we think he's engaged in practice that falls below minimum medical standards, writing prescriptions for people he's never examined," said the board's executive director, Andrew Watry. The board, which said it would charge other doctors as well, can revoke a doctor's license or issue a reprimand if it determines there was unprofessional conduct.

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Estrogen No Help for Stroke

Older women with heart disease should not count on estrogen to stave off strokes, a new study reports.

"Unfortunately, estrogen is not effective for secondary prevention of stroke, and taking estrogen did not reduce the risk of stroke or death," study author Catherine Viscoli, a research scientist at Yale University's Internal Medicine Department in New Haven, Conn., told HealthDay.

The Yale study followed 664 women, with an average age of 71, who had had a stroke or a mini-stroke in the previous 90 days. The women were divided into two groups, with one group receiving a placebo and the other a standard replacement course of estrogen. Almost three years later, doctors had recorded 99 strokes or deaths among the women taking estrogen, compared with 93 among those who'd been given a placebo. In addition, the women taking estrogen were more prone to vaginal bleeding, cancer of the lining of the uterus and a more frequent need for hysterectomy.

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and is published in the current New England Journal of Medicine, echo those reported in 1998 from one of the largest studies of hormone replacement therapy ever conducted, called the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement study. It examined 2,700 women with heart disease at 18 sites nationwide.

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