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Today's Health Highlights: Oct. 31, 2001

Postal Anthrax Case Surfaces in NJ; NYC Death Source a Mystery A Cancer Breakthrough on Tumor Growths Gov't. Tightens Arsenic-in-Water Standards

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

Possible Postal Anthrax Case Surfaces as NYC Death Heightens Concern

Even as today's inhaled-anthrax death of a New York City hospital worker heightened concern about the spread of the deadly bacteria, a suspected case of skin anthrax surfaced in a regional New Jersey postal facility.

According to the Associated Press, a 51-year-old Delaware resident who works as a mail processor in the Bellmawr regional mail facility in Camden County may be the latest victim. The mail facility is about 35 miles from the Hamilton postal facility that handled at least three anthrax-tainted letters.

The man, who plans to return to work Friday, developed a skin lesion Oct. 13 and blood tests were positive for the anthrax germ, acting Health Commissioner George DiFerdinando said tonight. Further tests to confirm whether the man has anthrax were pending.

Postal officials today halted all operations at the Bellmawr plant, which serves 159 local post offices and delivers mail to 1.1 million locations in southern New Jersey and parts of Delaware, the AP said.

New York City's first inhaled-anthrax victim, Kathy Nguyen, died this morning after being in critical condition at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan for two and a half days, CNN reported.

And according to AP, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters today that a co-worker of Nguyen's at the Manhattan Eye Ear and Throat Hospital had reported a skin lesion that raised concern. "Tests are being done," Fleischer said.

Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who was 61, worked in the supply room of the Manhattan hospital, which is now closed for environmental testing. She is the fourth person to die of inhalation anthrax and was only the second victim who had no connection to a postal facility, a government office or the media.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said today that preliminary tests at the hospital showed no other cases of anthrax and "that's part of the mystery."

"So all bets are off and [what] we really need to do -- the public health officials, the forensic group -- [is] a real full-court press on trying to track this down. This is critical," he said, according to The New York Times.

CNN reported that all facility staff members, patients who had surgery in the hospital in the past 19 days and visitors who spent more than one hour inside the building will be offered treatment.

The other victim with no connection to a known anthrax-tainted site is a 51-year-old New Jersey accountant for a small firm near the Hamilton postal facility that processed tainted letters. She was released from a hospital three days ago after being successfully treated for skin anthrax, according to the AP.

Worries about "cross-contamination" within the postal system have grown with the latest cases.

FBI spokeswoman Sandra Carroll said tonight that the Bellmawr case and the presence of the germ at a post office in Princeton, N.J., -- where no one is ill -- may be cases of cross-contamination, AP reported.

And yesterday, Fauci told a White House news conference that, based on the two women who contracted the disease outside the expected parameters, investigators are now asking, "Did they get infected from a piece of mail that went to their home? That is being intensively investigated right now."

But despite an intensive four-week investigation by the FBI and health experts, Attorney General John Ashcroft said today, "I have no progress to report" in identifying the culprits or preventing further attacks, AP reported.

"I think for the American people, it's frightening, it's scary," conceded White House spokesman Fleischer.

The latest victims raised the number of confirmed anthrax cases to at least 17 nationwide since the bioterror campaign began early this month. The more-lethal inhalation form has hit 10 and killed four of them: Nguyen, two Washington, D.C., postal workers and an editor with a supermarket tabloid based in Florida. The rest have contracted the more treatable skin version, and survived.

In other developments, AP reported that there was fresh evidence of anthrax today in preliminary tests on two of five mailbags sent from the State Department to the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania. Department spokesman Richard Boucher said final test results would be available by Saturday.

At the same time, three post office facilities in the nation's capital that had been closed for decontamination were reopened during the day. The city's main Brentwood facility, which tested positive for anthrax at numerous spots, remained shut down.

The anthrax scare also prompted military officials yesterday to suspend holiday mail programs designed to boost the spirits of military personnel by showing that Americans care about them, CNN said.

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A Cancer Breakthrough on Tumor Growths

A new understanding of what makes malignant tumors grow may speed development of means to destroy tumors in their earliest stages, HealthDay reported today.

The findings could change the way all cancers are understood and ultimately treated, claims a team of 16 scientists from two New York research centers, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

"We believe we have identified the factors that encourage the growth of malignant tumors, as well as possible ways to turn off that growth," says study co-author Robert Benezra, a Sloan Kettering scientist who spearheaded the research with Dr. David Leyden.

The factors pinpointed by the study are the ordinary bone marrow cells that are called into action at the very earliest stages of cancer development and that appear to play a critical role in a process called angiogenesis -- the formation of blood vessels to feed tumors. The findings appear in the Nov. 1 Nature Medicine.

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Arsenic-in-Water Standards Tighten

The Bush administration announced today that it would reinstate a Clinton-era plan to sharply restrict the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water to help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The Environmental Protection Agency was widely criticized in March when it suspended a regulation written by the Clinton administration that would slash the amount of arsenic in tap water to 10 parts per billion (ppb). The incoming administration said it wanted another study of the health risks before adopting a rule that would be costly to many businesses and small communities.

According to published reports, EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman announced late today that the administration would reinstate the 10 ppb limit on arsenic, replacing the 50 ppb standard in effect for decades. No other developed nation allows 50 ppb of arsenic in its drinking water.

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