Today's Health Highlights: Dec. 29, 2001

More Anthrax Found at New York Postal Facility Brazilian Corned Beef Recalled Medical Researchers Question Value of Cancer Screening Tests Gene Therapy for Cystic Fibrosis Partially Successful in Mice Sobering News on the Carnage of Drunken Driving

Saturday, December 29, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of the HealthDay Service:

More Anthrax Found at New York Postal Facility

More traces of anthrax have been found on a mail sorting machine at the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center in New York City, the Associated Press reports.

The facility, which handles some 12.5 million pieces of mail per day, had tested positive for the bacteria in October. Subsequent tests came back negative. Another test, this one taken on December 23, however, came back positive. A third-floor sorting machine was the only one to test positive in the 10-story building.

The Morgan Center will not be closed but will be decontaminated and retested. Meanwhile, William Smith, the president of the New York Area Postal Union said he would advise employees not to go to work until the extent of the contamination was clear.

Although no postal workers in New York City have contracted anthrax, mail that went through the Morgan facility appears to have been responsible for four nonlethal cases of skin anthrax in the city.


Brazilian Corned Beef Recalled

The government has announced a recall of about 1.5 million pounds of corned beef because of possible inedible ingredients which are not listed on the label, reports the Associated Press.

The Agriculture Department stressed that the corned beef is not dangerous and that no one has fallen ill but added that consumers should check the bottom of the cans for a stamp which says "BRASIL INSPECIONADO 3031 S.I.F." Any cans bearing this stamp should be returned to the store for a refund.

The recall affects nine distributors that had bought the product from a Brazilian supplier. Consumers with questions can call the Western Hemisphere Association of Meat Marketers at (435) 940-9035.


Medical Researchers Question Value of Cancer Screening Tests

The New York Times reports today that many medical researchers are becoming increasingly skeptical as to whether screening healthy people for cancer and catching the disease early actually saves lives.

Not all researchers agree on the evidence and most would concede that different tests have differing degrees of usefulness. The benefits of Pap tests for cervical cancer and tests for colon cancer, for instance seem great. The benefits of mammography for breast cancer and a blood test for prostate cancer may be less clear. Some new tests, such as spiral CT scans for the lungs, are being hotly debated partially because they are being marketed to patients before they have undergone rigorous scientific study.

Patients shouldn't forgo screening just yet, say experts, but they should know the pros and cons of potentially life-threatening treatments.

These questions come on the heels of a Danish study which reported that mammography did not lower overall death rates from breast cancer and, further, that women who had the test ended up having more surgery, radiation and chemotherapy than women who were not screened.


Gene Therapy for Cystic Fibrosis Partially Successful in Mice

In a preliminary experiment involving mice, scientists were able to partially correct the genetic flaw responsible for cystic fibrosis, according to a news service report.

Cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease, is caused by a defective gene which produces an abnormal version of a protein which moves chloride ions in and out of cells in the lungs and other tissue. In the recent study, researchers transplanted human cystic-fibrosis tissue into mice then tried to reprogram the protein-making process. The result was a 22 percent improvement in chloride transport.

There's a long way to go before the results can be duplicated in humans, researchers admitted, but the findings suggest that it is at least feasible.


Study Quantifies the Carnage of Drunken Driving

If you're thinking about hitting the road after guzzling champagne on New Year's Eve, consider this: Drunken drivers are 13 times more likely to kill someone than an average sober driver, a new study says, according to HealthDay.

"A drunken driver who takes a five-mile trip exposes other people to as much risk as a sober driver who drives for 65 miles," says Steven Levitt, professor of economics at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study into the risks of mixing alcohol and driving.

While public awareness of drunken driving has grown over the last two decades, 16,653 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents in 2000. That's 40 percent of all traffic deaths, according to federal figures.

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