Almost anthrax

National | Doctors study anthrax symptoms, the health effects of aspirin, and the cause of lactose intolerance

Issue: "Enron's collapse," Jan. 26, 2002

Stand-alone symptoms
Why did a Baltimore postal inspector exposed to anthrax test negative for infection yet still show anthrax symptoms? The case of the 37-year-old man who worked in a facility where the bacteria killed two people has experts puzzled. The man, whose name the Postal Service has not released, has been sick for two months. When authorities found anthrax at his plant, he was given Cipro. He took the antibiotic for one day, then started feeling sick after he missed two doses. A blood test and chest X-rays turned up negative, and his doctors say the drug could have wiped out any anthrax in his system. So while federal health authorities do not consider it an anthrax case, doctors who treated him suspect that it is. They suggested in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association that the case may expand the range of anthrax infection. "Can you get very ill just by being exposed and not getting the disease?" wondered Dr. Tyler Cymet, lead author of the report. Officially, five people have died of anthrax since Sept. 11 and 13 others have become ill. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said this month that the anthrax attacks likely came from some sort of domestic terrorism. "I think a lot of us, including myself, felt that it couldn't possibly be a coincidence after Sept. 11," he said. "I think our natural inclination was to look to external terrorists, but the primary direction of the investigation is turned inward." Aspirin a day
Children's aspirin isn't just for children anymore. Small doses of the common painkiller are now widely used as a preventive measure against second heart attacks, and new research suggests that the drug could help millions of others facing heart disease. An aspirin a day helps keep heart attacks away, doctors say. New findings, published in the British Medical Journal, report that low doses reduce risk by 25 percent even in patients who have not had a heart attack or stroke before. The Oxford University survey of 287 studies (involving over 200,000 people) suggests that doctors could use aspirin to treat people with diabetes, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and diseased leg arteries. It also concluded that healthy people should not take aspirin to prevent heart attacks. Eric Topol, cardiology chief at the Cleveland Clinic, said the findings help clarify the proper dose of aspirin for heart treatment: 75- to 150-milligram doses instead of the usual 325-milligram aspirin tablet. Federal guidelines released this month by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended low doses of aspirin daily for at-risk patients, to be used in conjunction with other medication. Cynthia Mulrow, co-author of the guidelines, said finding out whether a patient is actually at risk is important, since extended aspirin use can have nasty side effects like intestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke. Got lactase?
Scientists say that many Americans' bodies don't produce enough of the lactose-dissolving enzyme lactase, and the problem may be genetic. Such lactose intolerance is a serious annoyance for 30 million to 50 million Americans who have trouble with foods like milk, ice cream, and cheese pizza. Leena Peltonen of the University of California, Los Angeles, along with a group of Finnish researchers, found a DNA variation that appears in such people, but not in others. The results, published in Nature Genetics, suggest that it must be inherited from both parents. Researchers don't see a cure coming from this research, but they do hope to develop a simple blood test to diagnose lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance happens when people can't properly digest the main sugar in milk products. Uncomfortable side effects follow consumption of ordinary dairy products, including nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. Those with the condition must cut back on such foods and beverages or consume lactose-free milk and dietary supplements. The American Dietetic Association reports that lactose intolerance is strongest among ethic minorities in America: 50 percent of Hispanics, 75 percent of Native Americans/Indians and European Jews, 80 percent of blacks, and 90 percent of Asians have the problem-compared to only 5 percent to 15 percent of Caucasians. Lactose intolerance raises concern among experts because limiting dairy products can affect a person's nutrition, opening the way to more serious medical problems like osteoporosis with hypertension and colon cancer. Doctors recommend green vegetables, fish, and soy for those who have the problem, since they are good nondairy sources of calcium.

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