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Hormone breast cancer risk normalizes after stopping pills

Researchers confirmed that a daily, combined dose of estrogen and progestin increases breast cancer risk in post menopausal women, but added that this risk begins to return to normal about six months after women stop taking the hormones. "It is reassuring that breast cancer risk begins to return to normal six months after women stop combined dose estrogen-progestin therapy," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. "Women, in consultation with their physicians, need to make the most informed decision possible. The study authors have provided them with one more piece of important information."

Snuff, smoking hold adjacent risks

As tobacco companies campaign to promote smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes, many smokers who take up snuff in an effort to quit instead end up using both products, according to a Florida researcher. Further, nonsmokers who use snuff are more likely than those who don't to eventually begin smoking.

Senator seeks terrorist-virus probe

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy has urged the government to explore a possibile terrorist link to an outbreak of West Nile virus that has killed 54 people this year. "I think we have to ask ourselves: Is it coincidence that we're seeing such an increase in West Nile virus or is that something that's being tested as a biological weapon against us?" said Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy's office was one of several to receive anthrax-laden envelopes last year, the Associated Press reports. Leahy said he could point to no specific evidence that the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus was linked to terrorism, and a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there is no evidence to suggest an act of bioterrorism. Nearly 1,300 people in the U.S. have so far contracted West Nile. "In the times in which we live, questions about our vulnerabilities are unavoidable," the Vermont senator said in a written statement. "Finding all the answers we can is more important than ever."

Preparing for smallpox

Guidelines for inoculating the entire U.S. population against smallpox are being distributed to states today by federal health officials. At the moment mass vaccination is likely only if the deadly virus returns through an act of bio-terrorism. In the event of an outbreak, states would have to vaccinate their populations within days. (A person exposed to the virus can only be successfully immunized within five days of exposure.) The plan from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows states how to handle this massive effort, down to details like the number of hours a clinic would need to stay open (16), what to stress in public announcements ("urgency and patience, not panic"), the number of large-screens TVs needed per clinic (5, for video orientation), the temperature at which each brand of vaccine must be stored (varies), and the number of security personnel needed per 8-hour shift at a clinic (20). Smallpox is deadly, with a mortality rate of at least 30 percent. Because the disease was eradicated globally in the 1970s, most people have little immunity to it -- and health workers aren't familiar with it. Those facts plus the mobility of our plane-hopping poplulation mean that without extensive planning an outbreak could overwhelm public health systems.

West Nile heads west

A Los Angeles County woman has tested positive for West Nile virus in what is likely to be the first case of a person contracting the illness west of the Rockies, state health officials said today. Today's preliminary results are expected to be confirmed by further tests next week. The unidentified woman, who is being treated for meningitis, had not traveled outside the region, which would indicate that the infection, if confirmed, occurred locally. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43 people have died so far this year from the disease, which is spread by mosquitos (or possibly through organ transplants).

Avoid skeeter bites, says CDC

In response to outbreaks of West Nile virus throughout the eastern U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed out that the best way to avoid infection is to avoid mosquito bites. West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, and in addition to humans can infect horses, many species of birds, and some other animals. Fortunately, most people who become infected with West Nile virus will have either no symptoms or mild ones. But on rare occasions, infection can result in West Nile encephalitis, a severe and sometimes fatal inflammation of the brain. (The risk of severe infection is higher for persons 50 years of age and older.) Officials in Washington D.C. have been getting the word out about protective measures people can take after West Nile virus infected a 55-year-old resident, who is now hospitalized with encephalitis. As of Thursday, state health departments around the U.S. have released information on 113 cases of human illness related to West Nile virus this year, including 5 deaths.

Mass smallpox vaccination plan urged

Vaccinating hundreds of thousands of Americans would be more effective in the case of an intentional or accidental outbreak of smallpox than a more limited "ring" plan endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some specialists believe. "Mass vaccination really leads to fewer deaths than the CDC interim plan," Lawrence Wein of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told Reuters. Besides, he said, if there were a smallpox attack, "I think it highly likely that people would take to the streets to demand vaccination, or would flee." Of course, the smallpox vaccine could be fatal or severely debilitating for many people, including those with common skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

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