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News Briefs

Gore Calls for New Emphasis On Public Health Services


Former vice president Al Gore, citing a growing threat of a biological weapons attack against the United States, Thursday said curing the “dangerous weakness” of the country’s public health services should be the nation’s top health care priority.

Gore said that possible war with Iraq -- and intelligence suggesting that the Iraqis would respond with a biological attack aimed at the U.S. -- as well as the re-emergence of Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida network have created “an immediate and urgent need” for action by the federal government to protect the population.

“The strong possibility of a biological weapons attack against the United States demands a new and comprehensive response,” Gore said at the George Washington University Medical Center. “We need a new national defense public health act to responsibly address this imminent threat.”

In the third of a series of policy speeches before the November midterm election, Gore largely set aside partisan criticism of the Bush adminstration in an effort to open a new front in the debate over health care policy. He said that the lack of health insurance coverage for millions of Americans must take “a back seat” to the more pressing threat of improving the public health service’s capacity to deal with an attack from anthrax, small pox or ebola.

Study Cites Differences In Stroke Symptom Reports


Men and women do not use the same terms to describe stroke symptoms, a troubling difference that may leave some women sitting in hospital waiting rooms rather than being triaged for an emergency, according to a team of researchers.

Writing in Friday’s Annals of Emergency Medicine, researchers found that while in the midst of a stroke, women were 62 percent more likely than men to use terms that did not describe classic stroke symptoms.

The study of 1,124 patients by a team of researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, documents for the first time a gender difference in the way patients describe a stroke.

“We know from the cardiac literature that women are much more likely to report vague or non-classic symptoms of a heart attack,” Dr. Lise Labiche, a cardiovascular specialist at the University of Texas, said yesterday. “With stroke symptoms we have been behind the times,” she continued. Labiche said women were more likely than men to report episodes of severe hiccups, facial pain, nausea and shortness of breath -- all symptoms that may not be immediately recognized as signaling a stroke.

JetBlue Stock to Split


JetBlue Airways, which sold shares to the public in April, Thursday announced a three-for-two split of its common stock.

A discount carrier whose route structure is based mostly at Kennedy International Airport, JetBlue said the stock split will be distributed Dec. 12 to shareholders of record Dec. 2. It will increase the outstanding shares by 50 percent to about 63 million.

Airline industry consultant Robert Mann said increasing the number of shares, effectively lowering share prices, could benefit shareholders, including employees who hold options, by raising the upside potential of the stock. He said employees holding larger numbers of options than before the split have a greater opportunity to earn a profit, assuming the company continues to do well, which depends greatly on them.

Companies often authorize a split to make stock ownership more affordable to more investors. The stock hit a low of $29.75 Oct. 10. JetBlue’s high of $55.15 was reached on May 6. Thursday, it closed at $36.90, up 46 cents.

Mann said although JetBlue has been a success story, it faces increasing competition as it grows -- in particular, he said, from Delta Airlines in the New York to Florida market, from American Airlines in the San Juan market and from Southwest Airlines to the West. “So far, the going’s been good but their greatest competitive challenges are ahead of them,” said Mann. “The startup itself, while an achievement, doesn’t represent more than the beginning of a long term competitive struggle.”

Previously Conjoined Twins Prepare To Return Home to Africa


Three days short of their first birthday, they have tiny baby teeth, a vocabulary that includes “mama” and “bye-bye” -- and the milestone of their first unassisted steps not far in the future.

Christine and Loice Onziga -- the conjoined twins separated in April during a 12-hour operation at the University of Maryland Medical Center -- are developing into normal, healthy children and are preparing to return to their native Africa next week.

“I feel so excited to go back home with the two healthy girls and to meet with the rest of the family,” Gordon Onziga, 29, said Thursday at an early birthday celebration at the hospital, attended by more than two dozen medical professionals who have worked with his daughters. “I thought that I was going to just dream about it.”

When the twins arrived in Baltimore in February fused together, they sometimes cried and screamed when they were touched or shifted. Now independent of each other, they happily wave hello and goodbye, open their arms for hugs and stand and walk -- albeit with help.

But it took hours of physical therapy after the operation to get the sisters to do even the most seemingly basic things, such as turn their necks. A combined six pounds when delivered by Caesarean section, the two were attached from the breastbone to the navel, with their hearts, livers and diaphragms joined.