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News Briefs

Help on Horizon For Peanut Allergy Sufferers


A new experimental drug can blunt allergic reactions to peanuts, offering the first ray of hope to 1.5 million Americans who are at risk of severe reactions from inadvertent exposure to the commonplace legume, researchers said Monday.

The drug, which blocks an immune system molecule, does not cure peanut allergies, but increases tolerance sufficiently that patients no longer need fear dying from accidental ingestion, which can occur from eating such common fare as Chinese food made with peanut oil, gravy thickened with peanut flour, or even cookies made on improperly cleaned baking equipment.

An estimated 50 to 100 Americans die from such reactions each year and thousands more are hospitalized, often from consuming the equivalent of half a peanut or less.

On average, people with peanut allergies are exposed once every three to five years, and almost a third will have an extremely serious reaction.

Supreme Court Props Up Asbestos Liability Claims


The asbestos liability problem facing corporate America grew worse Monday, as the Supreme Court ruled that a worker’s fear of developing cancer can be the basis for winning extra damages from his employer.

The 5-4 ruling came in a railroad case, but the logic of the court’s decision will extend broadly, beyond even asbestos cases, business experts said.

“This is not a good result for us,” said Stephen Bokat, general counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The fear of cancer has arisen in lots of cases involving not just asbestos but other toxic substances. We see this as opening a huge door with a potential for very large damage awards.”

But a lawyer for asbestos victims downplayed the decision. “This principle (of allowing damages for fear of cancer) has become fairly well accepted in the state courts,” said Brent Rosenthal, a Dallas lawyer. Paying for the damage caused by asbestos has spawned a new industry in law and driven at least 57 companies into bankruptcy, including 26 since Jan. 1, 2000.

New Al-Qaida Plots Linked to War


Al-Qaida cells are planning attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East and elsewhere soon after the start of a military campaign against Iraq, possibly within a week, according to a senior Arab intelligence official.

Terrorists affiliated with Osama bin Laden’s network also are plotting to strike American targets -- such as embassies, businesses and tourists -- in South Asia, and possibly in Europe, the official said. Some of the attacks are likely to occur simultaneously, a typical al-Qaida tactic used in previous terrorist strikes, including those on Sept. 11, the official said. He said he had not seen concrete information suggesting plans for attacks on American soil.

The official, who spoke on the condition that neither he nor his country be identified, said his own intelligence service had picked up indications of heightened activity -- or “chatter” -- among al-Qaida operatives, and so have other security agencies in the region. The official would not name those other countries. He said some specific information had been passed on to U.S. and other Western officials.

To forestall potential attacks, security agencies are looking for signs of heightened surveillance of American and Western embassies and “softer” targets, such as cultural centers, hotels and nightclubs frequented by foreigners, the official said.