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News Briefs

China Disputes WHO Advisory


China’s minister of health disputed a World Health Organization travel advisory on Thursday and urged tourists and business professionals to visit southern China, saying a mysterious lung ailment that apparently originated there is now under control.

Health Minister Zhang Wenkang also denied that the government delayed releasing information to citizens about the disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Zhang also said officials were cooperating with other countries on prevention and treatment.

“I can responsibly tell people now it is safe to live, work and travel in China,” said Zhang in his first news conference since SARS was detected in Guangdong province more than four months ago.

At least 79 people have died and at least 2,279 have been infected with SARS in at least 17 countries, according to the WHO. SARS has killed at least 46 people and infected at least 1,190 in China. No cure has been found; scientists have not confirmed the cause of the disease.

The WHO recommended Wednesday that travelers avoid all nonessential trips to Hong Kong and the adjacent Chinese province of Guangdong, the first such travel advisory in its 55-year history.

Heart Association Urges Federal Ban on Ephedra


The American Heart Association urged the federal government Thursday to ban sales of the herbal supplement ephedra, saying its dangers far outweigh any possible benefits it could have as a weight loss aid or workout enhancer.

“Ephedra has been associated with a remarkable risk profile,” the association said in a formal statement submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. It cited “growing literature” linking use of ephedra -- a powerful natural stimulant -- to a variety of serious side effects, including hypertension, irregular heartbeat, seizure, heart attack, stroke and death.

“The potential health hazards associated with ephedrine are too serious to permit them to be sold on the open market,” the statement said. The association urged the FDA “to strongly consider removing dietary supplements that contain ephedra from the open market.”

Responding to what he called the association’s “disappointing” action, Wes Siegner, counsel to the industry’s Ephedra Education Council, said harmful effects of ephedra hadn’t been proven scientifically: “Any call for the removal of ephedra products from the market would be irresponsible.”

Appeals Court May Overturn Microsoft Decision


A federal appeals court panel signaled Thursday that it is likely to overturn a lower-court injunction ordering Microsoft Corp. to distribute key software developed by rival Sun Microsystems Inc. and compel a full hearing of the issue.

“I don’t think the district judge had a clue,” said U.S. Circuit Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, one of three judges who heard arguments from Microsoft and Sun over whether U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz erred in December by ordering Microsoft to include Sun’s Java software in its Windows operating system software.

Most experts expected San Jose, Calif.-based Sun to face an uphill battle at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here, which has a reputation as being among the most conservative in the nation.

Niemeyer told Sun’s lead attorney, Lloyd Day, that the preliminary injunction Sun sought to uphold was an inappropriate remedy for the antitrust claims it made in lower court.