Antarctic Ozone Layer Hole Shrinks

The atmospheric "ozone hole," an area of depleted ozone that forms during the Antarctic winter, appears to have shrunk about 20 percent from last year's record-breaking size, scientists said yesterday.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research of New Zealand said its measurements backed up NASA satellite data showing that the hole peaked at about 9 million square miles, down from 11 million square miles in 2003.

The ozone layer, nine to 19 miles above the Earth, blocks ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer and damage marine organisms. Industrial chemicals have been blamed for thinning the layer. Under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, more than 180 signatory states have committed to phasing out the use of nearly 100 ozone-damaging substances.

Some Women Return to Hormone Therapy

About a quarter of U.S. women who stopped hormone-replacement therapy after it was found to raise the risk of heart disease and some cancers have gone back to the drugs, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said.

That is appropriate for women who are having severe symptoms of menopause, such as debilitating hot flashes, as long as they take a small dose for the shortest time needed, the group said.

In 2002, a major study indicated that hormone-replacement therapy raised the risk of stroke, heart attack and some cancers; later research showed that it did not prevent Alzheimer's disease.

But the study, called the Women's Health Initiative, was done on women well past menopause. Doctors were quick to note that the therapy could still be valuable and safe for younger women.

Hospital Warns of Mad-Cow-Like Disease Risk

More than 500 patients at Emory University Hospital have a remote chance of exposure to a fatal disease similar to mad cow after a brain surgery patient tested positive for the condition, officials said.

Although they called the risk of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease "remote," officials are notifying 98 brain or spinal surgery patients who may have had contact with surgical instruments that were used on the infected patient. They also are informing 418 non-neurosurgical patients who had operations Sept. 10 to 27, although they are at even lower risk.

Officials said the infected patient's diagnosis still awaits definitive test results, and that could take weeks. The concern involves the naturally occurring, or sporadic, form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- not the variant form caused by eating mad-cow-infected meat. Sporadic CJD develops from the mutation of proteins in the brain called prions and causes dementia, loss of muscle coordination and eventually death.

-- From News Services