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Patients Find Healthy Vein in Old Austrian Mine

e centre, stressed that the mine treatment cannot cure ailments, only alleviate their symptoms. But he said the effect can last up to nine months.

"There is as yet no cure for rheumatism," said Rieser, but "more than 90 percent of patients feel better after treatment."

The vital component, he explained, is a stimulating effect of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas element that in high concentrations and long exposures is said to carry serious health risks.

At Bad Gastein, low doses of this colourless and odorless gas have been found to boost the ability of human cells to repair themselves.

The World Health Organisation issues regular warnings that high exposure to radon can increase the risk of lung cancer. It has been a major headache for some home and office owners in radon-prone areas, notably parts of the United States where the US Environmental Protection Agency website says it is "the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers ... (and) the second leading cause of lung cancer in America and claims about 20,000 lives annually."

But Bad Gastein organisers say patients are given one day without inhaling radon in between two days of treatment, and say the gas is out of the patients' bodies within three hours.

"The 50-odd mine staff are subject to 20 times more exposure than patients, but we remain below official exposure levels," said Rieser.

Depending on the gravity of the illness, doctors recommend up to 12 trips of one hour each to the mine over a four-week period, a course which could cost up to 600 euros (800 dollars).

Patients come from all over for the treatment, Rieser added, remembering "one 81-year-old woman who came all the way from Australia."


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