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The only drug shown to be effective against the virus that causes aids will be distributed free of charge to children under age 13 who have the disease, federal health officials have announced.

Federal officials have approved the use of zidovudine, or azt, for adults since 1987. Until last month's announcement, the government had approved no treatment for the nearly 1,900 children who have been diagnosed as having aids.

More than 200 children who are participating in a federal clinical trial now use azt But because the drug was not approved by the government for use by children, insurance companies were reluctant to pay for azt if it was prescribed by a physician.

The Burroughs Wellcome Company, which makes azt, will distribute the drug free of charge to physicians with patients between the ages of 3 months and 12 years who have symptoms of advanced infection with the aids virus.

Adult users must pay about $6,500 a year for the drug.

The drug, which has not yet won final approval by the Food and Drug Administration, has serious side effects, such as inhibiting the production of red blood cells and reducing white blood-cell counts. Because the approval process takes years, the fda has allowed the early distribution of promising drugs for such fatal diseases as aids.

Young adults should increase their daily calcium intake, the National Research Council recommends in its latest set of Recommended Dietary Allowances.

The rda's, which have been revised 10 times since their first edition in 1941, cover protein, 11 vitamins, and seven minerals. They are used to help set national nutritional policy and to guide federal food programs, including the school lunch and breakfast programs.

This latest set of recommendations--which was delayed for four years--for the first time establishes recommended intake levels for Vitamin K and the element selenium.

The guidelines recommend that young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 increase their calcium intake from the current recommended level of 800 mg to 1,200 mg a day.

It also reduces the recommended iron intake for adolescent girls and women of childbearing age to 15 mg, a drop of 3 mg.

In addition, the guidelines contain lower recommended levels of magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin B6 for children and for women during pregnancy.

Most adult rdas were retained or reduced. But smokers were advised to increase their daily intake of Vitamin C from 60 mg to 100 mg.

The nrc does not recommend that most children or adults take vitamin supplements to meet the rdas. It said the guidelines can be met by eating a varied and balanced diet.--ef

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