Health Highlights: Sept. 8, 2010

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Former Head of Salmonella-Linked Peanut Firm Now a Consultant

Even though he's under investigation for his role in a peanut-related salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds in the United States, Stewart Parnell is working as a consultant to peanut companies, says the Associated Press.

The federal government is conducting a criminal investigation against Parnell, the former president of the now-bankrupt Peanut Corp. of America. Filthy conditions, including mold and roaches, in the company's processing plants were blamed for the salmonella outbreak two years ago.

According to e-mails discovered by congressional investigators, Parnell once told workers to "turn them loose" after samples of peanuts initially tested positive for salmonella but were cleared in a second test.

Parnell's continued work in the food industry is not illegal because no charges have been brought against him or his associates, the AP reported. The Food and Drug Administration referred questions about the matter to the Justice Department, which refused comment.

Relatives of people who died in the outbreak were outraged when they learned that Parnell is back in the peanut business.

"My God, when are we going to hold anyone responsible?" Jeff Almer, whose mother, Shirley Almer, was the first known death from the outbreak in Minnesota, told the AP. "So far to this day, nothing's happened to this man. I think every person in America who was affected by this, every family who lost someone, deserves to hear the truth from this guy."

"He's still walking the streets almost two years later, whereas my mother is lying 6 feet under," Randy Napier told the AP. His mother died after eating peanut butter linked to peanuts from Peanut Corp. of America.

"It's just not fair. If the (Food and Drug Administration) does not go after Stewart Parnell, the message they are sending to the industry is don't worry about it, ship it. He should not be anywhere near the food industry," Napier said.

For his part, Parnell told the AP that he's been directed by his lawyers not to discuss his case with family members of the nine people who died. "My lawyers will not let me say anything or I'd be in front of every one of them personally," he said.

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Judge Refuses To Lift Embryonic Stem Cell Funding Ban

A ban on federal funding for some types of stem cell research will not be lifted, a U.S. federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth refused a Justice Department request for a temporary lift of his stay on funding for stem cell research that requires the destruction of human embryos in order to extract the stem cells, the Associated Press reported.

Federal officials sought the temporary lift while they appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Lamberth originally signed the federal funding restraining order after he ruled that a lawsuit filed by two scientists was likely to succeed, the AP reported.

The scientists say that President Barack Obama's decision to expand funding of research on embryonic stem cells threatens their chance of winning government funding for research using adult stem cells.

Brass Instruments May Be Linked to Lung Condition

People who play brass musical instruments such as the saxophone may be at increased risk for an allergic lung condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), according to researchers.

HP may develop when these musicians unknowingly inhale mold and bacteria from their instruments. Shortness of breath and coughing are symptoms of HP, which can develop into a more dangerous fibrosis, ABC News reported.

The American and European researchers looked at cases involving a trombone player and two saxophone players who developed HP. Their findings appear in the journal Chest.

"This isn't shocking, nor do I think it's very common," Martin Blaser, chairman of medicine at New York University and a specialist in infectious diseases, told ABC News. "My guess is these are isolated events and somebody got unlucky."

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FDA Issues Warning Letters Over Green Tea Beverages

The makers of Canada Dry ginger ale and Lipton tea have been issued warning letters for making unproven nutritional claims about their green tea beverages, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

One letter was issued to Dr. Pepper Snapple Group about its labeling of Canada Dry Sparkling Tea Ginger ale, while the other was sent to Unilever Inc. over labeling and Web site information about its Lipton Green Tea, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA told Dr. Pepper Snapple Group that the ingredients in Canada Dry Sparkling Green Tea Ginger Ale "are not nutrients with recognized antioxidant activity" and the product does not meet federal requirements to carry the claim that the it is "enhanced with 200 mg of antioxidants from green tea and vitamin C."

In the warning letter to Unilever, the FDA said antioxidant labeling claims on Lipton Green Tea do no follow federal guidelines. The agency also challenged information on the company's Web site, the AP reported.

The companies were given 15 days to respond to the warning letters and explain what action they will take to correct the issues.

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Low Blood Pressure Drug Will Stay On Market: FDA

A drug to treat low blood pressure will be allowed to remain on the U.S. market while more data about its effectiveness is collected, says the Food and Drug Administration.

In August, the agency warned it would order Shire PLC to halt U.S. sales of ProAmatine (midodrine) because the drug had not been proven effective. The FDA approved the drug in 1996 based on promising early results but also ordered a follow-up study to prove the long-term benefits of the drug, the Associated Press reported

Because that study was never conducted, the FDA last month proposed taking ProAmatine off the market and giving Ireland-based Shire the opportunity to schedule a hearing to discuss the issue.

However, the FDA has decided to allow the drug to remain on the market "while the necessary data is collected and the legal issues get sorted out," agency spokeswoman Sandy Walsh said in an emailed statement, the AP reported.

Last year, about 100,000 people in the U.S. received prescriptions for ProAmatine or generic versions of the drug, according to the FDA.

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Posted: September 2010


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