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Health Highlights: Aug. 11, 2008

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

California Considers Bisphenol A Restrictions

California lawmakers are considering what could be the first statewide restrictions on bisphenol A, a chemical used in infant formula cans and plastic baby bottles. Under the bill, all food containers or products designed for children age 3 years and younger could contain only trace amounts of the chemical, which can disrupt the hormonal system, the Associated Press reported.

The bill was approved earlier this year by the state Senate and is awaiting an Assembly vote. It's not clear whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign the bill.

While scientists have differing opinions about the danger posed by bisphenol A, consumer concern has pushed some retailers and governments to take action. At least 11 other states have considered bills to restrict the chemical and Congress is considering banning it in children's products. Wal-Mart Stores and Toys "R" Us have said they planned to stop selling baby bottles made with bisphenol A, the AP reported.

The chemical industry, food processors, and grocery retailers argue that the chemical has been used safely for more than 50 years.


Protein Receptor Images May Lead to Better Leukemia Treatments

The first 3-D images of a protein receptor in white blood cells that can lead to leukemia when it malfunctions have been created by Australian researchers. The achievement may lead to improved drug treatments for leukemia and other diseases such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers said.

The new images show the precise appearance of the receptor -- which interacts with a hormone called GM-CSF -- and exactly how it works, Agence France Presse reported.

The research about this protein receptor -- associated with some of the most aggressive and deadly forms of leukemia -- is published in the journal Cell.

"At the moment, many leukemias are treated with chemotherapy that destroys the diseased blood cells and bone marrows as well as normal cells," Professor Micheal Parker, of St. Vincent's Institute in Melbourne, told AFP. "We hope this discovery will lead to targeted therapies, more specific to the malfunctioning cells seen in diseases such as leukemia."


Scientists Identify New Species of Mouth Bacteria

A new species of bacteria that may be associated with tooth decay and gum disease has been identified by researchers at King's College London in Great Britain. The discovery of the new bacteria Prevotella histicola could help improve understanding of changes in bacterial activity that cause oral health problems.

The Prevotella family of bacteria is associated with various oral diseases, as well as infections in other parts of the body.

The King's College team found three strains of the new Prevotella bacteria species inside the flesh lining of the mouth. The new species was identified in both healthy tissue and inside oral cancer cells, BBC News reported.

More than 600 species of bacteria live in the human mouth and many of them haven't been identified. It's important to find unrecognized species of mouth bacteria, especially those that may cause disease, Professor Hugh Pennington, an emeritus professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, told BBC News.

The study was published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.


Suspected E. coli Causes Nationwide Recall of 1.2 Million Pounds of Ground Beef

For the second time in a month, beef from a large Nebraska meat processor has been recalled... this time, 1.2 million pounds.

According to the Washington Post, the fresh ground beef, believed to contain the dangerous E. coli bacterium, was recalled from the upscale Whole Foods stores nationwide Saturday. The beef had been processed at Nebraska Beef of Omaha, one of the nation's largest meatpackers, the newspaper reported.

Just last month, 5 million pounds of beef produced by Nebraska Beef had to be recalled after nearly 50 cases of E. coli had been confirmed. The meat processor was allowed to continue operations after making a number of operational changes, according to the Associated Press.

But 31 new cases have been reported since Aug. 1 in 12 states and Washington, D.C., the Post reported. Seven people who became ill from E. coli O157:H7 had bought their meat at Whole Foods, the newspaper said. Whole Foods Market issued a statement saying that ground beef bought from June 2 to Aug. 6 should be thrown out.

Meanwhile, Nebraska Beef continues to operate while being observed by inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "We will continue to investigate to see what is happening at the plant to see what they have to do to get a handle on their food-safety issues," USDA spokeswoman Laura Reiser told the Post.

E. coli O157:H7 can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration, and in severe cases, kidney failure. Children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of serious infection.

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Posted: August 2008