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Health Highlights: Aug. 23, 2007

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

Baby Carrots Recalled for Bacteria Contamination

Sweet baby carrots sold in 12 states are being recalled because they may be contaminated with Shigella bacteria, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Infection with the bacteria -- especially among the very young, elderly, or people with compromised immune systems -- can trigger symptoms including diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Illness usually lasts four to 14 days, the agency said in a statement on its Web site.

The product was sold in packages with two labels. The first was branded "Los Angeles Salad Genuine Sweet Baby Carrots" and distributed by retail stores including Kroger, King Sooper, and Publix in Colorado, California, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida. Affected 7- and 8-oz. plastic bags had a sell-by date up to and including Aug. 16, 2007.

The second label was "Trader Joe's Genuine Sweet Baby Carrots," distributed by Trader Joe's stores in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Affected 7-oz. bags had a sell-by date up to and including Aug. 8, 2007.

The carrots were produced by the Los Angeles Salad Co. At least four people who ate the carrots were sickened in Canada between Aug. 4 and Aug. 6, the FDA said, although none was hospitalized. The source of the contamination is under investigation.

To learn more, contact Los Angeles Salads at 626-322-9017.


Study Offers New Insight Into Autism

In people with autism, connections between brain cells may be deficient within single regions, and not just between regions as was previously believed, says a study in this month's issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The finding may lead to earlier diagnosis and development of more targeted drugs to treat autism, said lead author Tony Wilson, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. He conducted the study while at the University of Colorado.

Using brain imaging technology, Wilson and his team analyzed brain activity in 10 children with autism and 10 children without the disorder as the children listened to a series of clicking sounds.

The researchers noted a considerable difference between the two groups of children in the auditory area of the left hemisphere of the brain, which controls language and logic. Children with autism showed no response while those without autism showed an immediate response.

"Our results made sense. Both anecdotal and behavioral evidence suggest children with autism have significantly disturbed brain circuits on the local level within an individual brain area," Wilson said.


Severe Burns Can Cause Heart Problems

Severe burns can cause a major reduction in heart function and increase the risk of death, says an American study in the journal Critical Care.

Researchers from Shriners Hospitals for Children studied 189 children with burns, finding that those who had burns over 80 percent of their bodies had a "marked" decline in heart function, BBC News reported.

The study found that burns trigger heightened inflammatory and metabolic activity, which severely stress the heart and other vital organs. In addition, wounds take longer to heal and patients are vulnerable to infection.

Patients with severe burns have high death rates. These findings have implications for the care of those patients, according to lead researcher Marc Jeschke. He said treatments must focus on a number of areas, and adequate cardiovascular support is one essential component, BBC News reported.


Infectious Diseases Spreading Faster Than Ever: WHO

International air travel is a major reason why infectious diseases are spreading faster than ever before, putting the world at high risk for a major epidemic, the World Health Organization says in its annual report.

To reduce the risk, the WHO said countries need to boost efforts to fight disease outbreaks, and must share virus data in order to develop vaccines, BBC News reported.

"Given today's universal vulnerability to these threats, better security calls for global solidarity," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in an introduction to the report. "International public health security is both a collective aspiration and a mutual responsibility," she said.

Since the 1970s, 39 new diseases have appeared in the world, the report said. In just the last five years, the WHO has identified more than 1,100 epidemics involving a number of diseases such as bird flu, cholera and polio, BBC News reported.


Eardrum Rupture May Warn Of Brain Injury in Soldiers

Among soldiers who survive roadside bombs and other explosions, those with ruptured eardrums are nearly three times more likely to have a concussion or similar brain injury, according to research published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study by U.S. military doctors looked at 210 blast victims treated at a field hospital in Iraq. The finding may help improve detection of such brain injuries, which can be overlooked when doctors are dealing with more obvious or severe wounds, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers were led by Air Force Lt. Col. Dr. Michael Xydakis, who noted that the eardrum is only a half-millimeter thick and is easily ruptured. He also noted that the eardrum is only a half-inch away from the brain so "whatever hits the eardrum is going to hit the brain," such as the pressurized shock that follows an explosion.

However, Xydakis added that more research is needed to confirm that eardrum rupture is a good marker for possible brain injury, the AP reported.


Monkey Ovaries Removed, Frozen, and Returned

In a study that raises hopes that women can have a natural pregnancy after chemotherapy or other cancer treatments, Japanese researchers successfully removed, froze and put back the ovaries of monkeys.

After removal, the ovaries were stored in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees Celsius (minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit) for two to three weeks. In two of the five monkeys (long-tailed macaques), the returned ovaries were producing estrogen, the hormone needed to grow eggs, Agence France-Presse reported.

The study will be presented next week at an conference in Japan.

The researchers plan to examine if the returned ovaries produce healthy eggs and if the monkeys can become pregnant naturally, AFP reported.

Currently, female cancer patients who plan to get pregnant after treatment have eggs removed and frozen for possible in-vitro fertilization.

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Posted: August 2007