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Health Highlights: Dec. 24, 2007

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

FDA Takes Steps to Prevent Tampering With Foods, Cosmetics

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released "self-assessment tools" for the food and cosmetics industries to minimize the risk of intentional contamination of products.

"The tools FDA is providing will help members of the food and cosmetic industry identify opportunities to better guard against intentional contamination of their products," Dr. David Acheson, acting director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a prepared statement Friday.

In 2003, the FDA issued a set of Food and Cosmetic Security Preventive Measures Guidance documents. The documents are designed for operators of food and cosmetic establishments, as well as businesses that produce, process, store, repack, re-label, distribute, sell or transport foods, food ingredients, and cosmetics. The documents are intended to help operators minimize the risk of malicious, criminal, or terrorist actions involving products under their control.

Using industry feedback, the FDA repackaged the information in the guidance documents and created a corresponding self-assessment tool for each document. By using the tools, industry members can get a quick and detailed assessment of the measures they currently have in place to protect against intentional contamination of their products. With this information, it will be easy for them to see where improvements to their current practices can be made, the agency said.


Certain Brain Injuries Lessen PTSD Incidence: Study

People who have certain brain injuries are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new study of combat-exposed Vietnam War veterans shows.

The findings indicate that certain drugs or pacemaker-like devices that suppress activity in these areas of the brain could be effective treatments for PTSD, according to the study authors from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the National Naval Medical Center.

PTSD is characterized by the frequent reliving of traumatic events through nightmares and flashbacks. Up to 30 percent of Vietnam veterans, which could mean more than 1 million of them, have been diagnosed with the disorder, the NIH said in a statement. A similar rate has been reported among Hurricane Katrina survivors.

Millions more Americans may have PTSD from more personal experiences, including assault, rape, child abuse, and car accidents, the statement said.

"If we could show that lesions in a specific brain region eliminated PTSD, we knew we could say that the region is critical to developing the disorder," said study lead author Jordan Grafman, a senior investigator at the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Grafman and his colleagues examined 193 veterans with brain injuries and 52 who had combat exposure but no brain injury. Those with injuries to two parts of the brain -- the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala -- were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with PTSD than veterans who didn't have brain injuries.

Results of the findings appear in the current online issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.


Canned Green Beans Recalled for Possible Botulism

Cans labeled "GFS Fancy Blue Lake Cut Green Beans" are being recalled because they may be contaminated with the deadly bacterium that causes botulism, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

The institutional sized 6-pound, 5-ounce cans were sold at GFS Marketplace stores in 11 states. They were labeled with lot code 19H7FL and UPC code 93901 11873. To date, the FDA said it has no reports of illness from the recalled product, manufactured by the New Era Canning Co., of New Era, Mich.

The product may be contaminated with C botulinum bacteria, which produce a toxin that could lead to life-threatening illness or death. Consumers or institutions who have cans involved in the recall should carefully double-bag the cans in plastic bags and dispose of them, the FDA said. Even tiny amounts of the bacterium that is accidentally ingested, inhaled or absorbed through cuts in the skin could cause serious illness. Hands should be washed immediately after handling affected cans, whether opened or not.

New Era is recalling 171 cases of the beans, and the FDA said it is working with the company and the Michigan Department of Agriculture to determine if additional cans may be involved.

The recalled beans were distributed in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The FDA said it doesn't believe the beans were initially distributed outside the United States.

Symptoms of botulism poisoning can start from six hours to two weeks after contaminated food is eaten. Warning signs may include double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness that feels like it is traveling down the body. Botulism poisoning also can cause paralysis of the breathing muscles.

Anyone with questions about the recall may call the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD.


USDA Issues Alert for Tainted Beef Possibly Sold at Safeway

Federal health officials issued a public health alert for ground beef that may have been tainted with multi-drug resistant salmonella and sold at Safeway Inc. stores in five states between Sept. 19 and Nov. 5.

A news release from the USDA stressed that these products are not still available for sale, but consumers who may have bought the beef and stored in the freezer for later use should discard or destroy it if they find it.

The five states the beef was sold in were Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico.

The alert was issued on Thursday following a CDC investigation that determined there was an association between the beef products and 38 illnesses reported in Arizona (16); California (18); Idaho (1); and Nevada (3). After an exhaustive search, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service was unable to track down specific lots or shipments that might have been contaminated with salmonella Newport, the release said.

The Pleasanton, Calif.-based supermarket chain said no Safeway product has tested positive for salmonella to date, according to Dow Jones Newswires.


Do Stem Cells Play a Prime Role in Cancer?

Cancerous stem cells are the focus of a preliminary study that will be launched within the next few months by scientists at three U.S. medical centers: the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Some experts believe that cancerous stem cells play a major role in maintaining and propagating malignant tumors, while others disagree, The New York Times reported.

The cancerous stem cell hypothesis is closer to religion than science and proponents are so attached to the idea that they dismiss or ignore evidence against it, says Dr. Scott E. Kern, a leading pancreatic cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

But others say that developing new drugs that target cancerous stem cells may provide a treatment breakthrough.

"Within the next year, we will see medical centers targeting stem cells in almost every cancer," Dr. Max S. Wicha, director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, told the Times. "We are so excited about his. It has become a major thrust of our cancer center."

The U.S. National Cancer Institute will provide $5.4 million in funding for cancer stem cell studies.

"If this is real, it could have almost immediate impact," Dr. R. Allan Mufson, chief of the institute's Cancer Immunology and Hematology Branch, told the Times.


Wii Sports Games Do Little to Prevent Weight Gain: Study

There's no evidence that Nintendo's Wii sports games can help prevent weight gain in children, according to researchers at Liverpool John Moores University in England.

Using a wireless controller, Wii users move their bodies while playing games such as bowling, boxing and tennis. While many people believe this helps burn calories, this study found only a minimal effect, Agence France-Presse reported.

The researchers monitored energy expenditure in six boys and five girls, ages 13 to 15, while they played the Wii games and conventional, sedentary video games. The study found that the children used 51 percent more energy while playing the Wii sports games compared to the sedentary games.

However, the children burned only 60 calories per hour (about one-quarter of a Mars bar) while playing the Wii sports games, AFP reported.

"In a typical week of computer play for these participants, active gaming rather than passive gaming would increase total energy expenditure by less than two percent," the study authors wrote in the British Medical Journal.

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Posted: December 2007