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Health Highlights: Dec. 8, 2009

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

Hot Christmas Toys Aren't Dangerous After All: Consumer Group

A consumer group that warned that some of the most popular toys for the holiday season are unsafe because of high levels of chemicals has issued a correction.

On Saturday, Good Guide said Zhu Zhu Pets' robotic hamsters and International Playthings' My First Purse had levels of the heavy metal antimony that exceeded U.S. government limits. The group also said unlawful limits of the chemical chromium were detected in the Bakugan 7-in-1 Maxus Helios and Fisher-Price's Laugh & Learn Laughing Farm.

But Good Guide said Monday that the chemicals found in the toys didn't exceed federal limits, the Associated Press reported.

The incorrect warning about antimony levels hasn't affected sales of Zhu Zhu pets, according to toy maker Cepia LLC. Spokesman Bruce Katz didn't divulge whether the company plans legal action against Good Guide, the AP said.


Safety Violations Common in U.S. Water Treatment Systems

Since 2004, more than 20 percent of the United States' water treatment systems have violated major parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act, a New York Times investigation reveals.

The analysis of federal data showed that over the past five years, more than 49 million Americans have received water with illegal concentrations of chemicals such as arsenic, radioactive substances like uranium and dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.

Even though regulators were informed about each of these violations, fewer than 6 percent of the offending water systems were ever fined or punished by state or federal officials, the Times reported.

In some cases, violations were single events that likely posed little risk to water users. However, illegal contamination continued for years at hundreds of water systems, the newspaper said.


FDA Issues CT Scan Safety Guidelines

Interim recommendations to address concerns about patients receiving excess radiation exposure during CT perfusion imaging were released Monday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In October, the agency learned of 206 brain scan patients exposed to excess radiation at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles over an 18-month period. Follow-up investigation revealed at least 50 more patients exposed to levels of radiation up to eight times higher than expected during CT perfusion scans. The cases involved CT machines made by more than one manufacturer.

Some patients exposed to excess radiation suffered hair loss or skin redness. High doses of radiation can cause cataracts and increase the risk of some types of cancer, the FDA said.

The agency's interim recommendations for imaging centers, radiologists and radiologic technologists are meant to help prevent more cases of excess patient exposure. The recommendations apply to all CT perfusion images, including brain and heart, because they use similar procedures and protocols.

The FDA recommends that:

  • Facilities assess whether patients who underwent CT perfusion scans received excess radiation.
  • Facilities review their radiation dosing protocols for all CT perfusion studies to ensure that the correct dosing is planned for each study.
  • Facilities implement quality control procedures to ensure that dosing protocols are followed every time and that the planned amount of radiation is administered.
  • Radiologic technologists check the CT scanner display panel before performing a study to make sure the amount of radiation to be delivered is at the appropriate level for the individual patient.
  • If more than one study is performed on a patient during one imaging session, practitioners should adjust the dose of radiation so it is appropriate for each study.


Missing DNA Linked to Childhood Obesity: Study

Missing DNA may be linked to obesity in some children, according to British researchers.

They analyzed the DNA of 300 extremely obese children (220 pounds by age 10) and pinpointed a deletion on chromosome 16 that occurs in less than 1 percent of about 1,200 severely obese children, the Associated Press reported.

This deletion means the children lack a gene that the brain needs to respond to the appetite-controlling hormone leptin, said study co-leader Dr. Sadaf Farooqi of Cambridge University.

Children with this deletion "have a very strong drive to eat," and they're "very, very hungry, they always want to eat," Farooqi said, the AP reported.

The study appears online in the journal Nature.

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Posted: December 2009