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Health Highlights: March 30, 2008

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

Six More Type 2 Diabetes Genetic Markers Identified

Six more genetic variants have been identified that may contribute to a person's risk of getting type 2 diabetes. This brings the number of genetic traits to 16 associated with type 2 diabetes, which affects almost 21 million Americans and 400 million people worldwide, according to a news release from the U.S. government's National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

An international team of scientists had previously identified 10 genetic factors that might contribute to a person's chances of getting type 2 diabetes, but the additional six were a surprise, according to the news release. One of the genetic variants had been associated with prostate cancer risk.

"Each of these genes, therefore, provides new clues to the processes that go wrong when diabetes develops," said one of the senior authors, Dr. Mark McCarthy, of the University of Oxford in England. "And each provides an opportunity for the generation of new approaches for treating or preventing this condition."

The analysis is published in the latest online edition of Nature Genetics, and it was based on data from more than 70,000 people. An international research team from more than 40 centers in Europe and North America contributed to the findings.

Individually, the genetic markers heighten the possibility of getting diabetes only very slightly, the NIH news release said, but collectively, they may be able to be a powerful predictive tool. Scientists are analyzing the findings to develop a practical diagnostic model.


Two Coronary Stents Implanted at the Same Time Increase Clotting Risk, Study Finds

Heart patients who have two coronary stents used during an emergency procedure have more than four times the chance than other patients of having a clot inside one of the stents block blood flow to the heart.

This finding by Dutch researchers presented in Chicago March 29 at a scientific session sponsored by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) concluded that one-in-six stent patients could expect a single incident of stent thrombosis, which could lead to a heart attack. But those who had more than one stent used at the same time had four times the risk of thrombosis.

A stent is a tiny, wire mesh tub the forces the walls of a clogged artery open, but medical experts are still debating whether its benefits consistently outweigh possible disadvantages.

According to a joint news release from the ACC and SCAI, cardiologist Dr. Jochem Wouter van Werkum and his colleagues examined the results of 437 heart patients who received stents between 2004 and 2007. There were 74 incidents of stent thrombosis (16.9 percent), the study found. But when more than one stent had been used, the likelihood of stent thrombosis increased 4.2 times.

The conclusion: Additional stent placement at the time of emergency treatment for the first stent thrombosis should be avoided, the researchers said.


Dole Fresh Fruit Joins Cantaloupe Recall

In response to an outbreak of salmonella poisoning in 16 states, the Dole Fresh Fruit Company has joined the recall of cantaloupes grown in Honduras and shipped by an independent grower, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised U.S. grocery companies, produce wholesalers and food service operators March 22 to remove cantaloupes from the Honduran grower and packer Agropecuaria Montelibano, because of the possibility they contain the bacterium Salmonella Litchfield, which can cause intestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

On March 27, Chiquita Brands International Inc. and Simply Fresh Fruit Inc. issued recalls, the wire service reports. Whole cantaloupes were recalled by Chiquita, and Simply Fresh Fruit identified cut fruit products, the AP said.

Dole Fresh Fruit, headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., said its recalled cantaloupes had been distributed in the United States and Canada in cardboard cartons with the brand "Dole" and "Product of Honduras" printed on the side panels, according to the wire service.

Although the three fruit companies have helped in identifying the suspect cantaloupes, it may still be difficult for consumers to determine the origin of fruit they buy. The FDA is asking people who have recently bought cantaloupes to check with the place of purchase to determine if the fruit came from the Honduran grower in question. If it was, consumers should throw away the cantaloupes, the FDA says.

Fifty cases of salmonella poisoning have been reported in 16 states with 14 hospitalizations, the FDA says. There have been no fatalities. The affected states span the country: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The FDA also has issued the following tips for making sure the cantaloupes you buy are fresh: Purchase cantaloupes that are not bruised or damaged; if buying fresh-cut cantaloupe, be sure it is refrigerated or surrounded by ice; after purchase, refrigerate cantaloupes promptly; wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling fresh cantaloupes; scrub whole cantaloupes by using a clean produce brush and cool tap water immediately before eating; if there happens to be a bruised or damaged area on a cantaloupe, cut away those parts before eating it.


Balloon Angiography OK for Some Medical Centers Without Coronary Surgical Backup: Study

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) -- more commonly known as balloon angioplasty -- doesn't need to be performed only in hospitals with coronary surgical backup, a new study has found.

A report presented Saturday at a joint cardiology meeting in Chicago, sponsored by the American College of Cardiology (ACC), found that medical centers with "well-organized, highly skilled" PCI programs can safely and effectively perform the angioplasty.

Researchers compared 9,029 patients who had angioplasty at 61 centers without cardiac backup surgery to 299,132 patients at 404 centers with a cardiac surgery program from January 2004 through March 2006. And they found there was no statistical difference in mortality.

According to a news release from the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, the findings should not be interpreted as an endorsement of "boutique angioplasty." Lead investigator Dr. Michael A. Kutcher, of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., said, "These medical centers are doing angioplasty for the right reasons: to improve outcomes for heart attack patients and to better serve patients in remote geographic areas."

The findings represent the largest clinical study ever to compare PCI programs that have on-site cardiac surgery to PCI programs that transfer patients to a surgical hospital in case of emergency, according to the SCAI news release.

PCI involves threading a slender balloon-tipped tube from an artery in the groin to the clogged place in the coronary artery. By inflating the balloon, the vessel-clogging plaque is compressed, allowing better blood flow.


FDA Seeks $2.2 Million Penalty from Hearing Aid Maker

Hearing aid maker Advanced Bionics LLC is being penalized $2.2 million by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for alleged violations including failing to adhere to manufacturing standards and for failing to notify the agency that it had changed suppliers, the FDA said Friday.

The Sylmar, Calif., company makes a device called the HiRes90k Implantable Cochlear Stimulator. The device is surgically implanted behind the ear to treat profound hearing loss in both adults and children.

The agency's legal complaint alleges that the company exposed device users to unnecessary health risks by failing to follow standard manufacturing procedures and by distributing devices that contained a component provided by an unapproved vendor.

The complaint says Advanced Bionics shipped hearing aids in violation of the law between January 2005 and July 2006. At least some of the alleged violations occurred after a 2001 inspection, which had found similar failures that the company had promised to correct, the agency said.


New Test Recommended to Determine Cardiovascular Disease Risk

The way doctors treat patients at risk for cardiovascular disease may change after Friday's release of new guidelines from the American Diabetes Association and the American College of Cardiology.

The guidelines say an additional test should be added to the standard cholesterol test used to determine cardiovascular disease risk. The guidelines endorse the use of advanced lipoprotein testing by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) as a more accurate method to determine risk and to check whether LDL ("bad") cholesterol-lowering therapies are having an effect in patients.

NMR lipoprotein testing measures the number of LDL particles, which carry cholesterol through the body, rather than cholesterol levels alone. Studies have shown that it's the number of lipoprotein particles present in the blood, not the amount of cholesterol carried by these particles, that form blockages inside arteries.


FDA Issues Warning About 'Total Body Formula' and 'Total Body Mega Formula' Supplements

Consumers should not buy or consume the Tropical Orange and Peach Nectar flavors of "Total Body Formula" or the Orange/Tangerine flavor of "Total Body Mega Formula" because these liquid dietary supplements may cause problems including significant hair loss, muscle cramps, diarrhea, joint pain and fatigue, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The products have been recalled by the distributor, Total Body Essential Nutrition of Atlanta, and the FDA is analyzing samples of the products to identify the cause of the problems. It's suspected the products contain excessive amounts of selenium, which can cause the symptoms shown by some consumers. Only small amounts of selenium -- a trace mineral -- are needed for good health.

The FDA received reports from the Florida Department of Health about 23 people who suffered serious reactions seven to 10 days after using these products. The FDA is also investigating reports of similar cases in Tennessee.

Consumers with these products should stop using them and throw them away. Anyone who has had adverse reactions after taking the products should consult a health care professional, the FDA said.

For more information, call the FDA's Food Safety Hotline at 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

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Posted: March 2008