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Health Highlights: Oct. 8, 2008

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

China Announces Melamine Standards for Milk

New standards for levels of the industrial chemical melamine permitted in milk and food products were announced by Chinese officials on Wednesday. Until now, the country has had no such regulations, the Associated Press reported.

The move comes in response to a major scandal in which at least four babies have died and more than 54,000 children have become ill after consuming milk formula tainted with melamine. It's believed that dairy suppliers added the chemical to watered-down milk in order to make it appear rich in protein.

Under the new rules, melamine levels considered safe are 1 milligram per kilogram of infant formula and 2.5 milligrams per kilogram for liquid milk, milk powder and food products that contain more than 15 percent milk, the AP reported.

These levels take into account that small amounts of melamine can leech from the environment and packaging into milk and other foods.

"(The standards) will help assess whether melamine was intentionally added," said Chen Junshi, a researcher for China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "If the amount exceeds one milligram, we have reasons to believe it was intentionally added. If the amount is below one, it's very likely that it is because it existed in the environment."


Falsified Data Used In Adult Stem Cell Study

Falsified data were used in an adult stem cell study published by University of Minnesota researchers in 2001 and the journal Blood should issue a retraction, according to the results of an 18-month investigation by the university.

Tim Mulcahy, the university's vice president of research, said an expert panel concluded that four images used in the article were intentionally altered, the Associated Press reported. The study suggested that adult stem cells could be used as an alternative to embryonic stem cells in medical research.

The panel said the problem was caused by stem cell expert Dr. Catherine Verfaillie's "inadequate training and oversight" of graduate student Dr. Morayma Reyes, now an assistant professor at the University of Washington. Reyes told the AP that it was an honest error and there was no intent to deceive. She agreed that a correction in the journal is warranted.

It's not clear how, or if, the altered images would affect the underlying findings of the study. "That's an issue that ultimately the scientific community will have to resolve for itself," Mulcahy said, the AP reported.


Climate Change May Increase Spread of Animal-to-Human Diseases

The spread of diseases from wild animals to humans may increase because of global climate change, according to a report released this week by the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

"We've seen Lyme disease work its way up from the U.S. into Canada, and West Nile fever as well," William Karesh, director of WCS's global health programs, told BBC News. "Basically, what you have now are fewer frozen nights in this region, and that allows the ticks and mosquitoes that carry these diseases to survive further north."

The group's Deadly Dozen report focuses on 12 zoonoses (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) that may become more widespread as the world's climate warms. Along with Lyme and West Nile diseases, other zoonoses include avian influenza, Ebola and Rift Valley fever.

The WSC recommends establishing a global early warning network that monitors wildlife health in order to detect early signs of trouble and deal with it, BBC News reported.


Most Over 75 Shouldn't Have Colon Cancer Tests: Report

Routine colon cancer tests should not be given to most people over age 75, according to updated U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines released Tuesday.

The government-appointed panel of independent medical experts reviewed available evidence and concluded that the benefits of detecting and treating colon cancer decline after age 75, while the risks increase. They noted that colonoscopy can cause complications such as infection, perforated colon and reactions to sedatives, the Associated Press reported.

A patient's medical history and risk factors may make colon cancer screening worthwhile for some people between the ages of 76 and 85. But, there's little reason for routine screening among patients older than 85, according to the guidelines, which were published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

In a break with other medical and cancer organizations, the task force didn't give its stamp of approval to three new colon cancer screening tests -- a stool DNA test; the X-ray test called virtual colonoscopy; and CT colonography. The task force said these tests require more research, the AP reported.

The task force did endorse three tests and recommended all Americans ages 50 to 75 get screened with one of them: a colonoscopy of the entire colon every 10 years; a sigmoidoscopy of the lower colon every five years, combined with a stool blood test every three years; a stool blood test every year.


Diet High in Meat, Dairy May Increase Prostate Cancer Risk

Eating a lot of meat and dairy products may boost prostate cancer risk, say British researchers who analyzed the results of 12 studies than included a total of nearly 9,000 men.

A diet high in meat and dairy products increases levels of a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), which promotes cell growth. The University of Oxford team found that men with high levels of IGF-1 were up to 40 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with low levels of the hormone, BBC News reported.

The amount of influence that diet has on IGF-1 levels is unclear, but levels of the hormone may be up to 15 percent higher in people who consume a lot of meat and diary products, said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Roddam.

"There is a need to identify risk factors for prostate cancer, especially those which can be targeted by therapy and/or lifestyle changes. Now we know this factor is associated with the disease and we can start to examine how diet and lifestyle factors can affect its levels and whether changes could reduce a man's risk," said Roddam, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

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Posted: October 2008