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Health Highlights: Sept. 15, 2008

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

Campaign Pushes Blood Clot Awareness

Both consumers and doctors need to improve their awareness of dangerous blood clots, which affect between 350,000 and 600,000 Americans a year and result in at least 100,000 deaths, says acting U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson.

On Monday, he announced a new education program to increase recognition and treatment of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), the Associated Press reported. A DVT forms in large veins, usually in the leg or groin, and can be fatal if it moves into the lungs, where it's called a PE.

"It's a silent killer. It's hard to diagnose. I don't think most people understand that this is a serious medical problem or what can be done to prevent it," Galson said.

Risk factors include: recent surgery or a broken bone; being immobile for long periods; a fall or a car crash; pregnancy or taking birth control pills or menopause hormones. The risk increases with age and is higher among people who are obese or smoke, the AP reported.

Symptoms include: swelling; pain, especially in the calf; a warm spot or red or discolored skin on the leg; and shortness of breath or pain when breathing deeply.

People with these risk factors and symptoms shouldn't hesitate to go to an emergency department or call a doctor, said Galson, who also called for more research into DVT and PE.


China Arrests 2 in Tainted Infant Formula Probe

Two brothers suspected of adding the chemical melamine to milk they sold to a company that makes infant formula have been arrested by Chinese police. The tainted baby formula has caused the deaths of two babies and sickened more than 1,200 other infants.

The brothers, who run a milk collection center in Hebei province, are accused of adding melamine to the milk to make it appear to have a higher protein content, according to the official Xinhua news agency, the Associated Press reported. The brothers sold about three tons of contaminated milk a day.

Of the infants sickened by the tainted formula, 913 were only slight affected, but 340 remain hospitalized and 53 were considered especially severe cases, Vice Health Minister Ma Xiaowei told a news conference.

The formula was produced by Sanlu Group Co., China's biggest producer of powdered milk. About 2,176 tons of milk powder were seized from a Sanlu warehouse and officials have recalled 8,218 tons of milk powder already sent to market, the AP reported.

Chinese authorities have also sent inspectors to check China's 175 baby milk food factories and their findings will be released within two days, the AP reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week warned American consumers not to use any infant formula made in China, even though all the major formula manufacturers in the country don't use Chinese products.

On Friday, the FDA issued a formal health advisory to caregivers not to give infants China-made formula, amid concern that some ethnic groups might be getting the formula through various means.


Genetic Tests May Do More Harm Than Good: Expert

Giving people genetic tests to determine their future risk of serious diseases may actually damage their health by causing unnecessary stress, says a British expert. Many companies in Europe and the United States offer genetic testing for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other conditions.

The tests are too inaccurate to help a person, and someone who's told they're at high risk for a disease based on a genetic test may never actually develop the condition, said Professor Nilesh Samani, chair of cardiology at the British Heart Foundation, BBC News reported.

"Over the years, scientists have made incredible progress in unraveling the genetic basis of common diseases, leading to the discovery of genetic markers for a growing number of diseases," Samani said. "However, carriers of these genetic markers are typically only 20 to 40 percent more likely to develop the condition per copy."

There's also the risk that genetic tests may offer a false sense of security for some people.

"Having a 'low' risk variant of a gene doesn't mean 'no' risk," said Samani, who spoke Monday at a human genetics meeting in York, BBC News reported.


Pet Food Recalled After Salmonella Link Suspected

Two isolated cases of a type of the salmonella bacterium known as Salmonella Schwarzengrund in humans has caused a Pennsylvania pet food manufacturer to recall a number of dry dog and cat food brands nationwide.

Mars Inc.'s Mars Petcare is recalling cat and dog food made at its Everson, Pa. facility, according to wire service reports.

While Mars Inc. maintained no direct connection has been made between illness in either animals or humans and its pet food product, the possibility that two humans may have contracted salmonella caused the recall, which began at the beginning of August.

The latest announcement expanded the pet food brands being recalled to include some Pedigree brands, Country Acres, Retriever, Doggy Bag, Members Mark, Natural, Ol' Roy, Special Kitty, Paws & Claws, Wegman's, Pet Pride, PMI Nutrition and Red Flannel.

Consumers should look for "17" as the first two digits of the second line on the Universal Price Code. Pedigree products will have "PAE" on the bottom line. Consumers can also call 1-877-568-4463 for more information.

Salmonella Schwarzengrund is one member (serovar) of the salmonella family. According to the U.S. Food and Drug administration, symptoms in humans include fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Animal symptoms include lethargy, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever, and vomiting. Some pets will only have decreased appetite, fever or abdominal pain.


Cervical Cancer Vaccine Approved to Combat Two Related Cancers

Gardasil, the vaccine used to guard against cervical cancer, has been approved for similar use against two more gynecological malignancies.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug, manufactured by Merck Pharmaceuticals, to guard against cancers that attack the vagina and vulva.

Gardasil fights most strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer. About 20 million Americans carry HPV, but not all of them develop cancer. About 5,000 women get vulva and vaginal cancer annually, according to the wire service.

"Anytime we have evidence of additional cancer protection, that's a really important piece of information," the AP quotes Rick Haupt, Merick's executive director for HPV vaccines, as saying.

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Posted: September 2008