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Health Highlights: Sept. 20, 2012

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

Many Discarded Kidneys Could Be Transplanted: Experts

In each of the last five years, more than 2,600 kidneys recovered from deceased donors in the United States were discarded without being transplanted, according to federal government data.

This occurred despite the huge number of people waiting for deceased donor kidneys. As of Wednesday, that wait list was 93,413, The New York Times reported.

Last year, 2,644 (nearly 18 percent) of the 14,784 kidneys recovered from deceased donors were discarded, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Nearly 500 of those kidney were not transplanted because a recipient could not be found.

The unused kidneys typically ended up in a research laboratory or medical waste incinerator. In many cases, the kidneys seemed promising for transplant based on the age and health of the donor but were found to have problems that doctors decided made them unsuitable for transplant.

However, some experts believe that as many as half of those discarded kidneys could be transplanted if the system for distributing them better matched the right organ to the proper recipient in a suitable amount of time, The Times reported.

Critics say the current kidney allocation process is inefficient due to issues such as an outdated computer matching program, stifling government oversight, doctors' overreliance on inconclusive tests, and even federal age discrimination laws.

These factors have led to medical rationing system that supposedly gives all transplant candidates a fair chance of receiving a kidney but may not save as many lives as it could.

"There is no doubt that organs that can help somebody and have a survival benefit are being discarded every day," Dr. Dorry Segev, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told The Times.

The current federal system -- which amounts largely to first-come, first-served -- is considered simple and transparent, but many experts contend that it wastes precious opportunities for transplants.


Six Million Face Health Insurance Tax Penalty: Report

Nearly six million Americans will face a tax penalty under the new health care law for not having health insurance, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The penalty will average about $1,200 per person in 2016, the first year that the penalty is fully in effect, the Associated Press reported.

In an estimate released in 2010 shortly after the new health care law was passed, the budget office estimated that four million people would face a tax penalty for not having insurance.

The law requires that, as of 2014, almost every legal resident of the U.S. must have health insurance or face a tax penalty. There will be exemptions for certain circumstances, including financial hardship and religious objections.

Ninety-eight percent of Americans will not be affected by the tax penalty, Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman Erin Shields Britt told the AP.


Kroger Spinach Recalled

Packages of Kroger Fresh Selections Tender Spinach sold at grocery stores in 15 states are being recalled due to possible Listeria contamination.

The 10-oz. bags of spinach have a "best if used by" date of Sept. 16 and a universal product code (UPC) of 011110916495, the Associated Press reported.

The spinach was sold at Kroger, Jay C. Owen's, Pay Less, Scott's, Food 4 Less, Dillons, Baker's, and Gerbes stores in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.

The Kroger Co. said consumers who bought the spinach should return it to stores for a full refund or replacement.

The recall was announced after a single package of spinach tested positive for Listeria. No illnesses have been reported, the AP said.


Parents Warned Not to Use SimplyThick

Seven infant deaths have led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to warn parents not to use SimplyThick, an additive used to thicken infant formula or breast milk.

The product is a thickening gel meant to help premature babies swallow food and keep it down. The seven deaths occurred among 21 premature and one full-term infant who developed inflamed intestines after being given SimplyThick, Bloomberg News reported.

The FDA first warned in May 2011 against giving SimplyThick to premature babies because the product may cause tissue inflammation called necrotizing enterocolitis. On Wednesday, the agency expanded the warning to infants of all ages.

The FDA said further study is needed to determine if there is an actual connection between SimplyThick and necrotizing enterocolitis, Bloomberg reported.


Parkinson's Drug May Raise Heart Failure Risk: FDA

A possible increased risk of heart failure associated with the Parkinson's disease drug Mirapex (pramipexole) is being investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Recent studies suggest the increased risk but do not prove that the prescription drug increases the risk of heart failure, the FDA said.

Some studies showed that patients who took Mirapex suffered heart failure more often than those who took a placebo, but the results were not statistically significant. Two studies suggested an increased risk of new onset of heart failure among patients who took Mirapex, but did not prove whether this increased risk was related to Mirapex use or other factors.

The FDA said it is continuing to work with the drug maker to clarify the risk of heart failure with Mirapex and will provide an update when more information is available.

In the meantime, healthcare professionals should continue to follow prescribing recommendations on the drug label and patients should continue to take the drug as directed, the FDA said.

Mirapex belongs to a class of drugs called dopamine agonists and is used to treat the signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease and moderate to severe symptoms of restless legs syndrome.


FDA Testing Arsenic Levels in Rice

There's no evidence so far to suggest that rice sold in the United States has unsafe levels of arsenic, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency is analyzing arsenic levels in 1,200 samples of rice products bought in grocery stores, including short- and long-grain rice, cereals, drinks and rice cakes, the Associated Press reported.

On Wednesday, the FDA released the results from 200 of the samples. The agency's study will not be completed until the end of the year.

The FDA is being asked by consumer groups to set federal guidance on allowable levels of arsenic in rice. Currently, there is no federal standard for how much arsenic is allowed in food.

It's believed that rice contains higher levels of arsenic than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for arsenic to be absorbed in the rice, the AP reported.

Two forms of arsenic -- organic and inorganic -- are present in water, soil, air and food. Organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless, according to the FDA. Inorganic arsenic, which is found in some pesticides and insecticides, can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period, the agency said.

The FDA's findings from the first 200 samples were released after Consumers Union released its own study of 223 samples of rice products and called for federal standards on arsenic in rice. Both studies found similar levels of arsenic in the products, but there is no way to say how dangerous these levels are without a federal government standard, the AP reported.

Consumers shouldn't stop eating rice, but should eat a diverse diet just in case, according to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg .

"Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains -- not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food," she said, the AP reported.


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Posted: September 2012