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Health Highlights: Sept. 29, 2008

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

FDA Approves New Test for 'Superbug'

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new test that can detect skin infections, including antibiotic-resistant infections such as the so-called "superbug" MRSA, in less than an hour, the test's manufacturer said Monday

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Cepheid said its Xpert test should help doctors to quickly determine which antibiotic would be most effective in treating the infections.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is becoming more prevalent in hospitals, long-term care facilities and community settings. Existing tests for the bacterium can take up to three days, extending hospital stays and costing more money, the Associated Press reported.

"The ability to detect MRSA or SA (Staphylococcus aureus) in less than one hour, versus two to three days with current culture methods, will enable clinicians to make real-time decisions as to the best course of treatment or management," Cepheid Chief Executive John Bishop said in a news release.

In the release, Cepheid said the Institute of Healthcare Improvement reported that about 800,000 surgeries are complicated by infections annually, with a $9.5 billion cost to the U.S. health care system. According to a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, the increased length of stay following a MRSA infection is 18 days.


Light Cigarettes Still Pack a Nicotine Punch, Study Says

Apparently, just about the only thing "light" about cigarettes that are advertised that way is the wording in the ad itself.

According to a news release from the University of California, Los Angeles, the latest research indicates that so-called light cigarettes deliver nearly as much nicotine to the brain as regular cigarettes.

UCLA psychiatry professor Dr. Arthur L. Brody and his colleagues found that even the smallest amount of nicotine in a person's system will activate a significant percentage of the brain's nicotine receptors. It is the receptors in the brain that lead to nicotine addiction.

Brody and his colleagues looked at the effect on the brain of a type of cigarette called a de-nicotized cigarette, which contains only a fraction of nicotine (0.05 milligrams) in both light and regular cigarettes.

They found that even that low a nicotine level is enough to occupy a sizable percentage of receptors. "The two take-home messages are that very little nicotine is needed to occupy a substantial portion of brain nicotine receptors," Brody said in the news release, "and cigarettes with less nicotine than regular cigarettes, such as 'light' cigarettes, still occupy most brain nicotine receptors."

And even though de-nicotinized cigarettes activate about 66 percent fewer receptors in the brain than light cigarettes, it's still enough to "light up" almost 25 percent of them, Brody said. "Researchers, clinicians and smokers themselves should consider that fact when trying to quit," he concluded.

The UCLA study is in the current online edition of the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.


Melamine Contamination From China Found in Some Snack Foods

China's melamine contamination problem continues to spread to the snack world.

On Monday, Cadbury pulled products made at its Beijing plant from Asian stores after finding traces of the industrial chemical in its chocolate. Cadbury Asia Pacific said it was recalling all 11 products made at the chocolate factory as a precautionary move after preliminary tests "cast doubt on the integrity of a range of our products manufactured in China." The majority of the recalled candies are sold in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

And in the wake of recalls late last week of a vanilla-flavored snack known as White Rabbit from stores in Britain, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia, the Associated Press reported that the product was also removed from store shelves in Hong Kong. Government officials said the snack contained more than five times the allowable amount of melamine, the wire service reported.

The problem is that melamine, an industrial chemical, has long been in China as an additive to milk powder. Almost 55,000 Chinese infants have been sickened from the milk powder, according to government estimates, including four who died.

But the milk powder has also been used in making creamy snacks, the AP reported, and health officials are only now beginning to determine how widespread the problem may be.

Food company and health officials also have to be aware of how rapidly a rumor can spread. Last week, the wire service reported, the Internet was crackling with reports that the middle of the Oreo cookie contained melamine. This promoted a quick and intense response from Kraft Foods, emphasizing that Oreos' middles are not made with milk.

Meanwhile, seven "Mr. Brown"-brand instant coffee and tea products, produced in China, are being recalled, because they may be contaminated with melamine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

According to a statement posted on the FDA Web site, the recalled adult coffee products, made by China's Shandong Duqing Inc., are:

  • Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1).
  • Mr. Brown Arabica Instant Coffee (3-in-1).
  • Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1).
  • Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato Instant Coffee (3-in-1).
  • Mr. Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee (3-in-1).
  • Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (2-in-1).
  • Mr. Brown Milk Tea (3-in-1).

No illnesses related to the candy, coffee, or tea products have been reported in the United States, Bloomberg News cited the FDA as saying.


CDC Notes Mild West Nile Season

The 2008 West Nile virus season is shaping up to be the mildest since 2001, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The 368 severe cases tallied as of Tuesday represented less than one-third of the 2007 total, the Associated Press reported.

Most cases of West Nile are reported in August and September. The CDC said it wasn't clear why this season was on track to be so mild. Seven years ago, the last time so few severe cases were reported, the virus was just emerging in the United States and had only been identified in 10 states, the AP said.

Only about one in five people bitten by a West Nile infected mosquito becomes sick, and only about one in 150 contracts severe symptoms. These can include neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, and paralysis.

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Posted: September 2008