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Health Highlights: Sept. 5, 2007

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

Mattel Recalls Thousands of Additional Toys Made in China

Mattel is recalling 848,000 Chinese-made Barbie and Fisher-Price toys that may contain excessive lead, the third huge recall by the world's top toymaker in five weeks, the Bloomberg news service reported Wednesday.

The latest recall includes Barbie kitchen and furniture accessories, Fisher-Price trains, and Bongo Band drums. The number of recalled toys since August now tops 21 million, Bloomberg said, although no injuries have been reported. Mattel produces 65 percent of its toys through China.

Mattel said consumers should visit its Web site to learn if they have any of the recalled products.

"We apologize again to everyone affected and promise that we will continue to focus on ensuring the safety and quality of our toys," Mattel chief executive officer Robert Eckert said in a statement.

Last month's recalls of more than 20 million toys involved Barbie, Pollie Pocket, Batman, Sesame Street, and Dora the Explorer items, Bloomberg reported. Most were for containing excessive lead-based paint, but others involved small magnets that if swallowed could clump together and cause intestinal damage.

Lead can be toxic if ingested by children, causing brain damage, behavioral and learning problems.


Connecticut Man Acquired Anthrax From Drum

A Danbury, Conn., man has contracted cutaneous anthrax from handling African drums, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The man was not identified, but the city's mayor, Mark Boughton, told a local newspaper that the roads around the man's home had been cordoned off, the wire service said.

Terrorism is not suspected in the case, and no additional details were available.

Cutaneous anthrax, the most common form of anthrax infection, is a non-contagious skin infection and is usually successfully treated with antibiotics. Inhalation anthrax, by contrast, kills about 75 percent of its victims after it infects the lungs, the AP said.

In February 2006, a similar case was reported in which a New York City man who handled African drums made from goat skins contracted anthrax and was hospitalized for weeks, the wire service said.


Pavarotti's Health Worsens: Report

The health of opera star Luciano Pavarotti, who has been struggling with pancreatic cancer, has worsened and he's in "very serious" condition, BBC News reported Wednesday, quoting Italian media.

Pavarotti, 71, had been released from an Italian hospital on Aug. 25 and is being treated at his home in the northern city of Modena, surrounded by family and friends.

The famed tenor came down with respiratory problems during the summer while on vacation at his villa on the Adriatic coast. He has undergone five rounds of chemotherapy since his cancer surgery last year, the BBC said.

Pavarotti, who's planning a farewell tour, last sang in public in Italy in 2006 during opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Turin.


Exercise May Help Heart Fix Itself

Not only will exercise help keep your heart healthy, it may help your heart repair itself, German researchers said Wednesday at a European Society of Cardiology meeting in Vienna.

A Leipzig University study of 37 people found that people with significant heart failure who rode a bicycle for up to 30 minutes each day over four months produced new stem cells and small blood vessels. People who didn't ride the bike didn't show these changes, the Associated Press reported.

Exercise can send up to 10 times the normal amount of blood to muscles, the wire service said. Stem cells may then be dispatched to repair any damage to the muscles. With continued exercise, these cells may also help adapt the body to stress by building new vessels and strengthening the muscles.

"People think that if they have heart failure then they're at the end of the road and they can't exercise," said Dr. Freek Verheugt, a cardiologist at the University of Nymegen in the Netherlands. "But this study shows that exercise can work to produce new blood vessels, even in patients with serious heart disease."


Poor More Likely to Be Hospitalized for Diabetes

Residents of poor communities are much more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes or its complications than those who live in more affluent places, a new U.S. analysis finds.

People who live in areas with an average income of less than $37,000 were 80 percent more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes than people in communities with an average income of $61,000 or more, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said in a Wednesday news release.

Diabetes-related hospital admissions soared 85 percent to 6.5 million from 3.5 million between 1993 and 2005, the agency said. Such admissions accounted for 17 percent of the nation's hospital stays in 2005.

People 65 or older were five times more likely than the national average to be hospitalized for diabetes-related problems, the AHRQ added.


FDA Warns Against Use of Tanning Supplement

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned a Tennessee company to stop selling a tanning agent called Melanotan II. The agency is also warning consumers to stop using the product and to contact a physician if they've seen any side effects of the product's use.

"This product is being mislabeled, marketed and sold illegally as a preventative against skin cancer and as a tanning agent," Dr. Steven Galson, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.

The agency said the supplement's marketer, Melanocorp Inc., has also claimed that the product can protect against rosacea, a skin condition characterized by redness and flushing. The FDA said these types of claims constituted marketing the product as a drug, adding that the agency has never approved the product for any use.


Popcorn Fumes Could Be Dangerous: Expert

People who are frequently exposed to fumes from butter-flavored microwave popcorn could be in danger of acquiring a pulmonary disease often called "popcorn lung," a lung specialist has warned in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Cecile Rose said she and her colleagues at Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center have identified what's believed to be the first case of a consumer who developed the disease after microwaving popcorn several times daily for years, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

"We cannot be sure that this patient's exposure to butter-flavored microwave popcorn from daily heavy preparation has caused his lung disease. However, we have no other plausible explanation," the wire service quoted Rose as saying.

Popcorn lung, a potentially fatal respiratory disease, has been the focus of lawsuits from hundreds of workers at popcorn factories who are heavily exposed to the chemicals used to produce buttery flavoring, the AP said. Symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath.

In response to Rose's letter, written in July but made public this week, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturer's Association issued a statement recommending that popcorn producers limit the amount of the chemical diacetyl in butter flavorings. One national popcorn maker, Indianapolis-based Weaver Popcorn Co., has already said it was working to replace the chemical, the wire service reported.

The FDA said it was still evaluating Rose's letter and "carefully considering the safety and regulator issues it raises," the AP said.


New Drug Effective in Fighting Cholesterol: Study

Clinical testing of the new anti-cholesterol drug Cordaptive finds it is safe and effective in raising users' good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol, the drug's maker says.

Merck & Co.'s Cordaptive combines an extended-release form of the B-vitamin niacin with a chemical to limit a common side effect of niacin use called flushing, the Associated Press reported. Flushing is characterized by redness of the face and a burning and tingling of the area.

Merck said its 24-week study of 1,600 patients found that compared with patients who took a placebo, Cordaptive led to an 18 percent drop in LDL (bad) cholesterol and a 20 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. The company also reported a 26 percent decline in another type of harmful blood fat called triglycerides.

Results stayed about the same regardless of whether trial participants also took cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, the AP said.

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Posted: September 2007