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Health Highlights: Sept. 8, 2008

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

Urine Test Could Identify Cattle With Mad Cow Disease

Cattle infected with mad cow disease have elevated protein levels in their urine, a finding that could help lead to the development of a screening test for live animals, Canadian and German researchers announced. Currently, the only way to test for mad cow disease is after cattle have been killed.

"We're pretty excited about it," lead researcher David Knox told the Canadian Press. "It would be sort of like a home pregnancy test. You would just put a strip in the stream of urine and it either comes out positive or negative. Ideally, that's what we'd like to have."

The discovery of elevated protein levels in cattle with mad cow disease was made in tests conducted on four infected cows. The study appears in the journal Proteome Science.

The results also suggests it may be possible to develop a urine test to diagnose people with the degenerative and fatal brain disorder Creutzfeld-Jakob disease and other forms of unexplained dementia, Knox told CP.


Bacteria Produce Proteins That Attack Lungs of Cystic Fibrosis Patients

U.K. researchers have found that colonies of Pseudomonas in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis produce tissue-destroying enzymes and poisons that attack the lungs, including one that's chemically similar to rattlesnake venom.

These bacteria can live in biofilm communities in the lungs and can become resistant to antibiotics, making them extremely difficult to treat. Pseudomonas bacterial infections thrive in the thick mucous produced in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients and this type of infection is usually the cause of early death in these patients, BBC News reported.

The Cambridge University team found that these bacterial colonies are more active than previously thought and produce a number of dangerous enzymes and poisons.

"This is the first time that anyone has successfully proved that the way the bacteria grow affects the type of proteins they can secrete and therefore how dangerous they can potentially be to our health," said team leader Dr. Martin Welch, BBC News reported.

The trigger for the release of these harmful proteins is turned on shortly after the bacterial biofilm starts to form.

The study may help lead to the development of a drug to target the poisons, an advance that could help in the treatment of cystic fibrosis and antibiotic-resistant hospital superbugs.


Salmonella Cases Prompt Alfalfa Sprout Recall in Northwest

On the heels of the huge nationwide salmonella outbreak that caused more than 1,400 illnesses from Mexican peppers, a regional Oregon alfalfa sprout distributor has recalled its product in Oregon and Washington state after the sprouts were linked to 13 cases of salmonellosis .

According to the Seattle Times, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and health officials in Oregon announced a recall of Sprouter's Northwest brand alfalfa sprouts after 13 people in the two states showed signs of salmonellosis after consuming the sprouts. No deaths have been reported.

Sprouters Northwest, headquartered in Kent, Ore., voluntarily recalled its alfalfa sprout products, the newspaper reports. They are distributed in grocery stores, supermarkets and used in restaurants. The first incidents of salmonella poisoning -- which can cause diarrhea, fever and vomiting -- were reported in early August, the newspaper reports.

This is the second suspected salmonella outbreak involving Sprouter's Northwest, the Times reports. The company recalled alfalfa sprouts in Washington and Oregon in 2004 after 12 people became ill, according to the USDA Web site.

Any Sprouter's Northwest products should be thrown away or returned, the newspaper reports.


Good Protein Breakfast May Aid Weight Loss

Eating good-quality protein at breakfast may help people lose weight, suggests a Purdue University study.

The researchers found that overweight or obese men in the study who ate eggs and lean Canadian bacon in the morning had a greater sense of sustained fullness throughout the day, compared to when they ate more protein at lunch or dinner, United Press International reported.

"There is a growing body of research which supports eating high-quality protein foods when dieting to maintain a sense of fullness," study author Wayne Campbell said in a news release. "This study is particularly unique in that it looked at the timing of protein intake and reveals that when you consume more protein may be a critical piece of the equation."

The men in the study ate a calorie-reduce diet with two variations of protein intake -- 11 to 14 percent or 18 to 25 percent of daily calories. Both were within U.S. nutrition recommendations for normal protein intake, UPI reported.


Nicotine May Enhance Other Experiences: Study

The way nicotine enhances other experiences may have something to do with its addictive quality, according to a Kansas State University study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Most research on nicotine focuses on the drug itself, rather than other aspects such as social factors, noted lead author Matthew Palmatier, United Press International reported.

"People have very regimented things they do when they smoke," Palmatier said in a news release. "People smoke in very specific places, often with a specific group of people. Maybe it's a reason why nicotine is so addictive -- if you get used to having that extra satisfaction from things you normally enjoy, not having nicotine could reduce the enjoyment in a given activity."

He said it's necessary to look at the big picture in order to better understand why people smoke, even though most of them are fully aware of the health risks

"(Smokers) want to quit but can't. It's not because nicotine is a potent drug; it doesn't induce significant amounts of pleasure or euphoria. Yet, it's just as difficult, if not more difficult, to quit than other drugs," said Palmatier, UPI reported.


Fablyn Increases Risk of Blood Clots: FDA Document

While the new osteoporosis drug Fablyn has been shown to be effective in postmenopausal women with a higher risk of bone fractures, the drug also increased the risk of blood clots and invasive gynecological visits, says a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory board briefing document released Thursday.

The document was made public in advance of the advisory board's scheduled Monday meeting to decide whether to recommend approval of the drug, Forbes reported.

In 2005 and 2006, the FDA issued "non-approvable" letters for Fablyn, which acknowledged the drug's effectiveness, but questioned whether it increased the risk of blood clots and stroke.

A five-year study of more than 9,000 women conducted by Pfizer and development partner Ligand Pharmaceuticals found that the drug didn't increase the risk of stroke but did increase the risk of blood clots, Forbes reported.

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Posted: September 2008