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Health Highlights: Nov. 13, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008 12:00 AM

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

U.S. to Detain Milk Products From China

U.S. health officials said Thursday that any food products imported from China that contain milk will be detained at the border until tests prove they aren't contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine.

The Food and Drug Administration said it was taking the action because of concerns about Chinese food products contaminated with the toxic chemical. Since September, melamine-tainted milk has killed at least four babies in China and sickened tens of thousands of others.

Melamine has also been found in a range of products coming to the United States from China since September, including milk, eggs and fish feed. U.S. companies have recalled several imported products, including non-dairy creamers and a type of candy, which are primarily sold in Asian markets, The New York Times reported.

"We're taking this action because it's the right thing to do for the public health," Dr. Steven Solomon, an FDA deputy associate commissioner, said Thursday.

That means that Chinese products that contain milk or milk powder will be detained until the manufacturer or its customer has had the product tested and found it to be free of contamination, or they show documentation indicating that the product does not contain milk or milk-derived ingredients, the Times reported.

"The burden shifts to the importer," Solomon said, adding that the alert would primarily apply to specialty products sold in Asian markets.

It's believed that dairy suppliers in China add melamine to watered-down milk to make it appear rich in protein. The chemical can cause kidney stones and potentially fatal kidney failure.

While the FDA often halts the importation of individual food products, it rarely blocks an entire category of foods from one country. Last year, the FDA stopped the importation of five types of farm-raised seafood as well as vegetable protein from China because of contamination from unapproved animal drugs and food additives, the newspaper said.

Earlier this month, Chinese officials said they had uncovered more evidence that melamine was widespread in the nation's animal feed supplies. BBC News reported that the addition of melamine to animal feed in China was likely routine and an "open secret," according to reports published in several state-run newspapers in China.

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International Raids Target Illegal Internet Drug Sales

Dozens of businesses believed to be selling medicines illegally over theInternet were raided Thursday by authorities in the United States and eight other countries -- Canada, Britain, Germany, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand,Singapore and Switzerland.

An Interpol spokeswoman said it's the first time this type ofinternational action has been taken to stem the growing problem of illicitsales of medicines, many of which are counterfeits of suspect quality andpotentially dangerous, CBC News reported.

"A medicine bought in this way has no guarantee that it is safe or thatit is effective, and can in fact be harmful," Danny Lee-Frost, head ofoperations at Britain's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said in a news release.

"Our message is simple -- do not buy prescription-only medicines over the Internet without a prescription and if you are illegally selling orsupplying medicines, we will use all appropriate measures available to stopyou," he added.

The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board says the abuse and trafficking of prescriptions drugs in many countries now equals or exceeds the use of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines, CBC News reported.

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'GM' Corn Causes Reproduction Problems in Mice: Report

A long-term study that found genetically modified (GM) corn can affect reproduction in mice lends support to demands that all GM crops be banned,according to environmental groups.

Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, said that female mice fed a diet consisting of 33 percent GM corn had fewer babies and fewer litters than mice fed non-GM food. The study was commissioned by the Austrian health ministry, Agence France Presse reported.

The researchers said these are preliminary findings and further tests areneeded to determine how GM foods affect animals and humans. However,environmental groups said the study proves that GM foods are dangerous.

"Considering the severity of the potential threat to human health andreproduction, Greenpeace is demanding a recall of all GE (genetically engineered) food and crops from the market, worldwide," the group said in anews release, AFP reported.

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Bone Marrow Transplant Cures AIDSPatient: Report

A targeted bone marrow transplant normally used to treat leukemia appears to have cured an AIDS patient, according to German doctors.

Twenty months after receiving the transplant, tests on bone marrow, blood and other organ tissues indicate the 42-year-old patient no longer has HIV infection, the Associated Press reported. The patient had beeninfected with HIV for more than a decade.

For the transplant, doctors at Berlin's Charite Hospital selected a donor with a mutation called Delta 32, which prevents HIV from attaching itself tocells by blocking a receptor called CCR5. About one in 1,000 Europeans andAmericans have inherited the mutation from both parents, the AP said.

There have been a few previous reports of the successful use of bonemarrow transplants to eradicate HIV infection. But bone marrow transplantsare too costly and dangerous to use as a first line treatment for HIV/AIDS,Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy andInfectious Diseases, told the AP.

However, this case could inspire efforts to pursue gene therapy as a wayto block or suppress HIV, he said.

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Air Pollution Bigger Killer Than Traffic Crashes in 2 Calif. Areas

Air pollution in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley killsmore people than motor vehicle crashes, according to California StateUniversity-Fullerton researchers who analyzed 2005-07 data to tally thecosts of air pollution.

If the two regions, which have the worst air pollution levels in theUnited States, met federal air standards for ozone and fine particulatestandards, it would result in savings of $28 billion a year in health carecosts, missed school and work, and lost income from premature deaths, theAssociated Press reported. That amounts to $1,600 per person a yearin the San Joaquin Valley and $1,250 in the South Coast Air Basin.

In 2006, there were 2,521 vehicular deaths in the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast Air Basin, compared to 3,812 deaths attributed to respiratory illness caused by particulate pollution, the study authors said.

Previous research has suggested an association between particulatepollution and ozone and respiratory problems such as asthma and chronicbronchitis, as well as a link between particulate pollution andcardiovascular problems.

For economic and health benefits to occur, particulate pollution levelsin the San Joaquin Valley and the South Coast Air Basin would have todecrease by 50 percent, the Cal State Fullerton researchers said.

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