Health Highlights: March 18, 2007

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

60 Million Units of Pet Food Recalled After Unexplained Kidney Failure Reports

A Canadian manufacturer of pet foods marketed under a number of popular brand names in North America is recalling 60 million containers of its "wet" cat and dog food because of unexplained kidney failure and some reported deaths.

The Associated Press reports that Menu Foods, headquartered in Streetsville, Ontario, has announced the recall of 37 cat food brands and 46 dog food brands, some of which are high end and others that are sold in giant retailers such as Wal-Mart and Krogers.

The wire service quotes company spokeswoman Sarah Tuite as saying the problem may have occurred when Menu changed suppliers of wheat gluten, a protein used in pet food preparation. An undisclosed number of kidney failures have been reported, and at least 10 deaths have also been confirmed, the company says.

Procter and Gamble, which markets the high-end the Iams and Eukanuba brands made by Menu Foods, already announced its own recall Saturday. According to the A.P., specific 3 oz., 5.5 oz., 6 oz. and 13.2 oz. canned and 3 oz. and 5.3 oz. foil pouch cat and dog wet food with products made by Menu Foods but sold under the Iams and Eukanuba with the code dates of 6339 through 7073 followed by the plant code 4197, have been pulled off store shelves nationwide.

Menu Foods has recall information on its Web site: http://www.menufoods.com/recall. And it also has a phone number for consumer questions: 866-895-2708. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Saturday announced it was going to join in the investigation. Its Web site for consumers to report any bad reactions from their pets is http://www.fda.gov/opacom/backgrounders/complain.html

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Simultaneous Surgery for Colon, Liver Cancer Has Benefits, Study Says

A single surgery to remove malignant tumors from both the colon and liver is a better choice in some cases than separate operations, new research has found.

Scientists from the Duke University Medical Center reported to the annual meeting of the Society of Surgical Oncology in Washington, D.C. that in about a third of the cases in which cancer is found in the colon, it has already spread to the liver. In some of these cases, when only a small amount of the liver has to be removed, they say, it is better to perform both surgeries at the same time.

"The standard approach for these patients has been to remove the colorectal cancer and give them chemotherapy afterwards, waiting to remove liver tumors later if patients do not appear to be developing disease elsewhere in the body, " said senior investigator Dr. Bryan Clary in a Duke University news release. "These findings suggest there might be an alternative that is as safe and may even lead to better outcomes."

The chance of the liver surviving is better by simultaneous surgery, the scientists concluded, because it may spare the organ the toxic effects of chemotherapy. About 25,000 patients with colorectal and liver tumors could be eligible for the simultaneous surgery annually, Clary said.

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Certain Fruit Juices Shown to Have Strong Antioxidant Qualities

The benefits of specific types of fruit juice to fight against disease have been documented in a number of medical studies. Now, BBC News reports that a team of scientists from Glasgow University have identified purple grape, cranberry and apple juice as those that contain the most antioxidants to fight disease such as Alzheimer's, cancer and heart disease.

The specific chemicals are called polyphenols, and they have the strongest antioxidant properties that fight the substances called free radicals, which are believed to damage cells and precipitate a number of harmful conditions in the body.

According to BBC News, the Glasgow researchers showed purple grape juice made with Concord grapes to have the best range of polyphenols with the highest antioxidant capacity. These were equal to those found in Beaujolais red wine, shown by previous studies that, when used in moderation, was an effective deterrent to free radical buildup in the body.

The BBC quotes Alan Crozier, Professor of Plant Biochemistry and Human Nutrition at Glasgow University, as saying, "Supplementing a healthy diet with a regular intake of a variety of fruit juices such as purple grape juice, grapefruit juice, cloudy apple juice and cranberry juice, will, without major dietary changes, increase the consumer's intake of phenolic antioxidants. "

The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

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Railroad Gets Favorable Ruling Birth Control Pill Insurance Case

What isn't for the gander isn't for the goose, a federal appeals court has ruled in a lawsuit involving the Union Pacific Railroad and its deliberations as to whether it would deny paying for birth control pills as part of its health insurance benefits.

The New York Times reports that the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ruled 2-to-1 that because Union Pacific Railroad didn't offer health insurance coverage for any other type of contraception, it would not be in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act if it were to deny female employees insurance reimbursement for prescription birth control pills.

"Union Pacific's health plans do not cover any contraception used by women such as birth control, sponges, diaphragms, intrauterine devices or tubal ligations or any contraception used by men such as condoms and vasectomies," the Times quotes the opinion"s language. "Therefore, the coverage provided to women is not less favorable than that provided to men."

The class action lawsuit had been initiated because the railroad had been considering removing insurance coverage for birth control pills, which it now offers. Although it now has a favorable ruling, a Union Pacific spokesperson told the Times there were no immediate plans to remove reimbursement. for prescription birth control pills. "We're not going to take it away," Mark Davis, said.

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FDA Approves Drug for Rare Blood Disorder

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it's approved a first-of-its-kind drug to treat a rare blood disorder called paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), which can cause disability and premature death.

The newly approved drug, Soliris (eculizumab), is a new molecular entity that contains an ingredient not previously marketed in the United States.

"This product is important in that it offers a treatment other than blood transfusion that may help this small population of patients who are often very ill," Dr. Steven Galson, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a prepared statement.

Soliris does not cure PNH, but treats the breakdown of red blood cells, the most common characteristic of the disease. Patients with PNH can suffer pain, fatigue, debilitating weakness, blood clots and strokes, heart disease and intestinal disease.

The FDA approval of the drug was partly based on a study of 87 patients that found that half showed stabilization of blood hemoglobin over 26 weeks. The study was conducted by the maker of Soliris, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. of Cheshire, Ct.

Studies showed that serious meningococcal infection was a risk for patients taking Soliris, so the FDA ordered a boxed warning on the drug's labeling and said that all patients must receive meningococcal vaccination prior to being given Soliris.

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Indonesia Reports Another Bird Flu Victim

A 32-year-old man is the latest victim of bird flu in Indonesia, bringing that country's death toll to 65, the highest in the world, Agence France Presse reported.

The man died Wednesday in a Jakarta hospital. While officials said it's not clear how he was infected, they said he did keep a parrot at home. Most bird flu victims have had contact with sick or infected birds. The health ministry said there are no reports of other people with influenza-like illness in the man's neighborhood.

Also on Friday, the Southeast Asian nation of Laos announced its second human death from bird flu. The disease was confirmed in a woman who died earlier this month, AFP reported.

So far, the H5N1 bird flu virus has killed 169 people worldwide. Most of the victims were in Southeast Asia. Experts fear that H5N1 could mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans and cause a global pandemic.

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