Health Highlights: April 14, 2007

Possibility of Botulism Prompts Imported Italian Olives RecallTeen Sexual Abstinence Education Program Not Working, Report Says Court Won't Order FDA to Tighten Rules on Mercury Fillings New HIV Drug Shows Promise U.S. Woman Has Baby Conceived with Frozen Egg and Sperm Senate Panel OKs Bill to Negotiate Medicare Drug Prices

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

Possibility of Botulism Prompts Imported Italian Olives Recall

The latest U.S. government alert about food that may cause serious illness concerns olives imported from Italy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that olives made by Charlie Brown di Rutigliano and Figli S.r.l, of Bari, Italy may contain the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum, which causes botulism, a disease that often leads to death. The olives were initially recalled by the maker on March 27. They had been distributed in the United States to both restaurants and retail stores.

Although no illnesses have been reported in the United States, the FDA says the olives should be discarded, even if they appear not to be spoiled. They are sold under the following brands: Borrelli, Bonta di Puglia, Cento, Corrado's, Dal Raccolto, Flora, Roland and Vantia, and have codes that start with the letter "G" and are followed by 3 or 4 digits. All sizes of cans, glass jars and pouches of Cerignola, Nocerella and Castelvetrano type olives are affected, the FDA says.

Botulism symptoms include weakness, dizziness, double vision, trouble speaking or swallowing, difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension and constipation.


Teen Sexual Abstinence Education Program Not Working, Report Says

It doesn't appear that teenagers are getting the message about sexual abstinence.

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. government-funded program, costing about $176 million annually to alert teenagers to the problems of sexual promiscuity, isn't getting the desired results.

Just as many teens who attended one of four abstinence classes surveyed were as likely to have sex as those who didn't attend the program, the wire service reports. The study was ordered by Congress to determine whether the sexual abstinence classes, begun in 1999, were making a difference.

The classes were designed to encourage teens to abstain from having sex until they got married. While acknowledging the report's accuracy, a Bush administration official also says that follow-up is needed to make the program effective.

"This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines," Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families, is quoted as saying. "You can't expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth's high school career."


Court Won't Order FDA to Tighten Rules on Mercury Fillings

A U.S. federal appeals court unanimously ruled Friday that it can't compel the Food and Drug Administration to tighten rules on dental fillings that contain mercury, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that it has no jurisdiction to review the agency's handling of the issue.

Advocacy groups went to court in an attempt to ban mercury fillings and to force the FDA to reclassify the products and impose stricter regulations on them, the AP reported.

The groups argue that mercury vapors from the fillings can harm patients and the dental office employees who handle the fillings.

Significant levels of mercury exposure can damage the kidneys and brain. But the FDA has steadfastly insisted that mercury fillings pose no threat to patients, except in rare cases when patients have allergic reactions, the AP reported.


New HIV Drug Shows Promise

A new drug called raltegravir shows promise in combatting drug-resistant HIV, concludes an international study in The Lancet medical journal. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Raltegravir belongs to a new class of drugs called integrase-inhibitors, which block an enzyme essential for HIV to replicate itself, BBC News reported.

The study included 178 patients with advanced HIV who failed to respond to the antiretroviral drugs they'd been taking for about 10 years. The patients were assigned to take their usual drugs plus either raltegravir or a non-medicinal placebo.

After 24 weeks, patients taking raltegravir showed a 98 percent drop in the amount of HIV genetic material in their blood, compared to a 45 percent drop among the placebo group. Those taking raltegravir also showed a significant boost in the number of CD4 cells, an indication of immune response, BBC News reported.

"This drug has the potential to become an important component of combination treatment regimens...for patients failing current therapies with multidrug-resistant virus and limited treatment options," wrote the study's authors at Merck Research Laboratories in Pennsylvania.


U.S. Woman Has Baby Conceived with Frozen Egg and Sperm

A 36-year-old California woman has given birth to the first baby in the United States to be conceived using a frozen egg and frozen sperm.

Adrienne Domasin gave birth to Noah Peter Domasin (8 pounds, 4 ounces) at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., the Associated Press reported.

While there have been about 200 documented births from frozen eggs worldwide, the only other birth from a frozen egg and frozen sperm took place in Australia. That birth was reported last year in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.

Domasin decided to take part in the California study after she learned two years ago that her fallopian tubes were blocked. She was unable to afford in-vitro fertilization but was determined to have a baby, the AP reported.

After eggs were harvested from Domasin, they were frozen for four months, then injected with thawed donor sperm. A fertilized egg was then placed inside Domasin.

The freezing of sperm has been done for decades but attempts to use frozen eggs have a low success rate, the AP reported.


Senate Panel OKs Bill to Negotiate Medicare Drug Prices

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee has approved legislation to permit Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, the Associated Press reported.

The bill, approved Thursday by a vote of 13-8, eliminates a clause that forbids the secretary of Health and Human Services from taking part in negotiations between drug companies, insurers, and pharmacies, the AP reported. The bill is expected to go before the full Senate next week.

While the Bush administration opposes the measure, supporters said the ban on federal government negotiations with drug makers goes too far.

"When you're negotiating on behalf of 43 million people, that's leverage," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told the wire service.


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