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Health Highlights: April 8, 2015

Health Effects of Climate Change Personal for Obama Blue Bell Expands Ice Cream Recall U.S. Ebola Patient's Condition Improves: NIH Dog Flu Outbreak in Chicago Many Dietary Supplements Contain Amphetamine-like Compound: Study FDA Scientists Challenge Smokeless Tobacco Safety Claim

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

Health Effects of Climate Change Personal for Obama

Climate change became a personal issue for President Barack Obama when he had to seek emergency care for his daughter Malia due to an asthma attack.

The asthma attack occurred when Malia, now 16, was a toddler.

"Well you know Malia had asthma when she was 4 and because we had good health insurance, we were able to knock it out early" Obama told Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor at ABC News, in an interview.

"And if we can make sure that our responses to the environment are reducing those incidents, that's something that I think every parent would wish for" the president added.

Besser asked Obama why Americans should be concerned about the health effects of climate change when there are so many other pressing health problems, ABC News reported.

"Keep in mind that climate change is just one more example of how the environment will cause health problems, and I think most people understand that," the president said.

Obama pointed out that climate change can lead to longer-lasting allergy seasons, higher rates of asthma, and more cases of heatstroke in cities due to hotter summer temperatures, ABC News reported.

"So the idea here is that by having doctors, nurses, public health officials who've come together highlighting the consequences of warmer temperatures, not only can communities start thinking about adapting and planning around those issues but individual families can also recognize that there is a link here, and collectively we can start doing something about it," Obama said.


Blue Bell Expands Ice Cream Recall

A recall of ice cream products made at Blue Bell Creameries' plant in Broken Arrow, Okla. is being expanded after pints of banana pudding ice cream tested positive for listeria contamination, the Texas-based company says.

No illnesses linked to the banana pudding ice cream have been confirmed, according to Blue Bell, the Associated Press reported.

A recall was first announced last month, and listeria contamination was traced to a production line at the company's plant in Brenham, Texas and later to the plant in Oklahoma.

Operations at the Oklahoma plant were suspended Friday, the AP reported.


U.S. Ebola Patient's Condition Improves: NIH

There has been an improvement in the condition of a U.S. health worker being treated for Ebola by the National Institutes of Health.

"The status of the patient with Ebola virus disease being treated at the NIH Clinical Center has improved from serious to fair condition," according to an NIH statement, NBC News reported.

"No additional details about the patient are being shared at this time," the statement added.

The patient was one of 17 staff members of the non-profit Partners for Health evacuated from Sierra Leone a few weeks ago. The other 16 are under 21 days of monitoring for any Ebola symptoms and are close to clinic where they can be treated quickly if they develop symptoms of the deadly infection, NBC News reported.

Ebola has infected 25,000 people in West Africa, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths.


Dog Flu Outbreak in Chicago

More than 1,000 dogs have become ill and at least five have died in a dog flu epidemic that has affected the Chicago area since mid-March, an official says.

These numbers may be conservative and are likely to continue to increase as some veterinary clinics continue to handle as many as 50 or more new suspected or confirmed cases a week, Donna Alexander, administrator for the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, told the Chicago Tribune.

Currently, the canine influenza virus (CIV) outbreak is limited to the Chicago metropolitan area, but could spread as dogs travel with their owners for holidays and to events such as dog sport competitions.

Several suspected but unconfirmed cases of CIV have been reported in Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin.

"Of course, the canine influenza virus could easily spread to other cities, especially where there are dense canine populations," veterinary immunologist Cynda Crawford, a clinical assistant professor of Shelter Medicine with Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, told the Tribune.

There have been sporadic outbreaks of CIV across the United States, but most dogs have never been exposed to the virus.

"There's no built-in immune protection for most dogs," Brooke Bartell, of the Chicago Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center, told the Tribune. "The result is that nearly all dogs exposed to the virus will get the virus."

Symptoms include coughing, lethargy and lack of appetite. However, 20 percent to 25 percent of dogs infected with virus don't get sick, but are still highly infectious.

"These dogs feel fine, they act fine and have no symptoms. That's good, except they are highly infectious and are particularly effective at spreading the virus because they continue their usual activities without anyone suspecting how contagious they are," Chicago veterinarian Natalie Marks told the Tribune.

There is a vaccine for CIV, but too few dogs get it. In an effort to control the outbreak in Chicago, warning signs have been posted in dog-friendly areas, some dog training classes have been postponed, a few dog day cares have closed, and some pet stores are discouraging visits from dogs.


Many Dietary Supplements Contain Amphetamine-like Compound: Study

Many popular dietary supplements contain a compound that acts like amphetamine, although the compound is not listed on product labels and its health risks are not clear, a new study finds.

Known as BMPEA, the compound is often found in weight-loss products and sports supplements that claim to include Acacia rigidula, a shrub found in Texas. But BMPEA can only be produced synthetically, the researchers noted in the study, which was published April 8 in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis.

The scientists also claim in their study that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first discovered the presence of BMPEA in dietary supplements during testing in 2013, but failed to take any action or issue any warnings about the compound.

"The FDA should immediately warn consumers about BMPEA and take aggressive enforcement action to eliminate BMPEA in dietary supplements," the study said.

Study lead author Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that the compound coud be harmful and the FDA's failure to act is "completely inexcusable."

Amphetamine, the drug that BMPEA mimics, is a potent stimulant that can raise heart rate and blood pressure while decreasing appetite. It is prescribed for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

FDA spokeswoman Juli Putnam said the agency published research on the occurrence of BMPEA in Acacia rigidula supplements in 2013, the Times reported.

"While our review of the available information on products containing BMPEA does not identify a specific safety concern at this time, the FDA will consider taking regulatory action, as appropriate, to protect consumers," she told the newspaper.


FDA Scientists Challenge Smokeless Tobacco Safety Claim

U.S. Food and Drug Administration scientists have "concerns" about data submitted by a Swedish company in its application to be the first to market a smokeless tobacco product called snus as "less harmful" than cigarettes.

Snus are pouches or loose tobacco placed between the cheek and gum to absorb nicotine, and are popular in Scandinavian countries, the Associated Press reported.

Swedish Match has applied to modify the cancer warning language on the packaging of its snus to read: "No tobacco product is safe but this product presents substantially lower risks to health than cigarettes."

The company submitted data to back up the claim that snus poses a lower risk of mouth cancer, gum disease and tooth loss than other tobacco products, the AP reported.

However, FDA scientists question whether the wording in the proposed new warning "adequately reflects the health risks of using snus."

The FDA has scheduled a two-day meeting to review the company's data, the AP reported.

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