Health Highlights: Dec. 14, 2008

Salt-Cured Alewives Pose Botulism Risk: FDA Dueling U.S. Agencies at Odds Over Fish Consumption Test Predicts Onset of Preterm Labor FDA Panel Endorses New Female Condom Certain Dementia Patients Can't Detect Sarcasm

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

Salt-Cured Alewives Pose Botulism Risk: FDA

Ungutted salt-cured alewives (also known as gaspereaux fish) produced by a Canadian firm and sent to distributors in Florida shouldn't be eaten because they may contain the bacterium that causes botulism, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The fish produced by Michel and Charles LeBlanc Fisheries Ltd. of New Brunswick may be tainted with Clostridium botulinum. This toxin can cause botulism, a potentially life-threatening condition that cannot be prevented by cooking or freezing, the FDA said in a news release.

The fish were imported to the following Florida distributors: Quirch Foods Inc., Den-Mar Exports LLC, Dolphin Fisheries Inc., and Labrador and Son Food Products Inc.

The products were distributed in 173 white plastic 30-pound pails with green lids. The fish may have been repackaged for individual sale, the agency said.

There have been no reports of illness associated with this product. But the FDA warned that Florida-bought ungutted alewives produced by this manufacturer, or such fish of undetermined origin, should be thrown away immediately.

Symptoms of botulism can begin six hours to 10 days after consumption, and may include double- or blurred vision, drooped eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and muscle weakness. Botulism can also cause deadly paralysis of the breathing muscles. Anyone with these symptoms should be given immediate medical attention.


Dueling U.S. Agencies at Odds Over Fish Consumption

A proposal to encourage eating of fish to promote a healthier lifestyle is becoming a political issue in the final months of the Bush administration, reports the Associated Press.

A long-standing government recommendation that pregnant women and children limit their intake of fish because of the possibility that they may also consume harmful amounts of mercury is being reconsidered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the wire service reports.

This has evoked intra-agency controversy, with the Environmental Protection Agency challenging the scientific accuracy of the FDA's 270 page draft of a study concluding that the health benefits of fish consumption outweigh the possibility that a dangerous amount of mercury would be ingested.

Environmental groups are upset as well, the AP reports. Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, issued a statement: "The FDA was once a fearsome protector of the public health. Now it's nothing more than a patsy for polluters."

Not surprisingly, the food industry is supportive of the FDA's study. One lobbying group, the Center for Consumer Freedom, told the wire service that it "just might be the best Christmas present health-conscious Americans could hope for."


Test Predicts Onset of Preterm Labor

A test that predicts whether premature birth is imminent if a woman's water breaks early in pregnancy has been identified by Swedish researchers.

In such cases, there's a strong link between high levels of lactate in vaginal fluid and onset of labor within 48 hours, said the researchers, who assessed the test in 86 women with single pregnancies of 20 to 36 weeks gestation, BBC News reported.

The study found that 87 percent of the 23 women with high lactate concentrations had spontaneous labor within 48 hours, compared with 5 percent of the 58 women with low lactate concentrations.

Among women with high lactate concentrations, the average time between examination of labor onset was 13.6 hours, compared with 48 days for those with low lactate levels, BBC News reported.

The study about the "Lac-test" appears in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.


FDA Panel Endorses New Female Condom

A second-generation female condom called the FC2 Female Condom should be approved for use in the United States, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel decided Thursday.

In its 15-0 vote recommending approval by the full agency, the panel said there should be a condition that instructions for use remain the same as those for the FC1 Female Condom. The panel also said the manufacturer should identify the study performed to establish the comparable safety and effectiveness of FC2 with FC1.

The first generation FC1 condom was approved for U.S. sale in 1993, and 165 million of the condoms have been distributed in 142 countries. So far, 22 million of the FC2 condoms have been distributed in 77 countries. The World Health Organization has said the condoms can be purchased by United Nations agencies.

The FC2 condom looks similar to the FC1, but is produced and sold at a lower cost. The product is made by the Female Health Company, based in Chicago.

While not required to do so, the FDA usually follows the advice of its advisory panels.


Certain Dementia Patients Can't Detect Sarcasm

People under the age of 65 with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) can't detect when someone is being sarcastic, a finding that may help improve diagnosis of the condition, say Australian researchers.

FTD, also called Pick's disease, is the second most common form of dementia and can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages.

In this study, actors presented scenarios to 26 FTD patients and 19 Alzheimer's patients. The scenarios used the exact same words but were presented either in a sincere tone or laced with sarcasm, Agence France Presse reported.

The Alzheimer's patients picked up on the sarcasm but the FTD patients did not, concluded the University of New South Wales study, which appears in the journal Brain.

"The patients with FTD are very literal and they take what is being said as genuine and sincere," AFP quoted senior author John Hodges as saying. He said the findings help explain the behavior of people with FTD, which is often upsetting to family members.

"(FTD patients) find it difficult to interact with people, they don't pick up on social cues, they lack empathy, they make bad judgments," Hodges said.

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