Health Highlights: Dec. 15, 2008

Zimbabwe Cholera Death Toll 978: UN Behavioral Therapy Helps Eating Disorder Patients: Study Brushing Teeth Reduces Patients' Pneumonia Risk Salt-Cured Alewives Pose Botulism Risk: FDA

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

Zimbabwe Cholera Death Toll 978: UN

The death toll in Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak now stands at 978, a 25 percent increase over three days ago, according to the United Nations. The UN also said there have been 18,413 suspected cholera cases since the outbreak began in August, BBC News reported.

The worst-hit area is the capital Harare, with 208 confirmed deaths and 8,454 suspected cases, said the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which estimated that up to 60,000 people in the country may eventually be affected by the disease.

The cholera outbreak has spread quickly in Zimbabwe due to serious problems with the health care and water systems. The South African Red Cross has sent a truckload of medical supplies to treat cholera patients and has issued an urgent appeal to fund supplies to treat a total of 30,000 people, BBC News reported.

Last week, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said the cholera outbreak had been halted.

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Behavioral Therapy Helps Eating Disorder Patients: Study

Specially designed cognitive behavioral therapy can help many people with eating disorders, according to a British study that included 154 patients.

The outpatient counseling sessions strive to help patients understand the links between their emotions and behavior in order to make changes. The patients had one 50-minute session per week for 20 weeks, BBC News reported.

Two-thirds of the patients achieved a "complete and lasting" response to the therapy, while the other third showed substantial improvement. The findings were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"Now, for the first time, we have a single treatment which can be effective at treating the majority of cases, without the need for patients to be admitted into hospital," said study leader Professor Christopher Fairburn, of the University of Oxford, BBC News reported.

The study included bulimia and "atypical" patients, but did not include anorexia patients. A second study involving anorexia patients is under way and is showing promising results, the researchers said.

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Brushing Teeth Reduces Patients' Pneumonia Risk

Brushing intubated hospital patients' teeth three times a day reduces their risk of pneumonia by 50 percent, according to an Israeli study scheduled for publication in a nursing journal.

"Pneumonia is a big problem in hospitals everywhere, even in the developed world," said researcher Ofra Raanan, of the Sheba Academic School of Nursing at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center, United Press International reported.

"Patients who are intubated can be contaminated with pnemonia only two to three days after the tube is put in place. But pneumonia can be effectively prevented if the right measures are taken," Raanan said.

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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 said.

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 can't 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.

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