Health Highlights: Dec. 19, 2011

Chickenpox Stymied by Sunlight: Study Organic Celery Seed Recalled Sperm Donor Warned by FDA Tyson Fresh Meats Recalls Ground Beef States Allowed to Determine Essential Health Insurance Benefits Two People Die After Using Tap Water in Neti Pot FDA Approves Heart Assist Device for Children

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

Chickenpox Stymied by Sunlight: Study

Sunlight may help prevent the spread of chickenpox, a new study says.

U.K. researchers compared the findings of 25 previous studies conducted worldwide with climate data and determined that chickenpox is less common in areas with high ultraviolet light levels, BBC News reported.

This suggests that sunlight may inactivate the chickenpox (varicella-zoster) virus on the skin, making transmission between people more difficult.

The University of London researchers noted that the finding may explain why chickenpox is less common in and less easily passed from person to person in tropical countries, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Virology.


Organic Celery Seed Recalled

The threat of potential salmonella contamination has led to the recall of organic celery seed distributed by Swanson Health Products.

The company was told about the potential contamination by its supplier, B&M Inc. of Mount Vernon, Mo., the Associated Press reported.

The recall involves Swanson Organic Celery Seed (Whole) packaged in plastic bottles with a net weight of 1.4 ounces. They were sold between June 16 and Dec. 16.

The celery seed was sold at Swanson Health Products' retail store in Fargo, N.D., held for pickup at the company's headquarters, or shipped directly to online or mail-order customers, the AP reported.


Sperm Donor Warned by FDA

A California man who has been donating his sperm to women who want children has been told to stop by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Trent Arsenault, 36, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he's been donating cups of his sperm for five years to women he meets on the Internet, the Associated Press reported.

He said he decided against donating to sperm banks, which offer money and donor anonymity, because he wanted to meet the future parents. So far, he's fathered 14 children.

The FDA told Arsenault he faces a $100,000 fine or up to a year in prison for violating federal laws that require screening for communicable diseases, the AP reported.


Tyson Fresh Meats Recalls Ground Beef

A positive test for E. coli has led to the recall of more than 40,000 pounds of ground beef products distributed by Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. of Dakota City, Neb.

The recall involves 10-pound chubs of chuck fine ground beef 80/20 packed in cases containing eight chubs. The meat was shipped to distributors and institutions in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, the Associated Press reported.

The E. coli was discovered through routine monitoring, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. There have not been any reported cases of illness.

The USDA said consumers can call Tyson Fresh Meats at 866-328-3156, the AP reported.


States Allowed to Determine Essential Health Insurance Benefits

The new U.S. health care law will allow states to specify which health benefits within broad categories must be provided by insurers, the Obama administration said Friday.

The surprise announcement that the federal government will not define a single uniform set of "essential health benefits" means there could be significant variations in benefits from state to state, The New York Times reported.

That would make it similar to the current differences in state Medicaid programs and the Child Health Insurance Program.

The Obama administration's decision was questioned by an expert on health law at Washington and Lee University.

"The new bulletin perpetuates uncertainty about what benefits an insurer will be required to cover under the Affordable Care Act," Prof. Timothy S. Jost told The Times.

For the sake of consumers, he added, "I wish the Department of Health and Human Services had signaled that there would be more uniformity and less flexibility."


Two People Die After Using Tap Water in Neti Pot

Tap water should not be used in Neti pots, Louisiana officials warned after investigating two deadly infections.

A 20-year-old man and a 51-year-old woman died from Naegleria fowleri infections after using Neti pots containing tap water to flush their sinuses, ABC News reported.

Naegleria fowleri, a parasite sometimes called the brain-eating amoeba, causes a brain infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. Without treatment, the infection can cause death within one to 12 days.

"If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a Neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution," Louisiana State epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said in a statement, ABC News reported. "Tap water is safe for drinking but not for irrigating your nose."


FDA Approves Heart Assist Device for Children

A new mechanical cardiac assist device for children with heart failure has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The EXCOR Pediatric System is meant to keep children with heart failure alive until they can undergo a heart transplant. The device comes in different sizes to fit children from newborns to teens.

The FDA approved the new device under a Humanitarian Device Exemption. Under this application, a device doesn't have to show a reasonable assurance of effectiveness. Rather, a company has to show that the probable benefit from the device outweighs the problem risk of illness or injury.

"This is a step forward, it is the first FDA-approved pulsatile mechanical circulatory support device specifically designed for children," Dr. Susan Cummins, chief pediatric medical officer in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in an agency news release. "Previous adult heart assist devices were too large to be used in critically ill children to keep them alive while they wait to get a new heart."

The heart device is made by Berlin Heart of Germany.

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