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Health Highlights: Dec. 29, 2010

Donor in 1st Successful Organ Transplant Dies at Age 79 Salmonella Outbreak Tied to Alfalfa Sprouts Spreads to 16 States Low Vitamin D Could Hamper Babies' Breathing

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

Donor in 1st Successful Organ Transplant Dies at Age 79

The man who donated a kidney nearly six decades ago in what is considered the first successful organ transplant has died at the age of 79.

Ronald Lee Herrick, who donated the kidney to his dying twin brother 56 years ago, died Monday at the Augusta Rehabilitation Center in Maine. His wife, Cynthia, said his health deteriorated after heart surgery in October, the Associated Press reported.

Herrick donated the kidney to his brother, Richard, at what is today known as Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Because the men were identical twins, there was no problem with organ rejection. The United Network for Organ Sharing said it was the first successful organ transplant.

The surgery, done two days before Christmas in 1954, kept Richard Herrick alive for eight years. The lead surgeon, Dr. Joseph Murray, went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1990.


Salmonella Outbreak Tied to Alfalfa Sprouts Spreads to 16 States

The salmonella outbreak tied to contaminated alfalfa sprouts has grown to at least 94 cases in 16 states, federal officials said Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of cases had risen from 89 cases in 15 states in the past week, with California now on the list, the Associated Press reported.

More than half the cases have been in Illinois. There have been no deaths.

The Food and Drug Administration is urging consumers to avoid alfalfa sprouts produced by the Tiny Greens Organic Farm in Urbana, Ill., because of possible contamination, the AP said.


Low Vitamin D Could Hamper Babies' Breathing

Newborns with low levels of the "sunshine" nutrient, vitamin D, seem to be at higher odds for respiratory infections as infants and for wheezing in early childhood -- but not at higher risk for asthma, a new study finds.

The body produces vitamin D in response to sunlight, and the nutrient has long been linked to stronger bones. In the new study, Dr. Carlos Camargo and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston looked at data on more than 1,000 children in New Zealand. Levels of a marker for vitamin D were measured in umbilical cord blood samples taken at birth and mothers were asked about their children's respiratory troubles up till 5 years of age.

More than 20 percent of the blood samples came in as "very low" for vitamin D status, the research team said in a hospital news release.

Low vitamin D levels at birth were linked to a doubling of risk for respiratory infections at the age of 3 months, compared to newborns with higher levels of the nutrient in their blood. There was no significant link between levels of the vitamin D marker and asthma diagnosed by the age of 5 years, however.

"Our data suggest that the association between vitamin D and wheezing, which can be a symptom of many respiratory diseases and not just asthma, is largely due to respiratory infections," Camargo said in the new release.

And he didn't rule out a vitamin D/asthma link.

"Since respiratory infections are the most common cause of asthma exacerbations, vitamin D supplements may help to prevent those events, particularly during the fall and winter when vitamin D levels decline and exacerbations are more common," Camargo said. "That idea needs to be tested in a randomized clinical trial, which we hope to do next year."

The findings are published in the January issue of Pediatrics.

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