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Health Highlights: Dec. 12 2002

FDA: Blood Products Withdrawn to Thwart West NileHypertension in Young Black Males Linked to Kidney Damage in Adulthood California Filled With Unfit, Fat Kids, Study Finds Inspector Says Washington Ignored Listeria Warnings New York City Reveals Smoking Ban Details Over-the-Counter Claritin Now in Drug Stores

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

FDA: Blood Products Withdrawn to Thwart West Nile

A number of unspecified frozen blood products have been voluntarily withdrawn by their manufacturers due to a slight risk of obtaining the West Nile virus from the products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today.

The announcement, posted on the agency's Web site, did not disclose the specific products withdrawn, or their manufacturers.

A small number of West Nile infections have been linked to receipt of tainted blood products, though the FDA maintains that the risk to Americans "is thought to be low." Currently, there is no screening test available for West Nile.

The FDA says the voluntary withdrawal of the products was the appropriate "rational response" to the risk of infection, noting that it is important "to ensure that an adequate supply of blood products is available."

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Hypertension in Young Blacks Linked to Later Kidney Damage

Elevated blood pressure in young American black men may be linked to kidney damage later in their lives, new research suggests.

The results of a longitudinal biracial study of 1,622 adults living in Bogalusa, La., found that black male study participants who had higher than normal blood pressure in childhood were more likely than their white counterparts to have microalbuminuria as adults. Microalbuminuria is the presence of protein in the urine and a warning sign for heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans say understanding the relationship between the two conditions will help in early identification and prevention of hypertension and kidney disease.

This latest research, published in the December issue of the American Journal of Hypertension, is part of a larger study of heart disease and cardiovascular risk factors in children and young adults living in Bogalusa.

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California Filled With Unfit, Fat Kids, Study Finds

An overwhelming number of children living in California are out of shape and obese, especially those living in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

The California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) studied the physical condition of kids in grades 5 through 7 and found that "there is an epidemic of overweight and unfit children in every corner of the state," said Harold Goldstein, study author and CCPHA executive director. The findings do not bode well for future incidences of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, Goldstein told the Los Angeles Daily News.

The study analyzed data from the Fitnessgram, statewide fitness tests that measure body composition in relation to weight and aerobic capacity. According to the results, Los Angeles is home to the bulk (54 percent) of the state's unfit kids, while the highest percentage (36 percent) of California's fat children live in Orange County.

CCPHA recommendations include implementing recently passed elementary school nutrition standards and encouraging school districts to meet the required 200 to 400 minutes of physical education every 10 days.

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Inspector Says Feds Ignored Listeria Warnings

A deadly listeria outbreak that began at a Pennsylvania poultry plant probably would have been discovered sooner if the federal government had heeded warnings of sanitation violations at the plant, a federal inspector says.

Vincent Erthal tells the Associated Press that he warned government officials of his concerns for two years before last summer's outbreak, which was traced to the Wampler Foods plant in Franconia, Pa. Eight people have died and 45 more have been sickened by the listeria outbreak that began in July.

Pilgrim's Pride, which owns Wampler Foods, has since recalled 27.4 million pounds of poultry products, though government and company officials tell the AP that none of the recalled meat has tested positive for the bacteria.

Erthal alleges that plant workers processed raw poultry in the same area where ready-to-eat products were produced, and that workers who cleaned the plant would routinely spray the poultry meat, the AP reports. He says U.S. Agriculture Department inspectors probably didn't take corrective action, partly because the harmful bacteria was found on the plant's walls and equipment, rather than on samples of the food the facility produced.

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New York City Reveals Smoking Ban Details

New York City will ban smoking in nearly all bars and restaurants under an agreement reached between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, The New York Times reports.

One of the nation's toughest anti-smoking laws could be a harbinger of things to come, the newspaper says, as other New York state municipalities and the Boston Public Health Commission consider similar proposals.

The new law, which is to be voted on next week by the City Council and could take effect as early as March 2003, would widen an existing ban on smoking in restaurants with more than 35 seats.

In its original form, Bloomberg's proposal would have added some 13,000 city establishments at which smoking would be prohibited. The mayor and the City Council, however, have agreed on several exemptions. They include a small number of cigar bars, bars with no employees except the owners, nonprofit membership clubs with no employees, and certain facilities with enclosed smoking rooms, the Times reports.

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Over-the-Counter Claritin Selling in Drug Stores

Claritin, the allergy drug previously available on prescription only, is now for sale in drugstores as an over-the-counter purchase.

According to an initial survey, consumers will pay between 90 cents and $1.35 per 10-milligram tablet, manufacturer Schering-Plough told the Associated Press. For people without insurance, this is a money-saver. But for those with insurance, a 30-day supply will cost $27 to $40.50, which is more expensive than the $5 to $10 copayment they pay for prescription medication.

The non-drowsy antihistamine comes in three once-a-day formulations, a twice-a-day formulation, and a syrup for children.

Claritin's switch to a non-prescription medication has prescription-plan holders concerned that insurance companies may refuse to cover other prescription-only antihistamines or may increase patients' copayments.

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