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Health Highlights: Feb. 11, 2008

'Icy Hot' Heat Therapy Products Recalled for Burn Hazard Fake Malaria Drugs Likely Made in China, Study Finds Researchers Discover Another Way That HIV Attacks Cells Computer Program Guides Medical Students Through Complicated Hip Surgery Breakdown of Body's Iron Transporter May Be Cause of Brain Lesions Aspirin Use Effective in Preventing Colon Cancer in Men, Latest Study Confirms

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

'Icy Hot' Heat Therapy Products Recalled for Burn Hazard

The maker of "Icy Hot" Heat Therapy products is recalling them nationwide after receiving reports of first-, second-, and third-degree burns among some users, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday in an announcement on its Web site.

Tennessee-based Chattem Inc. said all lots and sizes of the following products are affected:

  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Back
  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Arm, neck, and leg
  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Arm, neck and leg single consumer use samples included in cartons of 3-oz. Aspercreme Pain Relieving Cream.

The products were sold over the counter at food, drug, and mass merchandise stores nationwide. Consumers should stop using them immediately, discard them, or return them to the manufacturer for a full refund.

For more information, visit the FDA.


Fake Malaria Drugs Likely Made in China, Study Finds

An unspecified number of people have been arrested after a global sting aimed at catching people who trade in fake anti-malaria medications, investigators reported in this week's edition of the journal Public Library of Science - Medicine.

Scientific inspection of the fake drugs indicates they probably were made in southern China, study lead author Dr. Paul Newton, of the Wellcome Trust-University of Oxford, said in statement.

Newton and other researchers, law enforcement authorities, and public health workers collaborated to collect and test 391 samples of genuine and fake artesunate tablets collected across southeast Asia. Some were found to contain inaccurate and potentially toxic ingredients, including safrole, used to produce the street drug ecstacy.

The researchers also used a technique called forensic palynology to study pollen contamination of the fake tablets. This pollen evidence suggested that at least some of the counterfeit samples came from southern China, they said.

One suspect arrested in 2006 allegedly traded 240,000 blisterpacks of the counterfeit medicine. In some countries in southeast Asia and Africa, as many as half of all purchased artesunate tablets may be fake, the researchers said.


Researchers Discover Another Way That HIV Attacks Cells

A weapon that HIV uses to invade human cells has been identified by scientists trying to figure out all the different ways the AIDS-causing virus launches its powerful attack on the immune system.

U.S. government researchers say they've identified a new HIV receptor, which helps guide the virus to a place in the gut where it can begin its assault on the body, reports The New York Times.

The discovery was reported Sunday in the journal Nature Immunology by a team led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It's been long understood that HIV prefers to invade the gut's lymph nodes and tissues, then replicate itself. Fauci and his colleagues found that a molecule called alpha-4 beta-7, which is programmed to direct immune cells to the gut, also acts as a receptor for HIV, the newspaper said.

Several other receptors for HIV have been identified previously. Scientists have been trying for years to identify these molecules, then target them with newly devised drugs as a way to stop HIV from invading human cells and replicating itself.


Computer Program Guides Medical Students Through Complicated Hip Surgery

Using a computer program similar to the GPS navigation system, 32 medical students at four hospitals in the United Kingdom have successfully completed a complicated hip surgical procedure that usually takes years to perfect.

BBC News reports that the procedure, known as hip resurfacing, uses a chrome alloy to smooth and redefine diseased or damaged ball joints in the hips. It takes years to become proficient at doing this, the BBC reports, but the computer guidance system has allowed medical students to do the surgery almost flawlessly.

The surgical trial was used on various models of diseased or damaged hips, the BBC reports, but those who supervised the project seemed confident enough from the outcome to consider the experiment successful.

Dr. Justin Cobb, head of the Biosurgery and Surgical Technology Group at Imperial College London, told a recent scientific meeting that the computer-driven surgery augers well for other procedures. "Even students, with the right technology, can achieve expert levels straight away," the BBC quotes him as saying. "More importantly, we've also demonstrated that no patient has to be on an inexperienced surgeon's learning curve."


Breakdown of Body's Iron Transporter May Be Cause of Brain Lesions

British and Indian scientists say they have possibly found the method by which particles of iron get into the brain and cause Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.

Researchers at the University of Warwick and the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur say that the collapse of the mechanism that carries iron safely through the body can cause worm-like fibrils of iron rust to form outside a protective cover, and this exposes iron oxide in dangerous ways to cells.

According to a news release from Warwick University, the key element in this process is a protein called transferrin, which safely carries iron through the bloodstream without exposing it to other cells until it is needed.

But when transferrin is disrupted in some way, it no longer seals the iron particles from the rest of the body, and some of the iron can find its way to the brain and cause the lesions associated with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease, the scientists found.

This discovery is only one step in helping to find causes of these neurological diseases, and more research is being planned, according to the university news release.


Aspirin Use Effective in Preventing Colon Cancer in Men, Latest Study Confirms

If you're a man and take at least two standard 325 mg. aspirin tablets weekly, you may be able to reduce your chances of getting colon cancer by more than 20 percent, The New York Times reports.

Reporting on a study in the January 2008 issue of the journal Gastroenterology, the newspaper said that the latest study, led by Harvard assistant professor of medicine Dr,. Howard T. Chan, confirmed earlier randomized studies indicating that prolonged aspirin use can act as a deterrent to colorectal cancer.

Men who took between 6 and 14 standard aspirin pills weekly decreased their colon cancer risk by 28 percent, and those who took more than 14 pills a week had a 70 percent decline in risk, the Times reported.

However, two cautions are important, the newspaper added. First, aspirin can be very difficult on some stomachs and can even cause intestinal bleeding. Second, the results were measured on a test group of 47,000 men over a very long time -- 18 years. The effectiveness of aspirin use occurs only after continuous use for five years or more, the Times reported.

"The results provide additional proof that a simple drug like aspirin can help prevent colon cancer," Chan told the newspaper.

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