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Health Highlights: Feb. 19, 2015

Huge Food Recall After Peanut Traces Found in Cumin Gene Therapy Vaccination Technique Protects Monkeys Against HIV

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

Huge Food Recall After Peanut Traces Found in Cumin

A huge recall of products that contain cumin spice possibly contaminated with peanut has been ongoing in the United States since December, and the Food and Drug Administration is warning people with peanut allergy to avoid cumin and all products that contain cumin.

The recall of hundreds of products began after traces of peanut were found in cumin. Allergy-related recalls this large are rare, but undeclared allergens are the leading cause of food recalls in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

Undeclared allergens in foods can trigger dangerous or deadly allergic reactions in some people.

"You might do all of the things you are supposed to do and read the label, but there could still be undeclared allergens," Dr. Michael Pistiner, a pediatric allergist in Boston, told the AP. "It's challenging to know that and still feel comfortable."

He said recalls of foods with undeclared allergens are low-risk, since the products contain only tiny amounts of allergens, and "the highest risk is to our comfort."

The FDA said it has received at least seven reports from consumers related to the peanut-tainted cumin. The spice is often used in Indian and Tex-Mex foods. The recalled products include items such as spice mixes, black beans, and meats with marinades that include cumin, the AP reported.

Packaged food should not have enough of the peanut-contaminated cumin to trigger and allergic reaction, but people with peanut allergy should be careful just in case, the FDA said. It also noted that some of the recalled products may not specifically list cumin, but say "spices" instead.

The FDA would not say how peanut got into the cumin.

There have been a number of recalls over two months, beginning on Dec. 26 when Adams Foods of Texas recalled several of its cumin spices. On Feb. 9, retail chain Whole Foods recalled more than 100 products that may contain the cumin. On Feb. 13, Goya Foods recalled some of its black beans and black bean soup products. A number of other products that contain cumin have also been removed from store shelves, the AP reported.

About 15 million Americans have food allergies and eight foods -- peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish -- account for more than 90 percent of the allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research and Education group.

By law, food allergens are required to be listed on foods if they are ingredients. However, companies don't have to inform consumers if food products and allergens are processed in the same facility or with the same equipment, which can lead to cross-contamination, the AP reported.


Gene Therapy Vaccination Technique Protects Monkeys Against HIV

A new vaccination technique that uses gene therapy appears to give monkeys full protection against HIV, researchers say.

Vaccines typically prime the immune system to fight infectious diseases, but this new approach altered the monkeys' DNA to protect them against HIV, BBC News reported.

The team at the Scripps Research Institute in California described their study in the journal Nature as "a big deal" and said they want to start human tests within a year.

In the new technique, gene therapy is used to place a new section of DNA inside healthy muscle cells. The DNA contains coding to make HIV-killers, which are then pumped into the bloodstream, BBC News reported.

This method protected the monkeys from all HIV strains for at least 34 weeks.

"We are closer than any other approach to universal protection, but we still have hurdles, primarily with safety for giving it to many, many people," lead researcher Michael Farzan told BBC News.

The gene therapy causes cells to constantly produce HIV-killers, and the long-term effects of that are unknown.

"In the absence of a vaccine that can elicit broadly protective immunity and prevent infection, and given the lack of major breakthroughs on the horizon to provide one, the idea of conferring potent, sustained vaccine-like protection against HIV infection through gene therapy is certainly worth strong consideration," said Nancy Haigwood, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University, BBC News reported.

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