Health Highlights: Jan. 23, 2008

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

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

OTC Cough and Cold Medicines Little Help: Study

There's little evidence that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines benefit adults or children, say researchers who reviewed 17 studies that included 2,876 adults and eight studies that included 616 children.

The studies examined the effects of various remedies including decongestants, antihistamines and cough syrups, the Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada reported. The review authors concluded that any evidence that these medicines worked was weak, at best. Their analysis appears in the current issue of the journal The Cochrane Library.

Curiously, six of the nine studies supported by the drug industry showed that cough and cold medicines helped patients, but only three of the 16 studies without drug industry support came to the same conclusion, the newspaper reported.

This is an important family medicine issue, said review co-author Thomas Fahey, a professor of general practice at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

"Lots of people come to their doctor, either with a cough themselves or more often with their child. And they often resort to taking over-the-counter remedies," the Globe and Mail quoted him as saying.

A spokesman for the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association of Canada disputed the review's conclusions.

Recently, OTC cough and cold medicines have come under fire as being potentially dangerous for children younger than two years old.

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Harry and David Cashews Recalled

About 2,130 boxes of 4 oz. Harry and David Giant Cashews are being recalled because they may contain mixed nuts -- including peanuts, almonds, pecans and Brazil nuts -- not declared on the ingredients label, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to these nuts may suffer a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products. The problem occurred during a product changeover when packaging for cashews was co-mingled with packaging for the mixed nuts.

The recalled boxes of cashews, distributed through Harry and David stores across the United States beginning Nov. 16, 2007, have lot codes 2507 MSL 15:00 through 2507 MSL 18:00 and a use by date of 6/28/08. The lot code and use by date are located on the bottom of the box, the FDA said.

The recalled cashews are packaged in paperboard boxes that are olive green with a pale green design in the background. The boxes contain metalized film bags that contain the nuts.

No reports of illness or injury caused by the recalled product have been reported to date. People concerned about possible health problems should contact a doctor immediately, the FDA said.

Consumers with the recalled cashews can return them to any Harry and David store for a full refund.

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Work Stress Increases Heart Disease Risk: Study

Chronic work stress causes biological changes that increase the risk of heart disease, say the authors of a 12-year study of more than 10,000 British civil servants.

The study found that male and female workers younger than 50 who said they had stressful jobs were nearly 70 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease (CHD) than stress-free colleagues, BBC News reported. The findings were published in the European Heart Journal.

"Among people of retirement age -- and therefore less likely to be exposed to work stress -- the effect on CHD was less strong," said lead researcher Dr. Tarani Chandola of University College London.

Chandola and colleagues said stress appears to disrupt the part of the nervous system that tells the heart how to work and controls heart-rate variability, BBC News reported.

The researchers also found that stressed-out workers were less likely to exercise or eat sufficient amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Both are lifestyle factors believed to play a role in the prevention of heart disease.

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Officials Struggle to Control Bird Flu Outbreak in India

A bird flu outbreak in poultry has spread to more than half of India's West Bengal state. And officials said they're falling behind in their efforts to control the disease in the densely populated state, Agence France-Presse reported.

Neighboring states have sent help, but at least 1,000 more veterinarians and doctors are needed to cull poultry and combat the outbreak that began more than a week ago, said state animal resources minister Anisur Rahaman, who added that the virus is killing thousands of chickens every day.

So far, nearly 400,000 poultry have been culled and the previous culling target of two million birds has been increased to 2.2 million over the next seven days.

So far, no human cases of bird flu have been reported, but hundreds of people in West Bengal are reporting flu symptoms, AFP reported.

"Reports keep pouring in that many people in flu-affected districts are suffering fever, cold and cough," said state health minister Surya Kanta Mishra. Humans typically catch bird flu through direct contact with infected poultry.

Since the H5N1 bird flu virus first appeared in 2003, it has killed more than 200 people worldwide. Experts fear that the virus could mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans and cause a pandemic.

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Nearly 9.7 Million Children Died Worldwide in 2006: U.N. Report

In 2006, nearly 9.7 million children under age 5 died worldwide, mostly from preventable causes such as malnutrition, diarrhea or malaria, according to the U.N. Children's Fund annual report released Tuesday.

On average, more than 26,000 children under age 5 die each day. The agency said many of those deaths could be prevented through simple measures, such as vaccinations, insecticide-treated bed nets and vitamin supplements, the Associated Press reported.

In 2006, Sierra Leone had the highest child death rate (270 per 1,000 births), followed by Angola with 260, and Afghanistan with 257. The worldwide rate was 72 deaths per 1,000 births and the average rate in industrialized countries was six deaths per 1,000 births.

But the U.N. agency noted that there has been some progress. The global death rate for children under age 5 has declined 23 percent since 1990. Nearly one-third of the world's 50 least developed countries have reduced child death rates by at least 40 percent since 1990, the AP reported.

However, the rate of improvement must increase to reach a U.N. goal of decreasing the 1990 global child death rate by two-thirds before 2015.

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Ty Inc. Won't Recall Lead-Tainted Toys From Illinois Stores

U.S. toy maker Ty Inc. is refusing to recall toys that violate Illinois lead safety standards from store shelves in the state, which may sue to company to force it to comply with the law, the Associated Press reported.

Tests by the Chicago Tribune found that red vinyl shoes on three Jammin' Jenna dolls exceeded Illinois lead levels. The dolls are part of the Ty Girlz toy line.

Initially, Ty Inc. said it would remove all Jammin' Jenna dolls from Illinois stores, but later reversed its position and said it would not recall the dolls already in stores. The company said the state ban on toys that contain more than 600 parts per million of lead is superseded by federal law, which has a higher limit, the AP reported.

Both the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and the state attorney general's office contend that Illinois' lead standard is valid because states are allowed to adopt their own rules where no federal law exists.

Scott Wehrs, Ty Inc.'s chief operating officer, declined to comment on the matter, the AP reported.

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