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Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2008

2 Fatal N.Y. Meningitis Cases Not Linked, Officials Say Malnutrition in Early Pregnancy May Spawn Addictions in Offspring U.S. Study Finds High Mercury Levels in Fresh Tuna FDA Repeats Notice of Recalled Heparin and Saline Flushes Camera in Pill Detects Signs of Esophageal Cancer Recalled Fish May Contain Bacteria: FDA

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

2 Fatal N.Y. Meningitis Cases Not Linked, Officials Say

Two fatal cases of bacterial meningitis struck a high school guidance counselor and a 17-year-old high school senior over a 24-hour period and within a few miles of each other in New York, but the deaths are most likely coincidental, The New York Times reported.

Both incidents occurred on Long Island, one of them in the New York City borough of Queens and the other a few miles southeast in the town of Massapequa. The Queens case involved 27-year-old LeeAnne Burke of Bellerose, who became ill earlier in the week, was hospitalized and died Friday. The Massapequa meningitis illness struck Michael Gruber, 17, a senior at Massapequa High School, Wednesday afternoon after he took a state exam and began exhibiting flu-like symptoms, the newspaper reported.

Gruber was rushed to the hospital Thursday morning and died that afternoon.

"We have to recognize that this is a scary disease for people, but you have to put into perspective how rare it is," Dr. Don Weiss, director of surveillance for the New York City Department of Health's bureau of communicable disease, told the newspaper. "It's a freak situation when it gets communicated."

Dr. Abby Greenberg, acting commissioner for the Nassau County Department of Health, told the Times that all people who had been in close contact with Gruber had received antibiotics.

About 10 percent of the 3,000 to 4,000 cases of meningococcal meningitis reported in the United States each year are fatal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include a sore neck, headaches, flu-like symptoms and a high fever.

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Malnutrition in Early Pregnancy May Spawn Addictions in Offspring

What happened in the Netherlands more than 60 years ago has given researchers clues to an association between deprivation and addiction.

The food shortage that occurred in Holland at the end of World War II, known as the "winter hunger," had a special effect on pregnant women, researchers from the Dutch mental health care organization Bouman GGZ and Erasmus University Rotterdam found.

The severe food deprivation caused the offspring of these women to be more prone to addiction later in life, the scientists concluded in a study published in the latest issue of the journal Addiction.

According to a news release from the journal, the researchers studied men and women born in Rotterdam between 1944 and 1947, which is when the severest famine occurred. The Germans imposed a strict food ration on the Netherlands in retaliation for action by Dutch resistance fighters. Food supplies declined to extremely low levels between February and May 1945, resulting in starvation when average daily food consumption dropped to below 1,000 calories.

Lead author Ernst Franzek said the study found that the addictive effect was probably created during the first trimester of pregnancy. The findings "point up the adverse influence of maternal malnutrition on the mental health of the adult offspring, and give rise to great concern about the possible future consequences for the hunger regions in our world," Franzek said in the news release.

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U.S. Study Finds High Mercury Levels in Fresh Tuna

Concentrations of mercury in store-bought tuna, as well as tuna sold in sushi restaurants, are almost double the level recommended as unsafe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a new national survey.

Oceana, a Washington, D.C.-based ocean conservation group, released the results of the nationwide survey. The survey involved independent laboratory testing of 94 samples of fish and sushi bought at grocery stores and sushi restaurants in 26 American cities. The fish tested included tuna (steaks and sushi), swordfish, tilapia and sushi mackerel.

Mercury concentrations in tuna steaks purchased from grocery stores averaged 0.68 parts per million (ppm) -- nearly double the FDA's estimate of 0.38 ppm for fresh or frozen tuna, Oceana said. Mercury levels in tuna sushi were even higher, at 0.86 ppm on average.

Oceana noted that in 2004, the FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally advised women of childbearing years to limit consumption of canned albacore tuna and tuna steaks to 6 ounces per week or less, due to mercury's effects on the developing fetus.

"We were shocked that mercury levels in tuna were as high as those in many of the fish on FDA's 'do not eat' list," Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's senior campaign director, said in a statement.

Her group believes the FDA should now include fresh tuna on its "do not eat" list. Oceana is also urging that major grocery chains better inform consumers of the risk, including posting information where fish is sold.

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FDA Repeats Notice of Recalled Heparin and Saline Flushes

Pre-filled syringes containing either the anti-clotting agent heparin or normal saline solution may be contaminated with a dangerous bacterium and are being recalled by the manufacturer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration repeated Friday.

Both types of pre-filled syringe are manufactured by North Carolina-based AM2 PAT Inc. The products were distributed nationwide under two brand names, Sierra Pre-Filled Inc. and B. Braun.

The company voluntarily recalled these products on Jan. 18 after confirming contamination with Serratia marcescens bacteria. Infections with Serratia marcescens are capable of causing life-threatening illness or death, the FDA said.

Consumers or facilities who have any of the recalled products should stop using them immediately and return them to the distributor or place of purchase, the agency said.

The following products and codes are affected:

NDC # CATALOG # Product Name
Sierra Pre-Filled Products
64054-1003-02 1003-02 Heparin Lock Flush 100units/ml 5ml
64054-1003-01 1003-01 Heparin Lock Flush 100units/ml 3ml
64054-3005-02 3005-02 Heparin Lock Flush 10units/ml 5ml
64054-3003-02 3003-02 Heparin Lock Flush 10units/ml 3ml
64054-3003-06 3003-06 Heparin Lock Flush 10units/mL 3ml (6ml syringe)
64054-3005-06 3005-06 Heparin Lock Flush 10units/mL 5ml (6ml syringe)
64054-0910-2 0910-12 Normal Saline Flush 10ml
64054-0905-2 0905-12 Normal Saline Flush 5ml
64054-0903-2 0903-12 Normal Saline Flush 3ml
B. Braun Products
64054-3005-02 513610 Heparin Lock Flush 10units/mL 5mL
64054-1003-01 513611 Heparin Lock Flush 100units/mL 3mL
64054-1003-02 513612 Heparin Lock Flush 100units/mL 5mL
64054-0903-2 513584 Normal Saline IV Flush 3mL
64054-0905-2 513586 Normal Saline IV Flush 5mL
64054-0910-2 513587 Normal Saline IV Flush 10mL

Any adverse reactions associated with use of these products should be reported to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

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Camera in Pill Detects Signs of Esophageal Cancer

A tiny camera that fits inside a pill that can be swallowed to assess people for warning signs of esophageal cancer has been developed by University of Washington researchers. They say it's more comfortable and less expensive than current endoscopy methods.

The camera in the pill is designed to take high-quality, color photos in confined spaces, CBC News reported. Patients don't have to be sedated to swallow the pill, which is tethered to a 1.4 millimeter wide cord.

Its first use to scan for signs of esophageal cancer in a human will be reported in an upcoming issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

"Our technology is completely different from what's available now. This could be the foundation for the future of endoscopy," lead author Eric Seibel, a professor of mechanical engineering, said in a prepared statement, CBC News reported.

A condition called Barrett's esophagus, marked by changes in the lining of the esophagus, often precedes cancer. Detection of Barrett's esophagus can help prevent cancer. But the expense of screening means that many people aren't diagnosed until they have esophageal cancer, which has a survival rate of less than 15 percent, the report said.

"These are needless deaths. Any screen that detected whether you had a treatable condition before it turned into cancer would save lives," Seibel said.

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Recalled Fish May Contain Bacteria: FDA

Bags and bulk boxes of frozen salted/dried yellow croaker fish that may be contaminated with dangerous Clostridium botulinum bacteria are being recalled by Seoul Shik Poom Inc. of Hillside, N.J., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

This type of bacteria can cause botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning that includes symptoms such as trouble speaking and swallowing, difficulty breathing, abdominal distention, constipation, general weakness, dizziness, and double-vision.

The recall includes bags and boxes of frozen salted/dried yellow croaker ranging from 2.2 pounds to 30.83 pounds that were distributed in New York, New Jersey and Maryland and sold to consumers through retail stores, the FDA said.

Routine testing detected the possibility of contamination. To date, there have been no reported illnesses related to the recalled fish.

Anyone with these products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. For more information, contact Seoul Shik Poom Inc. at (908) 810-7230.

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