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Health Highlights: July 2, 2007

Many With Food Allergies Ignore Warnings: Study New Medicare Task Force Fights Equipment Fraud FDA Approves Generic Lamisil for Fungal Infections Chronic Stress Can Help Spur Obesity: Study Doctors Preserve Eggs from Young Cancer Patients

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

Many With Food Allergies Ignore Warnings: Study

Some 12 million Americans are allergic to at least one type of food, and a growing number of them are ignoring advisory warnings that appear on food labels, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) said Monday.

The label warnings state that the product could unintentionally contain an allergen by virtue of being produced at a facility that makes other products that contain allergens, the FAAN said. So-called "advisory labeling" is unregulated and is voluntary, the network said.

In study results published in the July issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers said 75 percent of food allergy sufferers surveyed in 2006 heeded the advisory warnings, down from 85 percent in 2005. The study was conducted by the FAAN and the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

"We believe that allergic consumers are increasingly ignoring the advisory labeling because the warnings are now used so frequently that consumers assume they are not serious," said study co-author Dr. Scott Sicherer of the Jaffe Institute.

The researchers said the wording of these advisories made a significant difference. A warning stating "may contain [allergen]" was heeded by 88 percent of those surveyed, while only 65 percent heeded a warning stating "made in a facility that uses [allergen]," the FAAN said.

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New Medicare Task Force Fights Equipment Fraud

Medicare has established a "fraud strike force" to combat fraudulent suppliers of medical equipment including motorized wheelchairs, nebulizers, prosthetics and orthotic supplies, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced Monday.

The two-year initiative, launched in South Florida and Southern California, has already led to charges being filed against 56 people in Florida, accused of fraudulently billing Medicare for more than $258 million, Leavitt said in a statement. The initiative involves federal, state and local investigators.

A similar operation last year in Los Angeles resulted in 770 suppliers having their Medicare billing privileges revoked, the statement said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services hopes to expand the program nationwide, Leavitt added.

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FDA Approves Generic Lamisil for Fungal Infections

The first generic versions of prescription Lamisil (terbinafine hydrochloride), used to treat fungal infections of the toenail or fingernail, have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Remaining patents for the brand-name drug, made by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, expired at the end of June, the agency said. Fourteen manufacturers were granted license to produce a generic equivalent.

The FDA said Lamisil tablets were the 57th highest selling brand name drug in the United States, citing the online trade magazine Drug Topics.

The agency said it also approved a generic version of over-the-counter Lamisil cream to treat athlete's foot.

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Chronic Stress Can Help Spur Obesity: Study

An international team of researchers say a biological switch may promote obesity in chronically stressed people, the Washington Post reported.

Scientists led by researchers at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., say they've identified a neurochemical pathway in mice that triggers fat growth among animals that eat a high-fat, high sugar diet. Blocking signals to this pathway could prevent fat from accumulating and actually shrink existing fat deposits, the researchers said.

"There is a lot of uncontrollable stress right now in our societies," Mary Dallman at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in a commentary accompanying the research. "This could help explain the obesity epidemic."

The researchers cautioned that their findings need to be replicated in people, the Post reported. Human testing could begin within two years, they added.

Results of the research are published online in the journal Nature Medicine.

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Doctors Preserve Eggs from Young Cancer Patients

Israeli scientists say they have extracted eggs from girls as young as five who have cancer, possibly giving these patients a way to conceive when they reach maturity.

Aggressive chemotherapy needed to fight childhood cancer sometimes causes infertility, and the artificially matured eggs may someday enable pregnancy for these girls, who ranged between five and 10 years of age, said researchers from Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem.

The eggs were extracted and then frozen, BBC News Online reports. The researchers were to present their findings at a fertility conference in Lyon, France, later this week.

Researchers have experimented with freezing ovarian tissue from young cancer patients, which theoretically could be implanted back in their bodies when they are older. But scientists feared this tissue could also contain cancerous cells, a possibility that's eliminated with the egg harvesting technique, BBC reported.

In related news, Canadian doctors announced the first birth of a baby conceived from eggs that were artificially matured, the Bloomberg news service reported Monday.

The eggs had been removed, matured in the laboratory, then frozen. The new procedure offered hope to women who cannot mature their eggs inside their bodies, the researchers said.

The procedure "has the potential to become one of the main options for fertility preservation, especially for patients who cannot have ovarian stimulation and all patients who do not have enough time to undergo ovarian stimulation," Bloomberg quoted lead author Hananel Holzer at Montreal's McGill Reproductive Center as saying.

Three other women are now pregnant after having the treatment, the researchers said.

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