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Health Highlights: July 24, 2007

Discard Any Cans Linked to Botulism Outbreak: FDA Latest Echinacea Study Finds It Fights Colds Pottery Barn Recalls Crib Bumpers Illinois Bans Public Smoking Circumcision Can Slow AIDS Spread, Conferees Told

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

Discard Any Cans Linked to Botulism Outbreak: FDA

Consumers who have any of the 90 canned products linked to a botulism outbreak involving Castleberry's Food Co. should throw out the cans immediately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

"You're talking tens of millions of cans that may have been involved," Robert Brackett, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told the Associated Press.

Castleberry's, which on Monday announced the closing of the Augusta, Ga., plant at the center of the outbreak, has hired an outside company to help rid the nation's 8,500 retail outlets of any affected product. A list of recalled items is provided by the FDA here.

Four cases of botulism -- two in Texas and two in Indiana -- have been linked to Castleberry's Hot Dog Chili Sauce Original. Other products, including additional brands of canned chili, beef stew, and corned beef hash, were produced at the same plant and are being recalled as a precaution, the company said.

The chili sauces are the only products that have tested positive for the bacterium Clostridium botulinum that causes botulism, a rare but deadly illness that can paralyze the breathing muscles. Symptoms, including blurred vision and slurred speech, generally begin within 36 hours of eating contaminated food, the AP said.

Botulism is normally prevented in canned food by sufficiently heating the product to a high enough temperature. Castleberry's Senior Vice President Dave Melbourne acknowledged that botulism developed in the chili sauce products because they were undercooked, the wire service reported.

Castleberry's said consumers should throw away any of the recalled product in doubled plastic bags. They should not bring the recalled product back to the grocery store, but instead should contact Castleberry's for a refund at 1-888-203-8446.


Latest Echinacea Study Finds It Fights Colds

The latest in a recent series of conflicting studies of echinacea finds the herb does have a substantial effect on preventing colds or limiting how long they last, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The latest findings, published in the July issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, combined the results of 700 prior studies to come up with a larger patient sample.

The analysis found that echinacea reduced a person's risk of catching a cold by 58 percent, the Times said. While the herb also shortened the duration of the average cold, the University of Connecticut researchers said they couldn't extrapolate by exactly how much.

"Our analysis doesn't say that the stuff works without question," said UConn professor of pharmacy practice Dr. Craig Coleman, senior author of the study. "But the preponderance of evidence suggests that it does."

The study authors said they had only evaluated echinacea's effectiveness in preventing colds, not the herb's overall safety.


Pottery Barn Recalls Crib Bumpers

Pottery Barn is recalling 31,000 Matelassé crib bumpers, which include decorative edge stitching that can come lose and pose an entanglement hazard to infants, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Tuesday.

Pottery Barn Kids has two reports of the stitching coming lose, but neither involved an injury, the CPSC said.

crib bumper recall

The product, made in Portugal, was sold online and at Pottery Barn Kids stores nationwide from February 2003 through June 2007 for about $90.

Consumers are urged to stop using the bumpers immediately and to contact Pottery Barn Kids for a refund. The toll-free number is 877-800-9720.


Illinois Bans Public Smoking

Illinois is the latest U.S. state to ban smoking in public places, including bars, restaurants, and office buildings.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the anti-smoking legislation Monday that takes effect Jan. 1.

Smokers will still be able to light up in their homes, cars, at tobacco shops, in some motel rooms, and outdoors, the Associated Press reported. Individual violators can be fined up to $250, and businesses face a maximum fine of $2,500.

The law supersedes weaker local ordinances passed by Chicago and dozens of other communities that now exempt businesses with certain filtration systems and for other reasons, the AP said.

While the United States has no federal policy on smoking, some states, including New York and Florida, have imposed some of the world's most stringent anti-tobacco laws, the AP reported.


Circumcision Can Slow AIDS Spread, Conferees Told

Circumcision should be endorsed by governments worldwide as a key way to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS, a U.S. expert told attendees Tuesday at an international AIDS conference in Sydney, Australia.

University of Illinois epidemiology professor Robert Bailey said African studies showed that uncircumcised men were 2 1/2 times more likely than circumcised men to contract HIV from infected women, the Associated Press reported.

He urged international leaders to issue statements endorsing the practice, noting that global agencies would otherwise be reluctant to voice support for the procedure -- for fear of being seen as imposing foreign values, the wire service said.

The World Health Organization has said that male circumcision reduces the transmission of HIV from infected women to men by about 60 percent. But only about 30 percent of the globe's men have had the procedure, the wire service said.

Circumcision is believed to be an effective way of slowing the spread of HIV because skin cells in the foreskin are thought to be especially vulnerable to the virus, the AP said.

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