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Health Highlights: July 31, 2006

Don't Eat Raw Oysters from U.S Pacific Northwest: FDA Effects of Nicotine Therapy Fades Over Time: Study Illness Hits More than 300 Cruise Ship Passengers Anti-Smoking Guru Has Lung Cancer U.S. Track Athlete Failed Drug Test Surroundings Influence Consumption: Study

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

Don't Eat Raw Oysters from U.S Pacific Northwest: FDA

Consumers should not eat raw oysters from the U.S. Pacific Northwest because some of them may be contaminated with bacteria called Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp), which can cause gastrointestinal illness, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

While Vp can cause mild gastrointestinal symptoms in healthy people, older people and those with weak immune systems may suffer more severe problems, including a blood infection (septicemia).

In recent months, there has been an unusual increase in the number of reported cases of bacterial illness associated with eating raw oysters from the Pacific Northwest. Until the threat of Vp in these oysters has passed, consumers should thoroughly cook all oysters harvested from this area, the FDA said.

Consumers should also thoroughly cook oysters if they aren't certain of the oysters' origins. Cooking destroys the bacteria.

Oysters from the Pacific Northwest are distributed across the United States. Although most of the reported illnesses have occurred in the Pacific Northwest, some cases have also been reported in New York State.

Officials in Washington State are identifying and closing affected oyster beds, the FDA said. They've also initiated a recall of all shell stock oysters (oysters in the shell) harvested from areas that have been closed.


Effects of Nicotine Therapy Fades Over Time: Study

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) may not be as effective at helping smokers kick the habit as previously believed, say Swiss researchers who reviewed studies that included more than 4,800 adults.

The scientists found that 30 percent of those who had used NRT were smoking again a year or more after they quit, BBC News reported. The study appears in the journal Tobacco Control.

The University of Geneva researchers said earlier studies failed to track smokers over the long term and that most of the evidence for existing treatment guidelines is based on results seen in patients six to 12 months after a single course of NRT treatment.

The researchers said this data fails to take into account the large number of people who start smoking again at a later date, BBC News reported.

"What our analysis showed is that the effect of NRT fades away over time," said lead researcher Dr. Jean-Francois Etter.


Illness Hits More than 300 Cruise Ship Passengers

More than 300 passengers on the cruise ship "Mariner of the Seas" suffered nausea and diarrhea after being infected with the norovirus on a voyage last week. It's the second such outbreak on the ship this year, Florida Today reported.

The outbreak affected 328 of the 3,600 passengers on a seven-day cruise. The first signs of norovirus-related illness appeared on Wednesday. In response, sick passengers were quarantined in their cabins and were given over-the-counter medications. Crew members gave out hand sanitizing solution to passengers.

The source of the outbreak was traced back to a passenger who had flu-like symptoms before the ship left port last Sunday, Florida Today reported.

When the ship docked in Port Canaveral, crew members used spray bottles of cleaner to wipe down rails, deck chairs and other high-traffic areas. The process was monitored by investigators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After it was cleaned, the ship left on Sunday evening for the Caribbean.


Anti-Smoking Guru Has Lung Cancer

Allen Carr, a British anti-smoking advocate whose books and international clinics have helped millions of people quite smoking, has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Carr, 73, quit his 100-cigarette-a-day habit 23 years ago. Since then, he's written international bestsellers on kicking the habit and has established 70 stop-smoking clinics in 30 countries, BBC News reported.

Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Richard Branson are among the celebrities who have benefited from Carr's methods for quitting smoking.

A spokesman for Carr said it's not possible to tell if the lung-cancer diagnosis is linked to Carr's previous cigarette smoking, the BBC reported.

"Allen has spent many years in smoke-filled rooms since he quit, whilst treating smokers for their addiction," the spokesman said. "He is certain that, had he not quit, he would have been dead 20 years ago. He remains in high spirits and sees this latest stage in his remarkable life as an opportunity to make his method even more recognized and widely available."


U.S. Track Athlete Failed Drug Test

U.S. track star Justin Gatlin, the current world record holder in the 100 meters and reigning Olympic champion in the event, revealed Sunday that he had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, The New York Times reported.

The case will be considered by a review panel of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Gatlin faces a possible lifetime ban from track and field.

In a statement released through a publicist, Gatlin said a test at the Kansas Relays on April 22 came back positive for "testosterone or its precursors," but he denied taking any banned drugs, the Times reported.

"I cannot account for these results, because I have never knowingly used any banned substance or authorized anyone else to administer such a substance to me," Gatlin said in the statement.

His admission about failing the drug test comes just days after it was announced that American cyclist and 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis had tested positive for a testosterone imbalance during the race. If a second test confirms the result, Landis could be stripped of his title, the Times reported.


Surroundings Influence Consumption: Study

The size of a can of soda, a serving on a plate, or an ice cream scoop can be an important factor in determining how much people consume, says a U.S. study that provides new evidence that cues from your surroundings influence how much you eat.

This "unit bias" refers to the tendency to think that a single unit of food -- no matter the size -- is the proper amount to consume, the Associated Press reported.

"Whatever size a banana is, that's what you eat, a small banana or a big banana," and "whatever's served on your plate, it just seems locked in our heads: that's a meal," University of Pennsylvania researcher Andrew Geier told the AP.

In one experiment, Geier and his colleagues placed a bowl of M&Ms in the lobby of an apartment building, along with a sign that said the candy was free and people could eat all they wanted. During the 10-day experiment, the researchers put out different-sized spoons -- a tablespoon or a spoon that held a quarter cup.

On the days that the larger spoon was out, people ate about two-thirds more M&Ms than when the tablespoon was placed with the bowl, the AP reported.

Geier said culture influences what people regard as an appropriate food unit. For example, yogurt containers in American food stores are larger than those found in French stores. But French consumers don't make up the difference by eating more containers of yogurt.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

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