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Health Highlights: July 5, 2006

Mercury-Based Vaccines Not Linked to Autism: Study Should Children Be Labeled Obese? Candles Sold at Pier 1 Pose Fire Hazard Grandma Was Right: Heat Relieves Pain Canada Confirms 6th Case of Mad Cow Disease

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

Mercury-Based Vaccines Not Linked to Autism: Study

Vaccines that contain mercury do not lead to an increased risk of autism, Canadian researchers have found.

The findings were reported in the journal Pediatrics by McGill University Health Center scientists, who examined patterns between the developmental disorder and vaccines in 28,000 children. They found autism rates were actually higher in children given shots after thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, was eliminated from shots. The scientists also found no connection between autism and the combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism expert at Cambridge University, said more work was needed to explain why autism rates were rising. "There may also be some as yet unidentified environmental factor, but the new study suggests MMR and thimerosal are ruled out," he told BBC News Online.

Before the 1980s, one in 2,500 children was diagnosed with autism, which affects the way a person communicates and interacts with others. Now the figure is closer to one in 250, the scientists said. Concerns surfaced in the late 1990s that the MMR jab might be linked to autism, as some researchers believed the three-in-one vaccine overloaded the immune system. That research has since been discredited, but immunization rates have dropped in recent years, as parents feared for their children's safety.

"We hope this study will finally put to rest the pervasive belief linking vaccines with development diseases like autism," lead researcher Dr. Eric Fombonne said, adding that the rise in autism rates was likely caused by a broader definition of autism and greater awareness of the disorder.

Nevertheless, Jackie Fletcher of Jabs, a support network for parents who believe their children have been injured by vaccines, said the study still did not disprove the thimerosal link. "What we need, and what we have always called for, is a full and open review into the link so we can establish once and for all what the truth is," Fletcher said.


Should Children Be Labeled Obese?

Should a person under age 18 be called overweight or obese? U.S. government experts are studying a proposal to replace the diplomatic language that now labels kids who are too heavy as "at risk of overweight."

Instead, like their adult brethren, children would simply be called overweight or obese, the Associated Press reports.

The current language, adopted in 1998, avoids "obese" when describing children because of the word's stigma. But people in favor of changing the language, now backed by the government and used by many doctors, say the soft approach encourages denial of a growing problem, the AP said.

The proposal to change the language is being studied by the American Medical Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the wire service said.

Calling a child obese "may run the risk of making them angry," but it addresses a serious issue, noted Dr. Reginald Washington, who co-chairs the AAP's obesity task force. "There are a thousand reasons why this obesity epidemic is so out-of-control, and one of them is that no one wants to talk about it," he told the wire service.

Final recommendations on the proposal are expected in September, the AP said, and participating institutions will decide individually whether to adopt them.


Candles Sold at Pier 1 Pose Fire Hazard

Some 413,000 candles sold at Pier 1 Imports stores are being recalled because they pose a fire hazard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday.

The candles, made in Guatemala, can flare unexpectedly. Buyers should stop using them and return them to any Pier 1 store for a refund.

The candles include cylindrical pillars measuring 3"(d) x 4" (h), 3"(d) x 6"(h), and 4"(d) x 6"(h) with a sand layer base. The recalled models are the Cement Aspen Flower (White), SKUs 2115564, 2115577, 2115592; Cement Downpour (Grey), SKUs 2118150, 2118176, 2118189; Cement Biscotti (Khaki), SKUs 2115523, 2115536, 2115549; and Cement Citrus Cilantro (Green), SKUs 2115499, 2115508, 2115510.

To learn more, contact Pier 1 at 800-245-4595.



Grandma Was Right: Heat Relieves Pain

There's a molecular explanation for Grandma's old remedy for aches and pain: heat, British researchers found.

Applying heat of at least 104 degrees provided pain relief to the skin for up to an hour, much the way that common painkillers do, according to a University College London study reported by the Bloomberg news service.

The study clarified how heat soothed pain. Heat apparently causes the body to switch on receptors that block the chemical messengers that allow it to detect pain, the scientists said.

For hundreds of years, heat has been used to relieve back aches, muscle strains, menstrual cramps, and colic. Results of the year-long study were presented Wednesday at the Physiological Society's annual conference in London.


Canada Confirms 6th Case of Mad Cow Disease

Canada has confirmed the country's sixth case of mad cow disease, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The government said it would find out where the cow was born and whether other animals had eaten the same feed. The animal was at least 15 years old, and was born before Canada enacted strict regulations on potentially contaminated feed in 1997. Mad cow disease is believed to spread through feed because cows can ingest the tissues of other cattle.

Humans can get a related disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease by eating contaminated meat. More than 150 humans have died this way, the AP said.

Two of the six mad cow cases in Canada occurred in animals born after 1997, but the government says the food supply is safe and the actual occurrence of the disease among cows is very low, given that there are 17 million cattle in that country.

In 2003, shipments of Canadian cattle to the United States were halted when the first case of mad cow disease was reported. Last year, trade in young animals resumed, although it is not clear when trade in older animals might resume. Last week, U.S. Agriculture Department spokesman Ed Loyd told the AP that U.S. officials have a "high degree of confidence in the safeguards and mitigating measures in place in the U.S. and Canada."

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