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Health Highlights: July 30, 2002

Belgium Bans Tablets, Gum Containing Fluoride FTC Recommends Measures to Prevent Generic Drug Delays Remington Hair Dryers Recalled for Electrical Hazard FDA Warns of Contaminated Romaine Lettuce Britain Buys Wrong Smallpox Vaccine, Researcher Says Huntington's Disease Treatment Shows Promise

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

Belgium Bans Tablets, Gum Containing Fluoride

Fluoride tablets and chewing gum that are marketed to protect teeth from decay are being banned in Belgium due to concerns about their risk of causing assorted health problems, reports the Xinhau News Agency .

The ban, which does not include toothpastes containing fluoride, was prompted by research indicating that excessive use of fluoride products could lead to fluoride poisoning, cause nervous system damage and weaken the bones from osteoporosis.

The ban will likely go into effect in late August. It is the first such ban in the 15-nation European Union and is likely to revive some debate over the safety of fluoride. The chemical is added to public drinking water in many countries, including the United States, to improve dental health.

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FTC Recommends Measures to Prevent Generic Drug Delays

The Federal Trade Commission is recommending legislation to prevent drug companies from delaying the release of generic drugs sold by competitors, and requiring that drug companies disclose any agreements they enter into involving the sale of generic drugs.

The FTC's report, presented today, was prompted by research into whether pharmaceutical firms try to keep lower-priced generics off the market, reports the Associated Press.

The commission has expressed concern that some drug companies make payments to, or have other arrangements with, generic companies to delay or even stop generic drugs from making it to market.

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Remington Hair Dryers Recalled for Electrical Hazard

About 3,000 hair dryers made by Remington are being recalled due to missing plugs that are necessary to cut off electrical current when the dryers touch water.

The dryers are 1,600-watt Remington Vortex Ultra hair dryers. They were sold at Kmart, Sears, Target and other retailers across the country from July 2000 to January 2001, reports the Associated Press.

The model V-1030 hairdryers have a 0-74590-87541-6 UPC number, a chrome body, and black heat and speed controls.

The words "Remington Vortex Ultra" are printed on one side and "Do Not Immerse In Water" and "Made in China" are on the other.

Remington initially recalled the hair dryers in March 2001. The new recall was announced as a precautionary measure, even though there have been no reports of electrocutions from the hair dryers, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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FDA Warns of Contaminated Romaine Lettuce

Consumers shouldn't eat Spokane Produce brand romaine lettuce, which may be contaminated with E coli 0157:H7 bacteria, the Food and Drug Administration warns.

The product has been linked to an outbreak of E coli at a Washington state cheerleading camp in mid-July, which sickened 29 people. A company spokesman denied the product was at fault, but welcomed an FDA investigation, the Associated Press reports.

The 5-pound packages of lettuce were believed distributed primarily in Idaho, Montana, and Oregon. Consumers are being advised to throw away any remaining product.

E coli infection can lead to bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps, and can cause death among people with weakened immune systems -- including the very young and elderly.

The FDA says the last known illness related to the lettuce occurred on July 19, suggesting that most of the suspect product may no longer be on the market. But the agency says the product could still be on some store shelves, or stored in consumers' refrigerators. The lettuce has a shelf life of approximately two weeks.

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U.K. Government Buys Wrong Smallpox Vaccine

The British government is defending itself against news reports that it bought the wrong type of vaccine to defend against smallpox in the event of a terrorist attack.

American researcher Steve Prior, a senior scientist at the Potomac Institute, says the Lister strain of vaccine ordered by the British government has not been proven to work against endemic smallpox, The Times of London reports. The purchase was made from a company called PowderJect, which is run by a prominent donor to Britain's Labour Party.

Health ministers reportedly rejected the strain of vaccine purchased by the United States, even though it was available at the time of purchase from a rival British company.

A Department of Health spokesman defends the purchase, saying it was based on unpublished expert advice. Conservative Party officials, however, are requesting a government probe into the matter.

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Huntington's Disease Treatment Shows Promise

A bile acid naturally produced by the body in small amounts has shown promise in slowing the progress of Huntington's disease in mice, reports the Associated Press.

The fatal brain disorder is inherited; at present, there is no cure or vaccine.

University of Minnesota researchers say the bile acid, known by the abbreviation TUDCA, protected the brain cells of mice from the effects of the Huntington's gene. They caution, however, that many more studies are needed before the substance can be tested in humans.

Huntington's disease, caused by a single defective gene, afflicts about one in every 10,000 babies born worldwide. Symptoms affecting personality, judgment, and mood can appear at virtually any age. Once they do, the disease will lead to death in 10 to 25 years, the AP reports.

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