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Health Highlights: June 1, 2016

First U.S. Penis Transplant Patient Heads Home Gene Database Gives Insights Into Breast, Ovarian Cancers Canada Considering Plain Packaging for Tobacco Products U.S. Death Rate Rises for First Time in Decade General Mills Flour Brands Recalled

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

First U.S. Penis Transplant Patient Heads Home

The first patient to receive a penis transplant in the United States has been discharged from the hospital three weeks after his 15-hour surgery.

Thomas Manning, 64, left Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on Wednesday and was traveling back to his hometown of Halifax, Mass., the Associated Press reported.

Manning said he can now urinate after two follow-up procedures were performed, but sexual function is months away from becoming a reality, the wire service said.

After being diagnosed with penile cancer in 2012, Manning's penis was amputated. He has never married and has no children, according to the AP.

Manning said he hopes to make a full recovery and that his body will accept the transplant. He is the third man in the world to receive a new penis, following transplants in South Africa in 2014 and China in 2005, the AP reported.


Gene Database Gives Insights Into Breast, Ovarian Cancers

A BRCA gene database can help women better understand their genetic risk for breast and ovarian cancer, researchers say.

Women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are at increased risk for the cancers. The database collects information on variants of the two genes and can help doctors identify women more likely to develop the cancers and create more personalized prevention and treatment plans, USA Today reported.

Patients' BRCA data is gathered from public and private labs that join the database. Since the BRCA Share database was launched a year ago, nearly 1,000 scientists from 49 countries have registered to use it for research, USA Today reported.

The database includes more than 6,200 BRCA variants, not all of which have been classified. That includes 375 BRCA gene variants with previously unknown roles.

Scientists say 93 percent of BRCA variants don't carry a higher risk of cancer, while the remaining 7 percent are highly likely to cause cancer, USA Today reported.

The results from the first year of use of the database were presented Wednesday at 6th International Biennial Meeting of Human Variome Project Consortium (HVP6) at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.


Canada Considering Plain Packaging for Tobacco Products

The Canadian government announced Tuesday public consultation on plain packaging for tobacco products.

"I don't believe tobacco companies should be allowed to build brand loyalty with children, for a product that could kill them," said Health Minister Jane Philpott, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"Research shows that plain packaging of tobacco products is an effective way to deter people from starting to smoke and will bolster our efforts to reduce tobacco use in Canada," she added.

More than five million Canadians use tobacco, resulting in nearly $4.4 billion in annual direct health care costs, according to government data. The public consultation will continue until the end of August.

Plain packaging laws require similar color and font on all tobacco products, and also regulate the size and shape of products, WSJ reported.

Australia and the U.K. have introduced plain packaging for tobacco products.


U.S. Death Rate Rises for First Time in Decade

Increasing numbers of people dying from drug overdoses, suicide, Alzheimer's disease and heart disease helped drive up the death rate in the United States last year for the first time in a decade, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The death rate increased from 723.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014 to 729.5 in 2015, The New York Times reported.

The suicide death rate rose from 12.7 in the third quarter of 2014 to 13.1 in the third quarter of 2015, the death rate for overdoses rose from 14.1 in the second quarter of 2014 to 15.2 in the second quarter of 2015, and the death rate from unintentional injuries (including car crashes and drug overdoses) rose from 39.9 in the third quarter of 2014 to 42 in the same quarter of 2015.

The rate of death from Alzheimer's disease increased from 25.4 in 2014 to 29.2 in 2015, The Times reported.

The death rate in the U.S. has been falling for years due to improvements in health, medical technology and disease management, so the increase in 2015 surprised experts.

A severe flu season pushed the death rate up in 2005, AIDS and the flu contributed to a sharp increase in 1993, and there was a slight rise in 1999.

If the death rate continues to rise, it could be a sign of problems in the health of the nation, according to federal researchers.

"It's an uptick in mortality and that doesn't usually happen, so it's significant," Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Times.

"But the question is, what does it mean? We really need more data to know. If we start looking at 2016 and we see another rise, we'll be a lot more concerned," he added.

"We are not accustomed to seeing death rates increase on a national scale," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research Andrew Fenelon, who did not work on the paper, told The Times.

"We've seen increases in mortality for some groups, but it is quite rare to see it for the whole population," he explained.

If the trend continues, the U.S. would fall further behind its European counterparts, according to Fenelon.

"Many countries in Europe are witnessing declines in mortality, so the gap between the U.S. and other countries is growing," he told The Times.

Some experts believe a rising death rate among working class whites is a major factor in the rise of the overall U.S. death rate.

"This is probably heavily influenced by whites," Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal, told The Times. "It does sort of fit together."


General Mills Flour Brands Recalled

Possible E. coli contamination has prompted the recall of Gold Medal flour, Wondra flour and Signature Kitchens flour, General Mills says.

To date, no E. coli has been found in any of these products sold at Safeway, Albertsons, Jewel, Shaws, Vons, United, Randalls, and Acme, in any other General Mills flour products, or in the flour manufacturing facility, according to the company.

State and federal officials are investigating 38 cases of illnesses in 20 states caused by E. coli O121 between Dec. 21, 2015 and May 3, 2016. About half of the patients said they made something homemade with flour prior to becoming ill, and some reported using a General Mills flour brand.

E. coli O121 can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration and is potentially deadly. Those most at risk are seniors, very young children and people with weakened immune systems.

Consumers with any of the recalled products should not use them. People with questions can visit General Mills' website or call 1-800-230-8103.

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