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Health Highlights: June 13, 2007

Environmental Improvements Could Save 13 Million Lives a Year: WHO Cod Liver Oil May Help Prevent Depression Cannondale Recalls Mountain Bikes With Faulty Forks Early Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer Identified FDA Announces Tomato Safety Initiative EU Approves New Flu Vaccine

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

Environmental Improvements Could Save 13 Million Lives a Year: WHO

Reducing indoor air pollution and improving sanitation are among the environmental improvements that could save 13 million lives worldwide each year, concludes a report released Wednesday by the World Health Organization.

Environmental health hazards threaten the lives of people in all countries, but have a much more significant impact in poor nations. In poorer nations, people lose 20 times more healthy years of life than people in richer nations.

The document noted that poor sanitation and indoor air pollution caused by solid fuels used for cooking and heating account for 10 percent of deaths in 23 countries, Bloomberg news reported.

The WHO said that children under age 5 are especially vulnerable to environmental risk factors. For example, children in that age group account for about 74 percent of all deaths from diarrhea caused by poor water and sanitation.

Climate change, ultraviolet radiation, damage to agriculture, and workplace hazards (including exposure to chemicals) are among other environmental causes of death cited by the WHO, Bloomberg reported.

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Cod Liver Oil May Help Prevent Depression

A spoonful of cod liver oil a day may help reduce the risk of depression by as much as 30 percent, according to a Norwegian study that looked at almost 22,000 people, ages 40-49 and 70-74, BBC News reported.

The study, conducted from 1997 to 1999, found that 2.5 percent of people who took cod liver oil had depressive symptoms, compared with 3.8 percent in the rest of the population.

The researchers also suggested that the longer a person took cod liver oil, the less depressed they became, BBC News reported. The study appears in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Cod liver oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to offer a number of health benefits, including reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer.

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Cannondale Recalls Mountain Bikes With Faulty Forks

Connecticut-based bicycle maker Cannondale is recalling about 6,700 mountain bikes with carbon and aluminum forks that can break, causing the rider to lose control, fall and suffer serious injuries, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday.

So far, Cannondale has received 15 reports of bicycle forks breaking. In five of those cases, riders suffered injuries including a broken collarbone, concussion, broken ribs and bruises.

The recall involves Lefty Speed SL and Lefty Speed DLR Forks on bicycles sold between June 2006 and May 2007. Consumers should stop using bikes with the recalled forks, which will be repaired free of charge at authorized Cannondale dealers.

For more information, call Cannondale at 1-800-245-3872 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or go to the company's Web site at www.cannondale.com.

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Early Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer Identified

Bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and frequent or urgent need to urinate may be early signs of ovarian cancer so women who have these symptoms for more than a few weeks should see their doctors, new recommendations from a coalition of cancer experts suggest.

It was long believed that ovarian cancer gave no warning signs until it was far advanced, which is why it is considered one of the deadliest cancers. The new recommendations are the first official recognition that ovarian cancer does cause symptoms at earlier stages in many women, The New York Times reported.

The new recommendations -- from the American Cancer Society, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists -- are expected to be formally announced on June 25.

It's hoped that the new recommendations will increase doctor and patient awareness about early symptoms of ovarian cancer, which could help prolong patient survival and possibly save lives, the Times reported.

The new recommendations have been endorsed by more than a dozen other groups, including CancerCare, Gilda's Club and several medical societies.

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FDA Announces Tomato Safety Initiative

In an effort to reduce the incidence of tomato-related foodborne illness, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has launched a multi-year Tomato Safety Initiative.

The program -- a collaborative effort between the FDA and state and agriculture departments in Florida and Virginia -- will identify practices or conditions that can cause contamination of tomatoes and will evaluate the need for additional safety research, education and outreach.

Several universities and members of the produce industry are also taking part in the program, which the FDA announced on Tuesday.

Over the past decade, 12 different foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States have been caused by fresh and fresh-cut tomatoes. There were 1,840 confirmed cases of illness in those outbreaks, most of which were traced to tomatoes from Florida and the eastern shore of Virginia, the FDA said in a prepared statement.

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EU Approves New Flu Vaccine

The European Union has approved a new flu vaccine called Optaflu, made by Swiss drug maker Novartis AG. The drug has also been approved in Iceland and Norway.

Company officials say the use of proprietary cell culture technology to produce Optaflu represents a major advance in flu vaccine production, the Associated Press reported. The increased flexibility and reliability of the manufacturing process will help meet demand for seasonal vaccines, as well as vaccines that can be used in the event of a pandemic, according to Novartis.

It's expected that Optaflu will be available in Austria and Germany for the next flu season and will be available in the other 25 EU countries by the 2008-09 flu season, the AP reported.

Novartis said that it will probably apply next year for approval in the United States.

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