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Health Highlights: June 26, 2006

23,000 Pacemakers and Defibrillators Recalled Inexpensive Test Predicts Kidney Cancer Spread HPV Test for Cervical Cancer Proves Effective 1st Cases of Bird Flu From Wild Fowl Documented 1 Million Chocolate Bars Recalled for Salmonella Digital Handheld Device Helps Blind People 'Read'

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

23,000 Pacemakers and Defibrillators Recalled

An electrical flaw in nearly 23,000 pacemakers and defibrillators led Boston Scientific Corp. to recall the devices on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

The company also asked doctors to evaluate 27,000 patients in whom potentially faulty devices are already implanted, the wire service said.

The recall involves certain Insignia and Nexus brand pacemakers, Contak Renwal TR/TR2 pacemakers, and Ventak Prizm 2, Vitality, and Vitality 2 defibrillators.

It's the second time Boston Scientific has issued a warning about products made by Guidant Corp. since Boston Scientific acquired the company in April, the AP said.

Boston Scientific President Jim Tobin said it may be as long as two years before the design, manufacturing, and supplier problems that plagued Guidant before the acquisition are resolved. Last year, nearly 300,000 Guidant devices were involved in recalls or warnings, the wire service said.

The latest recall involves an electrical component called a low-voltage capacitor in devices that are already -- or were about to be -- implanted. Boston Scientific said no deaths have been attributed to the faulty components, but said four patients required surgery to replace the devices.

The company asked doctors to watch for signs of a faulty capacitor, including batteries that die prematurely or devices that stop working as intended, the AP said.


Inexpensive Test Predicts Kidney Cancer Spread

An inexpensive, yet reliable test can identify kidney cancer tumors that are most likely to spread to other parts of the body, University of Massachusetts researchers say.

The test for the protein IMP3 was studied in 501 kidney-cancer patients. Those with IMP3-positive tumors were almost six times more likely to have their cancers spread (metastasize), and were four times more likely to die from the disease than people with IMP3-negative tumors, the researchers said.

The results offer new hope for people whose localized kidney cancer has been surgically removed, said study author Zhong Jiang. The present standard is a course of "watchful waiting" to see if the cancer returns or spreads elsewhere, he said.

Results are published in the July issue of The Lancet Oncology.


HPV Test for Cervical Cancer Proves Effective

A new regimen including a DNA test for human papillomavirus (HPV) may be more effective than the traditional smear test in detecting early stage cervical cancer in younger women, researchers say.

Scientists at the Center for Cancer Prevention in Turin, Italy, and at McGill University in Montreal studied 11,000 women ages 25 to 34. Half received a conventional smear test and the rest received the new regimen, including a DNA test for HPV together with a test called liquid-based cytology.

In a statement, the researchers said the new strategy allowed them to detect more high-grade precancerous lesions than the conventional smears. The earlier detection, the scientists wrote, offered these women a better chance of cure.

The study appears in the July issue of The Lancet Oncology.


1st Cases of Bird Flu From Wild Fowl Documented

Four people from Azerbaijan are the first confirmed cases of bird flu being passed from wild fowl, Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported Monday.

The four victims died after they plucked the feathers from dead swans to sell for pillows, the newspaper said. Three other people were infected the same way but survived.

Most of the 220 other documented cases of bird flu have been transmitted to people via infected domestic birds, the newspaper said. A few are believed to have acquired the deadly H5N1 strain from other people.

The Azerbaijani cases were first reported in March, but were only recently confirmed. Six of the seven victims, all between ages 10 and 20, were from the same family. Hunting and harvesting wild birds is illegal in Azerbaijan, and surviving family members finally conceded to plucking the feathers from the dead birds, The Guardian said.


1 Million Chocolate Bars Recalled for Salmonella

British candymaker Cadbury Schweppes says despite the recall of 1 million chocolate bars for possible salmonella contamination, the rest of its candy remains safe, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The company said a batch of chocolate used to make the bars had been contaminated with waste water from a leaky pipe at a factory in Marlbrook, England, in January. The products were recalled as a precaution, the company said, despite tests that found only "minute traces" of bacteria, the AP reported.

The British government said it was investigating why Cadbury didn't alert authorities earlier, the wire service said.

A spokesman for Cadbury, the world's largest confectionary company, said, "Our products are perfectly safe. We'd gone through our rigorous testing process."

Britain's Health Protection Agency told the wire service it was too early to determine whether the contamination might be linked to 45 cases of a rare strain of salmonella reported in Britain over the past four months.


Digital Handheld Device Helps Blind People 'Read'

A new electronic device that combines a personal digital assistant and a digital camera promises to help blind people to understand everything from menus to cooking instructions, the Associated Press reported Monday.

"It's not quite like having a pair of eyes that work, but it's headed in that direction," James Gashel, executive director at the National Federation of the Blind, told the wire service.

Users position the reader over a document, taking a snapshot of the text. The image is then read by the handheld's synthetic voice.

The device, developed by inventor Ray Kurzweil, has been dubbed the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader. It's set to go on sale Saturday for about $3,500, the AP said.

Gashel labeled the technology the biggest breakthrough for the 10 million blind and visually impaired people in the United States in three decades. He calls it "the camera that talks."

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