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Health Highlights: June 30, 2007

New Mexico to Begin 'Unique' Medicinal Marijuana Program China Promises to Help Improve Quality of Imported Seafood Veggie Snack Recalled for Salmonella Risk English Smoking Ban Begins Sunday Plane Travel Boosts Blood Clot Risk: WHO Bacterium's Genome Transplanted

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

New Mexico to Begin 'Unique' Medicinal Marijuana Program

New Mexico is getting into the marijuana business.

Beginning July 1, New Mexico joins 11 other states that protect from prosecution those who use marijuana medicinally. But, as the Associated Press reports, there's an added irony in this particular law: The state will be required to grow and distribute the marijuana used for medical purposes.

There is a reason for this, the wire service reports. State health officials want to make sure that the cannabis being used meets the standards for medical treatment. Marijuana is often used by those suffering from diseases that cause pain, and also by those whose treatment brings abour nausea and depression.

The new Mexico law specifically mentions approved marijuana use for cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and HIV-AIDS, and also by some patients in hospice care.

"The long-term goal is that the patients will have a safe, secure supply that doesn't mean drug dealers, that doesn't mean growing their own," Reena Szczepanski, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, told the A.P.

There still is one obstacle. The U.S. government doesn't recognize marijuana as a medicinal drug, so theoretically, the New Mexico employees who grow and distribute the drug could be subject to federal prosecution, the wire service reports.

The state doesn't have a specific answer for that, but Dr. Steve Jenison, who heads up the marijuana growth and distribution program for New Mexico, told the A.P. that it is unique and might be acceptable to the U.S. government. "The production part is unprecedented," Jenison said. "No other state law does that. So we're trying to be very thoughtful in how we proceed."

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China Promises to Help Improve Quality of Imported Seafood

The Chinese government says it will cooperate with U.S. regulators to improve the safety of food imported to the United States, but its response to the latest partial ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on imported seafood was far from humble.

Dr. David Acheson, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's assistant commissioner for food protection, Thursday identified the banned fish as catfish, basa (similar to catfish), shrimp, dace (similar to carp) and eel, which he said may contain chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic.

The New York Times reports that the Chinese government said Friday that it would work with the United States to improve the quality of food it imports, but it urged a quick resolution and claimed that U.S. food imports to China also had quality problems. "Just like the U.S. imported food in China, there are quality problems with aquatic products that are exported to the U.S. by some Chinese enterprises," the Times quotes a statement on a Chinese government Web site.

China is the third largest importer of seafood to the United States, and the problem of quality is not a new one. "There have been problems with farmed fish products produced in China and exported to the U.S. since 2001," Margaret O' K. Glavin, FDA's associate commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, said Thursday during a teleconference. For example, in 2006, the FDA placed a countrywide alert on all Chinese eel due to residues of malachite green, Glavin said.

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Veggie Snack Recalled for Salmonella Risk

A snack called Veggie Booty is being recalled nationwide due to possible contamination with salmonella bacteria, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported.

The product, made by Robert's American Gourmet Food Inc., of Sea Cliff, N.Y., is sold in foil bags of 4-ounce, 1-ounce, and half-ounce sizes.

Consumers are urged to throw any packages of the product away. Veggie Booty is often eaten by children, and parents are urged to watch for signs of gastrointestinal illness in any youngster who has already eaten the product, the FDA advised Thursday.

The agency has had 52 reports of illness in 17 states, beginning in March. Almost all of the victims have been children under age 10, mostly toddlers. Four were hospitalized with symptoms including bloody diarrhea. The FDA said it learned of the illnesses on June 27 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is investigating the outbreak. The product also is sold in Canada.

In addition to bloody diarrhea, other symptoms of salmonella poisoning may include abdominal cramps and fever. Symptoms usually begin within four days of exposure, the FDA said.

People with weaker immune systems, including the young and elderly, are especially prone to salmonella poisoning.

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English Smoking Ban Begins Sunday

A ban on smoking in public buildings starts Sunday in England, to include pubs, restaurants, and even Buckingham Palace, the Associated Press reports.

Taxi and delivery drivers also face a £50 fine if they light up inside their cars, the wire service said.

England joins France, Spain, Italy, Iran, Norway, Sweden, Singapore, South Africa, Uruguay and New Zealand in passing federal legislation to restrict smoking. The United States has no federal policy, but some states, including New York and Florida, have imposed some of the globe's most stringent laws against smoking, the AP said.

Public smoking is already restricted in the rest of Britain, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Despite these bans, the World Health Organization predicts there will be an additional 2 billion smokers worldwide by 2030, the wire service said.

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Plane Travel Boosts Blood Clot Risk: WHO

Long airline flights of four hours or more double a passenger's risk of dangerous blood clots, a new World Health Organization (WHO) study concludes.

Clots called venous thromboembolisms (VTE) usually form in the legs and can be deadly if they travel to the lungs.

A similar risk applies to people who travel for long periods by car, bus or rail, the Bloomberg news service reported. Each year, more than 600,0000 people in the United States contract a VTE that travels to the lungs, referred to as a pulmonary embolism. About 10 percent of these people die, Bloomberg reported.

Other activities linked to such clots include the use of drugs such as estrogen and birth control pills, and childbirth within the past six months, the news service said.

In a statement, the WHO urged air carriers to provide passengers with information about these risks, including current prevention advice that encourages leg exercise and avoiding prolonged sitting.

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Bacterium's Genome Transplanted

Human genome sequencing pioneer J. Craig Venter and his colleagues say they have successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacteria into another, The New York Times reports.

Venter directs a nonprofit research laboratory that bears his name in Rockville, Md. He said the achievement was the first step in creating a synthetic bacterium, which could ultimately be used to produce an alternative to fossil fuels and limit the effects of global warming, the newspaper reported.

Experts praised the Venter announcement as a landmark accomplishment, but said it was among a long series of steps required before synthetic chromosomes could be adapted to living cells, the Times said.

The research is published in the online version of Science.

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