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Health Highlights: June 14, 2002

Feds Order Anti-Nuke Pills Hospitals Say Resident Work Restrictions Will Hurt Plantain Chip Recall Revised Starch-Blocker Pill Could Thwart Diabetes Flu Season Was 'Mild to Moderate' Outdoor Propane Heaters Recalled

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

Feds Order Anti-Nuke Pills

With threats of radioactive "dirty bombs" and nuclear plant attacks lurking, the federal government this week started stocking up on anti-radiation pills.

A total of 350,000 potassium iodide pills were ordered from the North Carolina-based NukePills.com, representing 9 percent of the company's business this year, according to the Associated Press.

The pills were ordered by agencies including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Energy and the Department of Health and Human Services the news srvice says.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security, said the pills are being stockpiled "in case of a nuclear event," and not in response to an arrest this week of Jose Padilla, a suspected al-Qaeda member believed to have been planning to detonate a dirty bomb in Washington.

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Hospitals Say Resident Work Restrictions Will Hurt

New limits on the numbers of hours medical residents-in-training can be allowed to work that were announced this week may backfire by substantially increasing costs, reports the New York Times.

The rules, announced by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which accredits major teaching hospitals, will go into effect in July, 2003, and limit the average work week for residents to 80 hours and prohibit shifts of longer than 24 hours.

The rules were designed to prevent overworked residents from making errors in caring for patients.

But some hospitals say the restrictions will force them to hire professionals at much higher pay to perform some of the tasks normally assigned to residents.

Dr. Peter Herbert, the chief of staff for Yale-New Haven Hospital, a teaching affiliate of the Yale School of Medicine, told the Times he estimates that the cost for some hospitals could run into the millions of dollars. "For academic medical centers, the impact is going to be profound," he said.

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Plantain Chip Recall Revised

If you've got a craving for plantain chips this weekend - - be careful. The makers of Chifles brand Spicy Plantain Chips and Spicy Cassava Chips have revised a recall of about 3,400 bags of the chips made yesterday to including packages dated through Sept. 11.

Yesterday's announcement, made by Plantain Products, only included chips dated through June 11, but the company said some of the 2-, 4-, and 8-ounce packages carried expiration dates as late as Sept. 11, reports the Associated Press.

The recall was made because the ingredient list on packages did not include the mention of whey protein, which is a common allergen.

The affected products were distributed to stores in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the company said.

Consumers with questions may call the company at (813) 626-9486.

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Starch-Blocker Pill Could Thwart Diabetes

People who may be prone to getting diabetes could benefit from a pill that blocks the digestion of starch, according to a study published this week in The Lancet.

Pre-diabetes, which doctors refer to as impaired glucose tolerance, affects some 16 million Americans, half of whom are expected to develop full-blown diabetes within a decade. The drug tested in the study, acarbose, cut participants' chances of progressing to diabetes by 25 percent, the journal report says.

Marketed by Bayer in the U.S. as Precose, the drug has been approved to treat diabetes for nearly a decade, the Associated Press reports. But its use has been limited due to unwelcome side effects, including diarrhea and flatulence.

The Bayer-funded study involved 1,400 people from nine countries. After more than three years, 32 percent of patients on acarbose had progressed to diabetes, compared to 42 percent of those who took placebos, the report says.

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Flu Season Was 'Mild to Moderate'

Last winter's flu season peaked in late February and was "mild to moderate," reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for June 14 says an influenza B strain that had not been detected in this country for more than a decade began to circulate, primarily toward the end of the season. Next year's flu vaccine will include the strain, the report says.

The CDC does not release exact numbers of cases, although it says some outbreaks of influenza B are still being reported, especially among schoolchildren.

The agency issued a reminder that it's important to vaccinate people at particular risk for flu, including the elderly and those with asthma, heart or lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease and immune disorders.

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Outdoor Propane Heaters Recalled

The Brinkmann Corp., of Dallas, Tex., is voluntarily recalling 45,000 outdoor tabletop propane heaters, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. The heaters pose a risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

The company says it has one report of a CO death involving use of the heater inside of a camper.

The affected heater, model number 883-1000-0, is about 33 inches tall and operates with a disposable 1-lb. propane tank, commonly sold in outdoor and camping stores. The product, made in China, also has battery-operated "mood lighting" around its base.

Retailers including Wal-Mart, Menards, and Galyan's sold the heater from September 2001 through May 2002 at a range of prices up to $100.

Consumers should stop using the heater immediately. Call Brinkmann at (800) 675-5301 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday to request a refund.

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