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Health Highlights: June 24, 2002

WHO to Hold Emergency Meeting Over Research Linking Starchy Food, Cancer Seniors' Drug Prices Increase at Several Times Rate of Inflation: Report Seizures Common at 30,000 Feet Nine of 10 Sinus Headaches Really Migraines: Study Boar's Head Prosciutto Ham Recalled for Listeria Nuts Cut Sudden Death Risk in Men

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

WHO to Hold Emergency Meeting Over Research Linking Starchy Food, Cancer

Concern over recent research linking such starchy foods as potato chips and french fries with a cancer-causing substance has prompted an emergency meeting of the World Health Organization.

The meeting, which opens in Geneva tomorrow, was hastily called after a Swedish study released in April offered strong evidence that, when cooked at high temperatures, some starch-based foods -- including the potato products and certain breads -- were found to contain the substance acrylamide, reports the Associated Press.

Used in the production of plastics and dyes and for purifying water, acrylamide has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals and may cause cancer in humans.

Officials say the task of assembling 25 international health experts for the meeting in just two months is a "world record" for the WHO, and reflects the concern over the possible cancer link.

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Seniors' Drug Prices Increase at Several Times Rate of Inflation: Report

Prices for some of the most commonly used drugs by senior citizens increased at nearly triple the rate of inflation last year, says a new report.

The report, issued by the consumer group Families USA, determined the 50 top-selling drugs among senior citizens using data from the state-run prescription drug program for the elderly in Pennsylvania and then looked at price histories of the top drugs.

The group found that leading drugs, including Demadex, a diuretic, and Premarin, an estrogen replacement drug, both rose 17.8 percent -- almost seven times the rate of inflation last year. Plavix, an anti-platelet drug, rose more than six times the inflation rate, while the cholesterol-lowering Lipitor rose five times the rate of inflation, reports the Associated Press.

A spokesperson for the pharmaceutical industry criticized the report, claiming the results were misleading and didn't take into consideration varying store prices.

The release of the report comes as the U.S. House of Representatives is set to debate a Republican-backed bill to spend $310 billion over 10 years to give seniors prescription-drug benefits.

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Seizures Common at 30,000 Feet

A new study finds that neurological problems, such as epileptic seizures, are responsible for one-in-three medically related emergency landings by commercial flights, reports HealthDay.

The finding adds fuel to a running debate about having drugs for epilepsy on planes.

The report, appearing in tomorrow's issue of Neurology, comes from the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale branch in Arizona, which advises about in-flight problems to Northwest Airlines, which carries 10 percent of all U.S. passengers.

A group led by Dr. Joseph Sirven, director of the epilepsy center at Scottsdale, analyzed more than 2,000 airborne medical incidents that resulted in 312 emergency landings between 1995 and 2000. Nearly one-third of the problems arose from neurological symptoms such as severe dizziness and seizures, the researchers say, and they were responsible for 107, or 34 percent, of the emergency landings -- second only to heart problems.

The cost for these neurological-related "diversions" is about $9 million a year, the study says.

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Nine of 10 Sinus Headaches Actually Migraines: Study

Some 90 percent of physician-diagnosed or self-described sinus headaches are actually migraine-related, according to a new study, ABC News reports.

Researchers studied 2,524 people with the classic symptoms of pain in the front of the face and pressure under the eyes. But they lacked symptoms of a true sinus infection, including yellow or green discharge and fever.

"The way that doctors have been trained to diagnose migraine really does not incorporate any of these sinus-like symptoms," says study presenter Dr. Curtis Schreiber, associate director of the Headache Center in Springfield, Mo.

"It's an innocent misunderstanding," adds Dr. Joel Saper, director of the Michigan Pain and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor. Some 28 million Americans have migraines, but only half are properly diagnosed, the report says. Not every migraine has telltale symptoms including nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light.

The research was presented recently at a meeting of the American Headache Society in Seattle.

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Boar's Head Prosciutto Ham Recalled for Listeria

Boar's Head Provision Co. of Brooklyn, N.Y., is voluntarily recalling 2,300 pounds of imported cured ham that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service says.

The 16-pound packages of "Boar's Head brand boneless prosciutto di parma" were imported from Italy. Each package containing a single ham bears "I-166" inside the USDA seal of inspection. Also imprinted on each case is the foreign establishment number, "1-480L CEE."

The ham was packaged May 14-15 and distributed to stores and restaurants nationwide. FSIS says it has no reports of illness.

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis, which can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections in those with weak immune systems.

Consumers with questions may contact the company's consumer hotline at 1-800-352-6277.

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Nuts Cut Sudden Death Risk in Men

Men who eat nuts regularly have roughly half the risk of sudden cardiac death as those who don't consume the food, reports HealthDay of a study in today's issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Nuts contain unsaturated fats that aren't as hard on the arteries as their saturated siblings. Some nuts have other cardiac benefits. Walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a form of omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to boost cardiovascular health and which may prevent heart rhythm anomalies. They can also be a good source of nutrients such as vitamin E and magnesium.

Researchers led by Dr. Christine Albert of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston compared nut consumption with heart-related ailments in 21,454 male doctors participating in the Physicians' Health Study. The men, aged 40 to 84 at the start of the research project, were tracked for an average of 17 years.

Compared with those who didn't eat nuts, men who had frequently tended to be younger, exercised more, smoked less and drank moderate amounts of alcohol. Even after adjusting for these heart-healthy factors, men who said they ate at least an ounce of nuts twice a week were about half as likely as the rest to die of sudden, fatal heart rhythm disturbances. They also had 30 percent less chance of dying from coronary heart disease over time -- most of which was due to the impact on sudden cardiac death, the researchers say.

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