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Health Highlights: March 21, 2008

China Orders Tighter Controls on Heparin Production Certain Motor Vehicle Features Benefit Seniors Toys Recalled for Lead Paint Danger Diabetes-Related Amputations Increase Among U.S. Hispanics Health Canada Issues Advisory About Carbamazepine Tap Water Suspected in Colorado Salmonella Outbreak

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

China Orders Tighter Controls on Heparin Production

China's drug agency has ordered local authorities to tighten control on the production of the blood thinner heparin. The move is a reversal of the agency's previous position that ensuring the quality of Chinese-made compounds was the responsibility of importers and importing countries, the Associated Press reported.

Tainted heparin has been linked to 19 deaths in the United States and hundreds of allergic reactions. Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it had found a contaminant called oversulfated chondroitin sulfate in batches of Chinese-made heparin distributed by U.S. pharmaceuticals company Baxter International Inc.

In an order posted Friday on its Web site, China's State Food and Drug Administration said heparin producers must obtain the raw chemicals used to make heparin from registered suppliers, who must improve their product management and testing, the AP reported.

Both U.S. and Chinese authorities are continuing their investigations into how the heparin batches became contaminated with oversulfated chondroitin sulftate, which is not a naturally occurring substance. Officials haven't confirmed if the contaminant actually caused the dangerous allergic reactions.


Certain Motor Vehicle Features Benefit Seniors

When older adults are looking for a new vehicle, they should consider features such as a thicker steering wheel, wide-angle mirrors, large dashboard controls, and six-way adjustable seats, according to the AAA (American Automobile Association) and the Florida National Older Driver Research and Training Center.

The Smart Features for Mature Drivers program recommendations -- meant to address the physical, visual and cognitive changes that affect older drivers -- were announced Friday at the New York International Auto Show.

A recent AAA survey found that 43 percent of drivers over age 55 have at least one of nine common age-related driving difficulties, such as reduced range of motion, arthritic joints, diminished fine motor skills, and trouble with night vision and recovery from glare.

"There are ways to counteract the difficulties brought on by age-related changes so that seniors can maintain their safe driving abilities. One of these is through proper use of particular vehicle features," Dennis McCarthy, co-director of the National Older Driver Research and Training Center and a research assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Public Health, said in a prepared statement.

Other recommendations include keyless entry and ignition and the purchase of four-door models, because the doors require less strength to open and close than those on two-door models.


Toys Recalled for Lead Paint Danger

Two more recalls of Chinese-made toys that violate the U.S. lead paint standard have been announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

One recall involves about 198,000 toy puzzle vehicle sets distributed by Merchant Media Corp. of Framingham, Mass., and sold exclusively by QVC. The 16-piece Puzzle Track Play (also known as Battery Operated Puzzle Vehicle sets) have QVC item number T16876 printed on the exterior of the brown box packaging.

The sets should be taken away from children and returned to QVC for a full refund. For more information contact QVC at 1-800-367-9444, the CPSC said.

The second recall involves about 13,000 Camouflage Easter Egg treat containers and Easter Spinning Egg Tops imported by Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. of Oklahoma City, Okla., and sold at Hobby Lobby stores nationwide.

The recalled containers, sold in packages of eight, are white, brown and green camouflage colors and have Item # 1031 printed on the front of the packaging. The UPC code number 43078 01031 is printed on the back of the packaging.

The Easter Spinning Egg Tops were sold in packages of a single egg and a rip cord. Item # 1054 is printed on the front of the packaging and the UPC code number 43078 01054 is printed on the back of the packaging.

The camouflage egg containers sold for about $2.50 and the spinning egg tops sold for about $2. Consumers should take these toys away from children and contact Hobby Lobby to receive a $3 exchange card.


Diabetes-Related Amputations Increase Among U.S. Hispanics

Between 2001 and 2004, hospitalizations of adult Hispanics for diabetes-related foot or leg amputations increased from 63 per 100,000 people to nearly 80 per 100,000, says the latest News and Numbers summary from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

During that same period, the hospitalization rate for diabetes-related amputations among whites remained at about 28 to 31 per 100,000. Among blacks, the rate decreased from 113 per 100,000 to 104 per 100,000, which is still more than three times higher than the rate for whites.

Diabetes-related leg or foot amputations typically occur because the disease reduces blood circulation. In addition, diabetes-related nerve damage can impair a person's ability to feel a blister or other sore, which increases the risk of infection.

Diabetes is the leading cause of leg or foot amputations in the United States. About 86,000 Americans had diabetes-related amputations in 2004. Proper care by doctors and diabetes patients can reduce or eliminate the risk of amputation.

But the AHRQ summary noted that only 38 percent of Hispanic diabetes patients age 40 and over had three recommended annual screenings -- foot exams, eye exams and blood sugar level checks -- in 2004, compared to 47 percent for both whites and blacks.


Health Canada Issues Advisory About Carbamazepine

Reports of serious skin reactions in people of Asian ancestry have prompted Health Canada to issue an advisory about the drug carbamazepine, commonly used to treat epilepsy, mania, bipolar disorder and the facial disorder trigeminal neuralgia, CBC News reported.

"Serious and sometimes fatal skin reactions known as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis have been known to occur very rarely with carbamazepine," the health advisory says. "While all patients treated with carbamazepine are at risk of these skin reactions, the risk is approximately 10 times higher in Asian countries than in Western countries."

Health Canada said a genetic test can identify people of Asian ancestry who may be at increased risk of developing serious skin reactions when taking the drug, CBC News reported. Anyone considering taking carbamazepine should talk to their doctor about this genetic test, the health agency advised.

Any patients who aren't experiencing any skin reactions should not stop treatment before they discuss the matter with their doctor. Any patients taking the drug should immediately consult a doctor if they have any symptoms of serious skin reactions, such as rash, red skin, blistering of the lips, eyes or mouth, or peeling skin accompanied by fever, Health Canada warned. Patients who've experienced skin reactions while taking the drug should not take it again.


Tap Water Suspected in Colorado Salmonella Outbreak

Tap water is being investigated as the possible cause of 47 confirmed and 76 suspected cases of salmonella among residents of the southern Colorado community of Alamosa, about 160 miles south of Denver.

Health officials said Alamosa's tap water tested positive for bacteria believed to be salmonella, but they're still waiting for final test results to confirm that, the Associated Press reported. Investigators are still looking into the cause of the contamination.

Residents of the community of about 8,500 people have been told to boil tap water for 15 seconds to kill the bacteria, or to use bottled water instead of tap water for brushing teeth, cooking, drinking, washing dishes and making baby formula.

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