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Health Highlights: March 19, 2003

Too Few New Yorkers Get Screened for Colon Cancer Undeclared Peanuts Result in Candy Platter Recall Increase in Female HIV Rates Food Supply is Vulnerable to Attack: Audit Habits May Contribute to Nearsightedness Artificial Heart Patient Dies Bayer Cleared in Cholesterol Drug Lawsuit

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

Too Few New Yorkers Get Screened for Colon Cancer

Less than half of New York City residents over age 50 have been screened for colon cancer, and the rate of screening is especially low among blacks, say two surveys released Tuesday.

A survey by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that 44 percent of blacks over age 50 had ever had a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to check for colon cancer, The New York Times reports.

The same survey found that the colon cancer screening rates were 51 percent for Asians, 45 percent for Hispanics and 53 percent for whites.

A second survey was done by the New York Academy of Medicine along with a group of medical schools and research centers. That survey found that screening rates for city residents over age 50 were 34 percent for blacks, 28 percent for Hispanics, 30 percent for Asians and 48 percent for whites.

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Undeclared Peanuts Result in Candy Platter Recall

A candy platter that may contain undeclared chocolate peanuts is being recalled, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The recall affects the "Fancy Candy Platter" sold in 28 ounce plastic trays and made by J&D Fine Foods of Brooklyn, N.Y. The platter was sold exclusively at Stop & Shop supermarkets in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York.

The platter is a six-compartment plastic tray with a combination of items that may include chocolate-covered peanuts and raisins, chocolate-covered and/or yogurt-covered pretzels, non-pareils, juju fish, and super sour worms.

A sticker on the label reads J&D Fine Foods Fancy Candy Platter. The UPC code is 7-32426-14003-8. There are no lot codes on the containers.

People who have an allergy to peanuts may suffer a serious or life- threatening allergic reaction if they eat this product. No illnesses have been reported to date.

Consumers who purchased the product can return it to their local Stop & Shop for a full refund. For more information, phone J&D fine foods at 1-866-533-6637.

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Increase in Female HIV Rates

A European study says that HIV infection rates among women are catching up with infection rates in men.

Health care analyst Isis Research looked at 3,000 people across Europe being treated for HIV infection between July and October 2002, BBC News Online reports.

The study says the increased rates of HIV infection in women are linked to a surge in HIV infection via heterosexual contact.

It found that 51 percent of people newly diagnosed with HIV were infected through heterosexual contact, while 36 percent were infected through homosexual contact. The remainder of new infections were contracted through non-sexual contact, such as needle-sharing.

Ten years ago, 38 percent of HIV infections were contracted through homosexual contact and 28 percent through heterosexual contact.

Experts warn that the shift toward more HIV infections through heterosexual contact could result in more babies being born to mothers with HIV, BBC News Online reports.

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Food Supply is Vulnerable to Attack: Audit

The U.S. government is not able to guarantee the security of the nation's food processing plants, making the food supply vulnerable to terrorist attack, the General Accounting Office (GAO) says.

On the eve of war with Iraq, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is asking food companies, retailers and farmers to bolster their security efforts, the Associated Press reports. Even so, the independent Congressional investigators from the GAO say the government lacks the authority to require food processing plants to share their security plans with federal regulators.

Many food manufacturers disagree with the GAO assumption, the AP reports, fearing that if they shared their security plans and that information was somehow made public, it would make them more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman says her department has increased security at crucial USDA buildings, following this week's upgrading of the nation's terror level from yellow to orange, indicating a high risk of attack.

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Habits May Contribute to Nearsightedness

A person's genes are most responsible for whether he or she is nearsighted, but reading habits also can be a factor, the Boston Globe reports of new research.

Nearsighted children spend an average of two hours more per week studying or reading than children with 20/20 vision, an Ohio State University study concludes. But the researchers warn that since so much of a child's risk depends on whether his or her mother and father are nearsighted, parents should not quash a child's desire to read.

The Ohio State scientists also found that nearsighted children spend as much time as normal-sighted children playing video games, which appears to discount a link between video games and vision problems.

The study involving 366 eighth-graders is published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

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Artificial Heart Patient Dies

The ninth American to receive the experimental AbioCor artificial heart has died, 54 days after the device was implanted.

The death of David J. Propps, 66, of Lexington, Ky., leaves only two of the 10 recipients of the self-contained plastic/titanium heart still alive, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Propps had the device implanted during a 10-hour procedure Jan. 22 at Jewish Hospital in Lexington. He never left the hospital and was unable to get out of bed unassisted, the newspaper quotes his son as saying.

The only surviving recipients of the device are living in Lexington and Houston, the Herald-Leader says.

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Bayer Cleared in Cholesterol Drug Lawsuit

Bayer Corp. has been cleared of liability in a $560 million lawsuit over its cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol.

A Texas jury handed down the verdict Tuesday after 2 1/2 days of deliberation, the Associated Press reports.

The suit was being watched closely because it's the first of more than 8,000 Baycol cases against Bayer to go to trial.

This suit was filed by 82-year-old Hollis Haltom. He says that as a result of taking Baycol, he developed a muscle-wasting disease that severely weakened his legs.

Bayer has acknowledged the link between Baycol and the muscle-wasting disease. But the company says it acted responsibly when it withdrew the drug from the market in 2001 after it was linked to dozens of deaths worldwide.

Bayer has already paid out $125 million to settle about 450 Baycol-related cases, the AP reports.

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