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Health Highlights: March 20, 2003

Smallpox Vaccinations Fall Far Below Goal Scientists Discover Chemical Signals That Prompt Hair Production Woody Dolls Recalled FDA Issues Guidelines to Protect U.S. Food Supply Too Few New Yorkers Get Screened for Colon Cancer Undeclared Peanuts Result in Candy Platter Recall

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

Smallpox Vaccinations Fall Far Below Goal

Federal health officials said Wednesday that the campaign to inoculate U.S. health care workers against smallpox is under way in all but one state.

Even so, only 21,698 health care workers out of a stated goal of 450,000 have been vaccinated to date, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told the annual Immunization Conference in Chicago, according to the Associated Press.

State and local public health workers attending to the conference were urged by CDC officials to get the voluntary vaccinations, the wire service says.

As of March 7, no life-threatening adverse reactions caused by the vaccine had been reported to the CDC, but there were 6 moderate-to-severe reactions and 8 unclassified reactions.

There have been numerous reports of people suffering rashes and itchiness after getting the smallpox vaccination.

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Scientists Discover Chemical Signals That Prompt Hair Production

The chemical signals that stimulate hair production have been identified by scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Rockefeller University in New York.

They found that 2 proteins called Wnt and noggin work together to start a complex reaction that changes the shape of a stem cell, allowing it to separate from adjoining cells and move downward.

This is an important step that's essential to the eventual formation of a hair follicle, BBC News Online reports.

The finding has potential implications beyond understanding hair development. It may also help scientists better understand the process involved in the formation of diverse structures such as teeth and lungs.

It may even help explain how, when this process goes wrong, some forms of skin cancer develop.

The study appears in the March 20 issue of the journal Nature.

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Woody Dolls Recalled

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is voluntarily recalling about 40,000 Woody dolls that have buttons that can detach and pose a choking hazard for young children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

There has been a single report of a child removing a button from the Woody doll. No injuries have been reported.

The recalled soft dolls retailed for about $12 and were sold from January 2000 through January 2003 at: Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.; Disney's Vero Beach Resort; Magic of Disney and Flight Fantastic shops at the Orlando International Airport; and Disney's Worldport shop in Pointe Orlando.

The 13-inch-tall doll is a cowboy named Woody, a character in the animated films "Toy Story" and "Toy Story II." It has a soft body with soft plastic head, hands, boots and hat. The doll is wearing blue jeans, a red/yellow-checked shirt, a black/white-spotted vest with a sheriff's badge, and a red-patterned bandana.

Consumers should immediately take the doll away from children and phone 1- 866-228-3664 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday to receive a full refund.

FDA Issues Guidelines to Protect U.S. Food Supply

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released a set of voluntary guidelines for the nation's food manufacturers, processors, and distributors, designed to protect the food supply from terrorist attack.

Part of the federal government's "Operation Liberty Shield" to bolster homeland security, the guidelines to manufacturers include suggestions to enhance import security and limit outbreaks of foodborne illness while "maintaining the free flow of goods and people across our border with minimal disruption to our economy and way of life," the agency said in a prepared statement.

The proposals also are directed at retail establishments, including bakeries, bars, cafeterias, commissaries, convenience stores, grocery stores, food service for airlines and trains, restaurants, and vending machine operators, as well as cosmetic establishments. They identify preventive measures that store operators can take to minimize security risks to their products, the agency said.

"Securing our food supply against terrorist threats is one of our most important public health priorities, especially at a time of heightened alert," said Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Food and Drug Administration. "FDA is responsible for 80 percent of what we eat. Americans depend on FDA to keep food safe and secure, and we will keep doing all we can to fulfill this critical mission."

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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 new surveys.

A poll 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 the local Stop & Shop for a full refund. For more information, phone J&D fine foods at 1-866-533-6637.

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