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Health Highlights: May 12, 2008

Scientists Closer to Developing Botulinum Toxin Antidote Munchkin Baby Bottle and Food Warmers Recalled Nickel in Cheap Earrings Common Cause of Earlobe Dermatitis Poultry Slaughtered to Control Bird Flu Outbreak in South Korea Men More Likely to Desire Alcohol When Upset: Study Lawsuit Alleging Mercury-Autism Link to Begin in U.S. Court of Claims

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

Scientists Closer to Developing Botulinum Toxin Antidote

U.S. scientists say they've made a breakthrough in efforts to develop an effective antidote for botulinum toxin, which is a common cause of food poisoning and a potentially devastating biological weapon. One gram of the poison can kill hundreds of thousands of people, according to defense experts, BBC News reported.

The Clostridium botulinum bacterium produces seven different neurotoxins that can block the chemicals nerve cells use to communicate with each other and with muscles. This can paralyze the breathing muscles and cause suffocation.

The researchers developed a protein that blocks the effects of the most powerful of these toxins by fooling it into not attacking cells in the body, BBC News reported. It will take at least four to five years before this finding results in an approved drug, said the researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The findings are published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Currently, there are vaccines for botulinum toxin designed to be given before an attack. This research could produce as drug that would work after exposure.


Munchkin Baby Bottle and Food Warmers Recalled

About 5,000 Munchkin Inc. baby bottle and food warmers are being recalled because they can overheat and pose a fire hazard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

So far, the North Hills, Calif.-based company has received nine reports of units overheating, including several that ignited and caused damage to countertops. No injuries have been reported.

The recall involves the Munchkin Deluxe Bottle and Food Warmer with Pacifier Cleaning Basket 2-in-1 Design, model # 13301 and lot number TP-1487. The Chinese-made warmers were sold at various retailers across the United States and through the Munchkin's catalogue from June 2007 through April 2008 for about $20.

Consumers should stop using the warmers and contact the company (866-619-8673) for a free replacement, the CPSC said.


Nickel in Cheap Earrings Common Cause of Earlobe Dermatitis

Cheap earrings that contain nickel are a common cause of earlobe dermatitis, say U.S. researchers who analyzed 277 inexpensive earrings (under $50) purchased from 34 different stores and artists in San Francisco. The study authors noted that repeated exposure to nickel can make it difficult to treat earlobe dermatitis.

The tests revealed that 30.7 percent of the earrings contained at least some nickel. The highest proportion of earrings with nickel came from local artists (69 percent) and from those purchased in China Town (43 percent), United Press International reported.

The researchers also found nickel in 24 percent of earrings bought at stores targeting young women, compared to 1.7 percent of earrings from stores targeting women over age 40.

Price wasn't a good indicator of whether earrings contained nickel. For example, none of the 44 earrings that cost $5 and $8 at one store had nickel, while many earrings that cost $15 and $25 at another store did contain nickel, UPI reported.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.


Poultry Slaughtered to Control Bird Flu Outbreak in South Korea

All poultry in South Korea's capital city of Seoul have been killed in an effort to prevent the spread of bird flu following a new outbreak of the disease in the city, officials said Monday.

The slaughter of about 15,000 chickens, ducks, pheasants and turkeys began Sunday night, hours after confirmation of the city's second outbreak of bird flu in less than a week, the Associated Press reported. Authorities are now focusing on blocking any live poultry from being brought into Seoul.

Tests are being conducted to determine if the latest outbreak in the city was caused by the H5N1 virus. Results may be available as early as Monday night.

Last month, bird flu outbreaks started appearing in southern parts of South Korea for the first time in more than a year, which led to the slaughter of more than 6.8 million birds, the AP reported.


Men More Likely to Desire Alcohol When Upset: Study

Men are more likely than women to want alcohol when they're upset, suggests a U.S. study that examined emotional and alcohol-craving responses to stress.

The study included 27 women and 27 men who were healthy social drinkers. They listened to three types of stories -- stressful, alcohol-related and neutral/relaxing -- in separate sessions on separate days, United Press International reported.

The participants' emotional, behavioral/bodily, and cardiovascular responses to the stories were assessed using heart rate and blood pressure monitoring, along with self-reported alcohol cravings.

"After listening to the stressful story, women reported more sadness and anxiety than men, as well as greater behavioral arousal," first author Tara M. Chaplin, of Yale University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement. "But for men ... emotional arousal is linked to increases in alcohol craving. In other words, when men are upset, they are more likely to want alcohol."

Chaplin and her colleagues found that men had greater blood pressure response to stress, but didn't report greater sadness and anxiety, UPI reported. The researchers said this may mean that men are more likely to try to distract themselves from physiological arousal, possibly by consuming alcohol.

The study is published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.


Lawsuit Alleging Mercury-Autism Link to Begin

A preservative containing mercury and once widely used in childhood vaccines becomes the topic of a U.S. lawsuit this coming week as two Oregon families seek to prove that the substance caused two 10-year-old boys to develop autism.

The Associated Press reported that the boys' families are the first of 4,900 families to charge in court that the preservative thimerosal does indeed trigger autism in some children. The case is being heard in the U.S. Court of Claims.

A number of studies in recent years have found there was no evidence that thimerosal had any link to the onset of autism after a child had received one or more of the standard childhood vaccinations, the wire service said. In 2004 a committee from the Institute of Medicine concluded that thimerosal did not cause autism when used as a vaccine preservative, the AP reported.

Today, however, only the influenza vaccine contains thimerosal. The attorneys for the boys must prove that autism was caused by the vaccines, which at the time the children were injected contained thimerosal, the wire service reported.

According to interviews and examination of the court documents, the AP reported that the plaintiffs will attempt to present evidence that injections with thimerosal deposit a mercury variant in the brain. This, in turn, excites certain brain cells, which leads to autism.

"In some kids, there's enough of it that it sets off this chronic neuroinflammatory pattern that can lead to regressive autism," attorney Mike Williams told the AP.

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