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Health Highlights: May 3, 2010

Gulf Oil Slick No Threat to Human Health Lynn Redgrave Dies of Cancer Faulty Genes Cause Paget's Disease: Study Risky Eyelash Treatment Easy to Get Without Prescription FDA Plans to Improve Food Safety During Transport

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

Gulf Oil Slick No Threat to Human Health

The massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico poses little risk to human health, experts say. The source of the slick is a broken underwater pipe where a BP oil rig exploded and sank on April 20.

"I think that people get afraid about health effects when these events happen, and rightfully so," LuAnn White, director of the Center for Applied Environmental Public Health, told ABC News. "But what we see from oil spills is more ecological effects than human health effects."

Oil emits gases called volatile compounds, which can be toxic and cancer causing. But this spill is far from shore, making it highly unlikely that anyone on the coast will be exposed to these gases, said White, who is working with the Louisiana state health department to assess the effects of the oil slick.

She added that tests by the Environmental Protection Agency have not detected any evidence of dangerous airborne chemicals in coastal areas, ABC News reported.

Direct contact with, or ingestion of, oil does pose health risks. But that threat mainly affects clean-up crews, who are well-trained and have special protective equipment, Dr. Marcel Casavant, chief of pharmacology and toxicology at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told ABC News.


Lynn Redgrave Dies of Cancer

Actress Lynn Redgrave died Sunday night after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 67.

Her publicist said Redgrave's children and friends were with her when she died at her home in Connecticut, the Associated Press reported.

"Our beloved mother Lynn Rachel passed away peacefully after a seven year journey with breast cancer," Redgrave's children said in a statement released Monday. "She lived, loved and worked harder than ever before. The endless memories she created as a mother, grandmother, writer, actor and friend will sustain us for the rest of our lives. Our entire family asks for privacy through this difficult time."

The Oscar- and Tony-nominated actress became famous when she played the title role in the 1966 film "Georgy Girl." She appeared in a number of films, Broadway productions and television shows.

A private funeral will be held later this week, the AP reported.


Faulty Genes Cause Paget's Disease: Study

Faults in three genes cause the majority of cases of a painful bone condition called Paget's disease, researchers say.

They analyzed the DNA of 1,250 patients with Paget's and found that they had more faults than normal in three genes believed to regulate bone repair. Together, these gene faults account for 70 percent of cases of the disease, said the researchers, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Nature Genetics.

The finding, which may explain why family history is a major risk factor for the condition, could lead to a screening test for Paget's disease.

"This is important since we know that if treatment is left too late, then irreversible damage to the bones can occur," said project leader Professor Stuart Ralston, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, BBC News reported. "If we were able to intervene at an early stage with preventative therapy, guided by genetic profiling, this would be a major advance."


Risky Eyelash Treatment Easy to Get Without Prescription

People who buy Latisse, a treatment used to grow eyelashes, without a prescription may be putting themselves at risk, according to health experts.

Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says a doctor's prescription is needed to obtain Latisse, the product is widely available without a prescription online and at locations such as health clubs, The New York Times reported.

"When the FDA approved this product for marketing, they made a determination that the side effects or misuse or inappropriate use could cause harm, and that's why they restricted it to a prescription drug," said Carmen A. Catizone, the executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. "If it was completely safe to use without doctor supervision, they would have deemed it over-the-counter."

Potential problems include redness, itchiness, irritation and eyelid discoloration. There's even a slight risk that Latisse could change a person's eye color from hazel or blue to brown.

Without a doctor's guidance, patients may face "a cumulative risk," Dr. Andrew G. Iwach, executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco, told The Times. "Let's say you use the product once inappropriately, or outside the approved guidelines, you might get away with it, but this drug is being applied repeatedly over weeks, months and potentially years. The consequences, or risk of consequences, add up over time."


FDA Plans to Improve Food Safety During Transport

New guidance to improve the safety of foods during transport were issued today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The standards are designed to reduce physical, chemical and biological risks during transportation of food products for people and animals while the FDA reviews current food safety transportation regulations.

Among the guidance measures: maintain foods at proper temperatures during transport and closely monitor food for pests; vehicles used to transport food should be sanitary and in proper working condition; sanitary measures should be followed during the loading and unloading of foods.

The FDA is accepting input on writing the new rules. After evaluating the input from interested parties, the agency will propose specific regulations.

"Our aim is to look at every component of the system to assess hazards, and to take science-based action where appropriate to maximize the safety of our food from farms all the way to consumers' tables," Jeff Farrar, FDAs associate commissioner for food protection, said in a news release. Although contamination of food product during commercial transport is relatively infrequent, the potential harm can be widespread and serious."

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