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Health Highlights: Oct. 3, 2011

New Labels State Alcohol Content of Four Loko Drink Velveeta Single-Serve Microwavable Cups Recalled Immune System Research Earns Scientists Nobel Prize Breast Cancer Drug Coverage Halted by Blue Shield of California Denmark Slaps Tax on Fatty Foods

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

New Labels State Alcohol Content of Four Loko Drink

The labels on super-size cans of a malt beverage called Four Loko will now inform consumers that one can contains as much alcohol as four to five cans of beer.

Chicago-based Phusion Projects agreed to relabel the 23.5-ounce cans of Four Loko under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, but did not admit any wrongdoing, the Washington Post reported.

Phusion had misrepresented the amount of alcohol in those cans as being the equivalent of one to two regular cans of 12-ounce beers instead of four to five cans, according to the FTC.

In recent years, fruity-tasting, high alcohol malt beverages have been linked to the deaths of teens in several states.

In late 2010, the FTC and the Food and Drug Administration warned Phusion and three other companies that the caffeine and other stimulants added to their malt beverages were dangerous because they can mask the feeling of intoxication, the Post reported.

All four companies have removed the stimulants from the products identified by federal officials.


Velveeta Single-Serve Microwavable Cups Recalled

Three varieties of Velveeta Shells & Cheese single-serve microwaveable cups are being recalled because they may contain small, thin wire bristle pieces, Kraft foods Inc. says.

About 137,000 cases of the affected products, which have best-when-used-by dates from March 2012 to May 2012, were distributed in the U.S., Dow Jones Newswires reported.

There have been no reports of consumer complaints or injuries, according to Kraft.

Customers are advised to return the recalled products to the store of purchase for a full refund or exchange.


Immune System Research Earns Scientists Nobel Prize

The 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to three scientists whose immune system discoveries could lead to new ways to prevent and treat infections, cancer and inflammatory disease.

The winners are American Bruce Beutler, French scientist Jules Hoffman, and Ralph Steinman, a Canadian-born researcher who worked in the U.S. and died last Friday.

The Nobel committee citation said Beutler and Hoffman received the award "for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity," and Steinman was honored for "his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity," the Associated Press reported.

"Their work has opened up new avenues for the development of prevention and therapy against infections, cancer and inflammatory disease," according to the citation.


Breast Cancer Drug Coverage Halted by Blue Shield of California

The use of Avastin to treat breast cancer will no longer by covered by Blue Shield of California. It's believed to be the first large insurer to take such action.

In June, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended that the agency rescind the drug's approval as a treatment for breast cancer. The committee said Avastin does not really help breast cancer patients, New York Times reported.

The FDA has not made a final decision and many insurers say they will wait for the agency's verdict before they re-evaluate whether they'll continue to cover the use of Avastin to treat breast cancer, which costs about $88,000 a year.

In a note posted on its Web site, Blue Shield of California said reimbursement would end Oct. 17, but "exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis." The insurer will continue to pay for breast cancer patients who are already receiving Avastin, The Times reported.

Even if the FDA revokes Avastin's approval for treating breast cancer, Medicare has indicated it will continue paying to the therapy.


Denmark Slaps Tax on Fatty Foods

Denmark has imposed a "fat tax" that's based on the amount of saturated fat in a food product.

The measure was approved in March as a way to help boost the average life expectancy of people in the country, the Associated Press reported.

The tax will add about 15 cents to the price of a burger and about 40 cents to a small package of butter, according to a government official who provided examples of the effect of the tax.

It's believed that Denmark is the first country in the world to tax fatty foods, the AP reported.

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