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Health Highlights: Oct. 2, 2002

Genetic Breakthrough in Malaria Roots Reveal Story on Blonds Was Bleached Whole Foods' Chocolate Bars Recalled Flu Vaccine Urged for Elderly, Infants Pier 1 Recalls Candleholders Your Life on Compact Disc?

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

Genetic Breakthrough in Malaria

In a breakthrough against one of the world's leading infectious killers, scientists have mapped the genetic blueprints of both the chief malaria parasite and the mosquito that most frequently shuttles it into people, reports HealthDay.

Knowing the genome of Plasmodium falciparum, one of four microbes that cause malaria, and Anopheles gambiae, the principal mosquito that transmits the microbe in Africa, could help doctors find better treatments and vaccines for the infection.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped fund the research, calls the sequenced parasite and mosquito species "equal partners in this crime of ill health" that claims the lives of nearly 3 million people a year worldwide. A third of malaria's victims are young children and infants in Africa. Roughly half a billion people a year contract the infection, which causes high fevers, chills, headaches, coma and other symptoms.

Scientists now have complete or virtually complete genetic portraits of all three players in the malaria triangle: the parasite that causes the disease, the mosquito that transmits it, and the human hosts they combine to kill.

A report on the mosquito gene-sequencing effort appears in an upcoming issue of Science.

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Roots Reveal Story on Blonds Was Bleached

It was one of the catchier stories on morning shows and evening news programs alike last week - - study shows that blonds will become extinct within 200 years. But there's just one problem, reports the New York Times - - it wasn't true.

The tale apparently got its start last Friday in several British newspapers reporting that the study in question was attributed to no less than the World Health Organization.

As picked up the papers, and later by mainstream U.S. news programs including ABC News's Good Morning America and CNN, the study concluded that blondness was caused by a recessive gene that was diminishing. The last remaining natural blonds would survive longest in Scandinavia, where concentrations are highest, according to the tale, and the last true blond would hail from Finland.

But in a statement issued yesterday, WHO said it had never conducted such a study and that it had never reported that blonds would become extinct.

British papers said the report was likely picked up from one of several news organizations used by the press. But apparently, quips the Times, the story was just too good to check for veracity.

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Whole Foods' Chocolate Bars Recalled

Organic chocolate bars sold at Whole Foods Market stores in the U.S. are being recalled because of improper labeling that might cause the bars to pose a risk to people who are allergic to nuts or dairy products, reports the Associated Press.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it has received one report of a child who suffered from hives and other allergy symptoms after consuming a bar. And importer Spruce Foods, of Prescott, Ariz., reports that another customer complained, but did not provide details.

Some of the bars contain trace amounts of dairy ingredients that aren't listed on the labels, and others that aren't supposed to contain nuts may have trace amounts because they're made on the same assembly line as chocolates containing nuts.

< p>The recalled batches include the following products: Whole Foods Organic Milk Chocolate in 30- and 100-gram sizes; Whole Foods Organic Dark Chocolate in 30- and 100-gram sizes; Whole Foods Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds in 30- and 100-gram sizes; Whole Foods Organic Espresso Creme; Whole Foods Organic Crispy White Chocolate; and Whole Foods Organic Dark with Currants/Almonds.

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Flu Vaccine Urged for Elderly, Infants

It's almost flu season again, and U.S. health officials are urging early vaccination for those most at risk, including the elderly -- and for the first time -- infants from six months to two years old.

Unlike the last two years, no vaccine shortages are expected, reports United Press International, which interviewed spokespeople for the Food and Drug Administration and the nation's three producers of flu shots -- Aventis, Evans, and Wyeth.

People at high-risk of the flu include those over age 65, and those with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, AIDS, or people undergoing chemotherapy.

The government says these people should be vaccinated by the end of October. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 20,000 Americans die of the flu each year and another 114,000 are hospitalized, UPI reports.

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Pier 1 Recalls Glass Candleholders

Pier 1 Imports is voluntarily recalling 9,200 champagne glass-shaped floating candleholders. The product, made of mouth-blown recycled glass and intended for use with floating candles, can shatter during use.

Pier 1 has received two reports of the glass candleholders shattering, though no injuries have been cited.

The product, made in Spain, is 17¼ inches high by 13 inches in diameter. The price sticker on the bottom reads "SKU#1884160."

Pier 1 Imports sold the candleholders at retail stores and online nationwide from January 2002 through May 2002 for about $25.

Consumers should stop using the candleholders immediately and return them to the store where purchased for a refund or merchandise credit. For more information, call Pier 1 Imports at 1-800-245-4595 between 8:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. CT Saturday, and 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. CT Sunday.

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Your Life on Compact Disc?

How would you like your entire genetic blueprint mapped out on CD? It'll cost you about $500,000 if genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has his way.

Venter, whose firm took 15 years, $5 billion and some of the world's fastest computers to decode his genetic makeup, tells the Associated Press that he plans to offer the same service to the general public. Venter's three non-profit ventures are spending $30 million to build a new gene-sequencing center in Rockville, Md., which he plans to open by year's end.

His eventual goal -- which he concedes is probably years away -- is to offer the service for the much more affordable price of $1,000, he tells the AP.

A person's genome, once mapped out, would allow doctors to possibly prevent and treat a host of inherited diseases, such as breast cancer, Alzheimer's and high blood pressure.

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