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Health Highlights: Oct. 29, 2002

New Headset Calms Kids Facing Medical Procedures Army Aims for Food With Three-Year Shelf Life Docs Trying to Limit CT Scans in Kids Is There Enough Garlic in Your Pill? Safety Tips for Trick-or-Treaters FDA Blocks Mexican Cantaloupe Imports

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

New Headset Calms Kids Facing Medical Procedures

A new anesthesia headset may ease the fears of children facing scary and unfamiliar medical procedures, reports the Boston Globe.

Designed by Dr. Geoffrey Hart, a Boston-area anesthesiologist, the space age contraption, called PediState, acts as a medical monitor, an anesthetic device, as well as an interactive game system similar to the Nintendo Game Boy. One earphone monitors the level of oxygen in the patient's blood, while the other pipes in music or a game. Nitrous oxide and oxygen are pumped in through a dual-function nosepiece that also sucks out exhaled carbon dioxide.

Sixty children at the Tufts New England Medical Center have used PediSedate and all had positive experiences, according to the Globe report.

Hart, who expects the headset to be available next fall, recommends the device for emergency room doctors, dentists, radiologists, and pediatricians who may need to sedate children but may not need an anesthesiologist's assistance.

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Army Aims for Food With Three-Year Shelf Life

U.S. Army food scientists are working on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that will keep for three years without refrigeration.

Formulas for two other sandwiches -- pepperoni and barbeque chicken -- have been four years in the making and are nearing completion, reports the Associated Press. The recipes use chemical and natural preservatives to seal in moisture and inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold.

But soldiers aren't likely to sample any of the new eats before 2006, said Jerry Darsch, director of the Defense Department's feeding program in Natick, Mass. Citing the need for more research, Darsch said scientists are having trouble "stabilizing" peanut butter, which is most soldiers' top sandwich choice.

Once ready, the sandwiches will be as hardy as the soldiers who eat them. "They will last a minimum of three years at 80 degrees, six months at 100 degrees. They will travel to the swampiest swamp, the highest mountain, the most arid desert," Darsh said.

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Docs Trying to Limit CT Scans in Kids

Most children who have CT scans after suffering minor head injuries turn out to be fine. And since CT scans emit much more radiation than a standard X-ray, some doctors are trying to limit the use of CT scans among children, reports the Associated Press.

Some 3 million CT scans are performed each year on children, who are more sensitive to radiation than adults. While specialists say the test shouldn't be avoided in the event of a serious head injury, they add that doctors often recommend CT scans for relatively minor problems. Some doctors say they prescribe the test simply to appease worried parents, the AP report says.

So last summer, Dr. Tom Slovis, chief of pediatric imaging at Children's Hospital of Michigan, co-wrote an advisory on CT scans that was mailed to 160,000 doctors nationwide.

Because radiation exposure adds up over a person's lifetime, Slovis and other specialists worry that children who undergo unnecessary CT scans are needlessly increasing their risk of getting cancer decades later.

"[A CT scan] is a wonderful test, it saves lives," Slovis tells the AP. "But we've got to do it the right way."

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Is There Enough Garlic in Your Pill?

People who take garlic to help their hearts may do little more than harm their breath, since the supplements often don't have enough of the herb's active ingredient to do any good, reports The New York Times.

Citing a study conducted by ConsumerLab.com, the newspaper says the body converts garlic to allicin, which studies have shown can help lower a person's levels of harmful cholesterol. While 3,600 to 5,400 micrograms of allicin are needed to generate the therapeutic effects, levels in various garlic supplements tested ranged from 400 to 5,400 micrograms, the study found.

A spokesman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, representing herbal product makers, said the study was flawed because other ingredients in garlic have proven beneficial.

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Safety Tips for Trick-or-Treaters

With Halloween less than 48 hours away, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is offering these safety tips to parents of young trick-or-treaters:

  • When purchasing costumes, masks, beards and wigs, look for flame-resistant fabrics such as nylon or polyester. To minimize the risk of contact with candles and other flammable sources, avoid costumes made with flimsy materials and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts.
  • Purchase or make costumes that are light, bright and clearly visible to motorists.
  • For greater visibility during dusk and darkness, decorate or trim costumes with reflective tape that will glow in the beam of a car's headlights. Reflective tape is usually available in hardware, bicycle and sporting goods stores.
  • Children should carry flashlights to see and be seen.
  • Costumes should fit well and not drag on the ground to guard against trips and falls.
  • If your child wears a mask, make sure it fits securely, provides adequate ventilation, and has eye holes large enough to allow full vision.
  • Warn children not to eat any treats before an adult has examined them carefully for evidence of tampering.
  • Carefully examine any toys or novelty items received by trick-or-treaters under three years of age. Do not allow young children to have any items that are small enough to present a choking hazard.

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FDA Blocks Mexican Cantaloupe Imports

The U.S. government has blocked the importation of Mexican cantaloupes because of their link to food-poisoning outbreaks.

Four salmonella outbreaks in the last three years have killed two people and hospitalized 18, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency blames unsanitary conditions in the growing and packing of the cantaloupes in Mexico.

The FDA had already banned certain brands of the fruit, but salmonella-contaminated cantaloupes have since been found across most of Mexico's fruit-growing areas. The latest action expands the ban and will continue until the FDA can certify the fruit's safety. The FDA is working with the Mexican government on a food-safety program for the production, packing and shipping of fresh cantaloupes.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can prove fatal in the young, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of infection include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

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