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Health Highlights: Oct. 3, 2002

Side Effect Halts Research on 'Bubble Boy' Gene Therapy Baby Contracts West Nile Virus Through Breast Milk Study Reveals 'World's Funniest Joke' Suicide Occurs Once Every 40 Seconds, Report Says Beef Recall Expanded Nationwide FDA Repeats Warning About Sprouts

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

Side Effect Halts Research on 'Bubble Boy' Gene Therapy

Research on a groundbreaking gene therapy that has offered hope of a cure for a rare immune disorder dubbed "bubble boy disease" has been suspended due to concerns about a possibly serious side effect.

The concerns arose when a French toddler who was receiving the gene therapy, known as severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID, developed a leukemia-like side effect, reports the Associated Press.

The therapy was considered successful after the boy initially received it in October 1999, and his immune system strengthened. But by late this summer, his body had produced excessive amounts of a type of white blood cell, which doctors say is a leukemia-like symptom, the AP says.

He's responding well to chemotherapy. But the case has prompted the suspension of further studies of the gene therapy while experts analyze the developments and notify parents of children who previously received the therapy of the possible risk.

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Baby Contracts West Nile Virus Through Breast Milk

Health officials today confirmed that a Michigan newborn appears to have contracted the West Nile virus through its mother's breast milk, becoming the youngest person on record with the infection, reports HealthDay.

The child, whose gender has not been released, has no fever and appears to be doing well, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is investigating the case. The infant's mother, who did develop symptoms of West Nile, is believed to have been infected last month by a blood transfusion during delivery. Another Michigan resident came down with the disease after receiving a transfusion from the same donor.

Genetic traces of West Nile turned up in the woman's breast milk late last month, prompting officials to test the baby's blood for evidence of the virus. The woman, a 40-year-old, first-time mother, nursed the baby for more than two weeks before she was diagnosed with the disease.

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Study Reveals 'World's Funniest Joke'

In what's being described as the largest ever scientific study on humor, British researchers say they've uncovered the world's funniest joke.

The conclusion, announced by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was made after the group asked Internet users around the world to submit their choice for funniest joke, reports MSNBC.

After receiving 40,000 entries from 70 countries and 2 million critiques, the judges picked this joke:

"A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head.

"The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: 'My friend is dead! What can I do?' The operator, in a calm, soothing voice, says: 'Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead.' There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: 'OK, now what?' "

Whether the joke has people rolling on the floor with laughter, the scientists behind the project say the underlying purpose of the study was to gather a more objective benchmark for what's considered funny, to be used in further studies of brain function.

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Suicide Occurs Every 40 Seconds, Report Says

Suicide claims nearly as many lives as war and homicide combined, as one person takes his life about every 40 seconds, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 815,000 people killed themselves in the year 2000, making suicide the number 13 cause of death worldwide, according to an analysis of the WHO report published by The New York Times. Some 520,000 people were murdered in the same time frame.

The report, an analysis of violent deaths around the globe, found that a person is murdered every 60 seconds and another dies in armed conflict every 100 seconds.

The United Nations' health agency also found that men were three times more likely to commit suicide than women. The highest suicide rates were reported in Eastern Europe, while the lowest were cited in Latin America, the newspaper reports.

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Beef Recall Expanded Nationwide

EMMPAK Foods is expanding its September recall of ground beef products for E coli contamination to include an additional 2.3 million pounds of meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says.

The Milwaukee firm, also known as Peck Meats, now has recalled about 2.8 million pounds of its ground beef. The products were distributed to retail stores, hotels and restaurants nationwide.

The earlier recall, announced Sept. 27, followed an outbreak of E coli O157:H7 in Minnesota. An FSIS investigation found that additional meat might be contaminated.

E coli contamination can be deadly, especially to people with weaker immune systems -- including the elderly and very young. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea and dehydration.

For more information, contact EMMPAK at 1-877-817-7622.

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FDA Repeats Warning About Sprouts

Raw or lightly cooked alfalfa, clover and other sprouts can cause serious food poisoning, the Food and Drug Administration says, repeating a warning it has conveyed for years.

The agency's latest advisory follows a recent outbreak in California of E. coli, which has been linked to tainted alfalfa sprouts, reports the Associated Press. Sprouts are also frequently known to spread infection of salmonella bacteria.

The FDA recommends:

  • Cooking all sprouts thoroughly.
  • Avoiding sprouts at restaurants and delis.
  • Not assuming that homegrown sprouts are safe, since the seeds may have been contaminated.
  • Contacting a doctor if you experience any symptoms of food poisoning, including diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps or fever.
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