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Health Highlights: Sept. 2, 2016

FDA Oversight of E-Cigarettes Opposed by Tobacco Industry Imported Produce May be Causing Foodborne Illness Increase in Texas HUD Proposes Lower Lead Level Limits for Children New Drug Shows Promise Against Alzheimer's New U.S. Funding to Fight Opioid Abuse

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

FDA Oversight of E-Cigarettes Opposed by Tobacco Industry

The tobacco industry is trying to prevent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from having regulatory control over electronic cigarettes, cigars, and pipe and hookah tobacco, The New York Times reported.

Under a new rule, the FDA can retroactively examine the products for public health risks or ban their sale.

The tobacco industry's campaign against the rule includes a former Obama official who is now a private consultant lobbying against his earlier work reviewing the rule, a former senator who did not register as a lobbyist before beginning to work for the cigar companies, and a member of Congress who introduced industry-written legislation without changing a single word of it, the newspaper reported.

One argument that has been made is that the new FDA rule could harm public health by forcing many e-cigarette companies out of business.

While FDA officials agree that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, they say it's necessary to determine whether the devices or the liquid nicotine products used in them contain toxic chemicals or if candy-like flavors are contributing to the rapid rise in the number of teenagers using e-cigarettes, The Times reported.

The safety of the devices is another issue because there have also been reports of battery-related burns among users of e-cigarettes, according to the FDA.

"In the absence of science-based regulation of all tobacco products, the marketplace has been the wild, wild West," Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, which is in charge of enforcing the new rule, told The Times.

"Companies were free to introduce any product they wanted, make any claim they wanted, and that is how we wound up with a 900 percent increase in high schoolers using e-cigarettes and as well as all these reports of exploding e-cigarette batteries and products that have caused burns and fires and disfigurement," Zeller said.

The campaign against the new FDA rule is led by the Altria Group, which is the largest tobacco company in the United States and has an expanding e-cigarette unit, the newspaper reported.


Imported Produce May be Causing Foodborne Illness Increase in Texas

Texas has seen a sharp increase in a certain type of foodborne illness in recent years, and health officials say it could be due to the increasing amount of produce imported from Mexico and other tropical and subtropical regions.

Cyclosporiasis infection cases in the state rose from 44 in 2012 to 351 in 2013, 200 in 214, and more than 300 in 2015, with more than 100 cases so far this year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Associated Press reported.

In the past few years, some cases of cyclosporiasis were traced to tainted produce from Mexico. But no common cause for this year's cases has been pinpointed, department spokeswoman Christine Mann said.

Along with contaminated produce, she said other potential reasons for the high number of cyclosporiasis cases in Texas could include increased awareness of the disease, resulting in more testing and diagnoses, the AP reported.

Cyclosporiasis often spreads when human feces contaminated with the cyclospora parasite come into contact with water or produce. Symptoms of infection include diarrhea, cramps, fatigue and vomiting.


HUD Proposes Lower Lead Level Limits for Children

The U.S. federal housing agency wants to lower the point at which levels of lead in children's blood would prompt a clean-up of their homes.

Under a proposal announced Wednesday, the level that triggers action would be reduced from 20 to 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, the Associated Press reported.

The proposal would cover subsidized and public housing, the news service said.

The change would "allow us to act more quickly to make certain the homes we support are as safe as possible. The rule would also require a full environmental investigation rather than just a basic lead assessment, allowing us to more effectively locate and remediate the source of lead exposure," said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

The change would bring HUD lead limits in line with recommendations made in 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the AP reported.

There is a 60-day public comment period for the proposal, which could affect about 2.9 million subsidized and public housing units built before the United States banned residential lead paint in 1978.


New Drug Shows Promise Against Alzheimer's

An experimental drug called aducanumab shows promise in treating Alzheimer's disease, researchers report.

A small clinical trial showed that it significantly reduced toxic plaques in the brains of 165 patients with early-stage Alzheimer's disease, National Public Radio reported Wednesday.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, suggest the drug may slow the loss of memory and thinking in Alzheimer's patients.

"If that hint of a clinical benefit is confirmed, it would be a game changer in the fight against Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix, NPR reported.

He wrote a commentary that accompanied the study. Much larger clinical trials are needed to confirm whether the drug actually slows Alzheimer's disease, Reiman said.

Two much larger studies of aducanumab have already been started by drug maker Biogen Inc. Those trials will include 2,700 patients, with results not expected for several years, NPR reported.


New U.S. Funding to Fight Opioid Abuse

The White House is distributing $53 million to 44 states to fight abuse of powerful opioid painkillers.

The money will be used to reduce over-prescribing of the drugs, increase access to treatment, and to make the antidote naloxone widely available, said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the Associated Press reported.

The Obama administration also wants Congress to provide $1.1 billion in new money to tackle the problem. Recently approved $181 million in new spending did not do enough to expand treatment, the White House said.

New federal funding is urgently needed so that people who require treatment don't have to wait months, Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, West Virginia, said in a conference call announcing the funding, the AP reported.

Williams said opioid abuse in his community is so common that he carries an overdose reversal kit with him.

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