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Health Highlights: Sept. 20, 2011

Shark Compound May Help Combat Viral Diseases in Humans New Tick-Borne Disease Identified Listeria Outbreak Linked to Colorado Cantaloupes: CDC

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

Shark Compound May Help Combat Viral Diseases in Humans

A compound naturally produced by sharks could help combat different types of viral diseases that affect humans, ranging from hepatitis to yellow fever, according to scientists.

Squalamine was first discovered in 1993 but a new study is the first to examine the compound's potential use against human viruses, Agence France-Presse reported.

The scientists tested squalamine in lab samples and lab animals and found it could inhibit or control viral infections. In some cases, the compound seemed to cure viral infections in animals.

"It is clearly a promising drug, and is unlike, in its mechanism of action and chemical structure, any other substance currently being investigated to treat viral infections," said lead investigator Michael Zasloff, a professor of surgery and pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center, AFP reported.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since 1995, scientists have been able to synthesize squalamine in the lab and the compound is no longer extracted directly from shark tissue.

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New Tick-Borne Disease Identified

Scientists have identified a new tick-borne disease that may be infecting thousands of Americans a year, but it's not clear if the disease can cause serious long-term damage.

The newly-discovered disease is caused by a spirochete bacterium called Borrelia miyamotoi, a distant relative of Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete that causes Lyme disease, The New York Times reported.

Each year, about 3,000 Americans are infected with B. miyamotoi through tick bites, the researchers estimated. About 25,000 Americans get Lyme disease each year. There is no diagnostic test for B. miyamotoi in the United States.

It appears that the newly-identified disease can be cured using the same short course of antibiotics used to treat people with Lyme disease, The Times reported.

Untreated Lyme disease can cause serious long-term health problems, but it's not yet known if the newly-discovered disease has the same effect, the researchers said.

The study will be published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

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Listeria Outbreak Linked to Colorado Cantaloupes: CDC

Colorado cantaloupes have been identified as the source of listeria outbreak that's killed four people in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

One person has died in Colorado, one in Oklahoma and two in New Mexico. The CDC is in the process of determining whether two other deaths in New Mexico are also linked to the outbreak, a state health official said, CBS News and the Associated Press reported.

So far, 35 people in 10 states have been sickened in the outbreak, according to the CDC. Most of the illnesses have occurred in Colorado (12), followed by Oklahoma (6) and New Mexico (5).

Federal officials have traced the outbreak to cantaloupes from Jensen Fruit Farms in Holly, Colo. The company has recalled its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes, CBS/AP reported.

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