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Health Highlights: Sept. 29, 2002

Clues to Possible Junk Food Carcinogen Found Companies Race to Offer Needle Alternatives So That's Where Mother-In-Law Jokes Come From! Hospital Use of Soap and Water May Soon Go Down the Drain New Govt. Rule Grants Health Care Rights to Fetuses Malaria-Carrying Mosquitoes Found in Va. 400,000 Pounds Of Tainted Beef Recalled

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

Clues to Possible Junk Food Carcinogen Found

It was just last spring that Swedish researchers delivered the news that junk food favorites such as potato chips and french fries aren't merely unhealthy, but contain high levels of a possible carcinogen. Researchers now say they are beginning to understand why.

The potential carcinogen in question is acrylamide. And, in what is the first clue in understanding the substance, scientists have pinpointed a naturally occurring amino acid called asparagine.

When heated with certain sugars such as glucose, asparagine leads to the formation of acrylamide.

The finding was first made by the Canadian government, which has since ordered food manufacturers to investigate ways of altering the substance with the goal of reducing acrylamide levels, reports the Associated Press.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is to announce tomorrow that it will make studying acrylamide one of its top priorities, says the AP.


Companies Race to Offer Needle Alternatives

Fear of needles keeps many recommended medications from being taken. But a flurry of companies are trying to offer pain-free alternatives that would allow people to sniff their way to the needed treatment they're avoiding.

Alternative nasal spray delivery systems are being developed for medicines ranging from flu vaccines to insulin injections. And along with helping more patients get help, the systems could mean tremendous financial booster shots for companies developing the systems.

One company, Maryland-based MedImmune Inc., is counting on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve a nasal spray flu vaccine that it hopes to have on the market in time for the coming flu season, reports the Associated Press.

And two San Francisco companies -- Inhale Therapeutics Systems Inc., and Aradigm Corp. -- are racing to get government approval of their versions of inhaled insulin for diabetics.

Should all go as planned, companies predict the future could include replacing many more drug injections with nasal sprays, including even cancer treatments.


So That's Where Mother-In-Law Jokes Come From!

You think you've got mother-in-law problems? She can't be as bad as German mother-in-laws in the 18th and 19th centuries.

For young women back then, having their mother-in-law around increased the chances of their child dying, says a recent study in New Scientist.

The researchers, from Giessen University in Germany, studied church birth and death registries for low-income families from the Krummhs region of northern Germany, reports HealthDay.

They found that if a mother's mother was alive when the child was 6 months to 1 year old, that child was 79 percent more likely to survive than if the grandmother was dead. In contrast, the babies of women whose mother-in-law was still living at that tender age were half as likely to survive than if the mother-in-law was dead.

Researchers say their study gives some insight into the origins of the "evil mother-in-law" stereotype, an image that cuts across cultures and centuries.


Hospital Use of Soap and Water May Soon Go Down the Drain

In an environment where hand-washing can truly be a matter of life and death -- hospitals -- the trend may soon be to ditch soap and water altogether. In its place, advise experts, should be quick-drying alcohol gels.

According to research presented today at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, alcohol-based rinses are highly effective at killing hospital germs, reports the Associated Press.

Researchers at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Washington, D.C., found that switching to the alcohol rinses two years ago resulted in a drop in drug-resistant staph infections by 21 percent, while resistant enterococcus dropped 43 percent. Both are serious, hospital-acquired infections.

More and more hospitals are reportedly using the quick-drying gels, which require no water and only need about 15 seconds to dry.


New Govt. Rule Grants Health Care Rights to Fetuses

The Bush administration has issued new rules that would allow states to define fetuses as children, thereby making them eligible for government-subsidized prenatal care under the federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program.

Under the new rules, the definition of children qualifying for care includes any individual under the age of 19, including those conceived but not yet born, reports The New York Times.

Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of health and human services, heralded the new rule as a way to increase the number of low-income women eligible for prenatal care. But critics call it a political maneuver to further the administration's anti-abortion agenda, and say the rule attempts to set a legal precedent for recognizing a fetus as a person.

States must now decide whether to add fetuses to their programs. Proponents and opponents of the rule say the debate will be heated.


Malaria-Carrying Mosquitoes Found in Va.

Health officials in Loudoun County, Va., say they have discovered mosquitoes carrying a malaria parasite in neighborhoods close to where two teens were infected over the summer in a rare outbreak of the disease.

The mosquitoes, found near the Potomac River outside of Washington, D.C., represent the first time in at least 20 years that malaria has been identified in an area of the United States where humans were also infected with the disease, reports the Washington Post.

Officials stress that, while the strain of malaria-causing parasite produces a very unpleasant form of malaria, it is easily treated and mild compared to the more notorious strain that has killed millions of people in developing nations.

More tests are being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm the results, but the findings have prompted increased local anti-malaria measures, including the use of larvicide in areas where mosquitoes breed.


400,000 Pounds Of Tainted Beef Recalled

A Wisconsin meat-packing company has recalled about 400,000 pounds of beef that may have played a role in an outbreak of E. coli contamination that caused illness in 40 people in three states, reports the Associated Press.

The recall was issued yesterday by Emmpak Foods, of Milwaukee, as a precaution after health officials found that 40 people in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin had become ill from E. coli.

The cases were discovered while health investigators were looking into an outbreak of another strain of E. coli that caused 19 people to become ill after taking a rafting trip in northern Wisconsin. It is not known if the two outbreaks are related.

The recall follows another recall of 471,000 pounds of ground beef at the company in May that was also prompted by E. coli contamination.

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