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Health Highlights: April 14, 2005

U.S. Cites Decline in Foodborne Illness Rates Anonymous Charge Against FDA Nominee Postpones Vote Inactive Gene Could Signal Pending Breast Cancer: Study FDA OKs Device to Coach and Monitor Patients Stopwatches Used to Clock Premature Ejaculation

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

U.S. Cites Decline in Foodborne Illness Rates

Cases of foodborne infection from E. coli bacteria continued their steady decline last year, falling below government-projected goals that had been set for the year 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.

From 1996-2004, infections from E. coli -- among the most severe foodborne germs -- fell 42 percent, the CDC said in a statement. Salmonella infections fell 8 percent, Campylobacter decreased 31 percent, Cryptosporidium 40 percent, and Yersinia 45 percent.

The agency cited regulations implemented in 2002 to curb illness from E. coli and another bacterium, Listeria, in the nation's food supply.

While CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding called the declines "good news for Americans," foodborne disease "is still a significant cause of illness in the United States," she said in a statement. The incidence of one type of germ, Shigella, did not vary significantly from 1996 through 2004, the agency said.

The CDC said its FoodNet surveillance system, begun in 1996 to track confirmed cases of foodborne illness, now includes 10 states and 44 million people -- about 15 percent of the U.S. population.

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Anonymous Charge Against FDA Nominee Postpones Vote

An anonymous allegation made against President Bush's choice to run the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has prompted a Senate committee to shelve a vote on the nomination, the Associated Press reported.

The Senate Health Committee asked the FDA's Office of Internal Affairs to launch an internal investigation of the charges made against Dr. Lester Crawford, the current acting FDA chief. The committee wouldn't disclose any details about the allegation, other than it was made by an anonymous FDA employee and had been forwarded to the White House, the AP said.

A committee aide told the wire service that the panel was unable to check the validity of the allegation on its own and did not know the identity of the person who made the charge.

A White House spokesman said President Bush stood by Crawford and hoped debate on his nomination would resume soon. The FDA itself had no immediate comment.

A week ago, Democratic senators Patty Murray of Washington and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said they would block Crawford's nomination, citing dissatisfaction with the agency's failure to approve over-the-counter sales of the so-called "morning-after" pill, designed to prevent pregnancy within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

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Inactive Gene Could Signal Pending Breast Cancer: Study

Half of the women with a high likelihood of developing breast cancer have a genetic mutation that could identify them at immediate risk, Duke University researchers say.

Scientists at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center identified a chemical process that caused "silencing" of a gene called RARbeta2. This mutation was found in 69 percent of women with early stage breast cancer and 50 percent of those at high risk for the disease. The gene regulates how breast cells use vitamin A to keep themselves growing and dividing normally, the researchers said in a statement.

This cellular marker could lead to tests that identify women at short-term risk. The gene also provides a way to monitor whether preventive therapies are eradicating damaged breast cells, the researchers said.

Study results appear in the April 2005 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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FDA OKs Device to Coach and Monitor Patients

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new device that allows doctors to monitor patients with chronic conditions who self-administer therapies at home.

The Health Buddy system connects to various devices that regulate/measure blood glucose, blood pressure, body weight, or lung capacity. The system coaches patients on using the devices while sending timely health status information to their doctors via the Internet, according to the product's maker, Health Hero Network.

The Health Buddy system is already installed in more than 5,000 patient homes, the company said.

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Stopwatches Used to Clock Premature Ejaculation

Men who suffer from premature ejaculation (PE) lasted an average of 1.8 minutes before ejaculation during vaginal intercourse, compared to 7.3 minutes in men without PE, concludes the first large study to use stopwatches to measure time to ejaculation.

The study also found that men with PE and their female partners had higher ratings of personal distress, interpersonal difficulty with their partner and dissatisfaction with sexual intercourse than couples with male partners unaffected by PE.

The findings appear in the May issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. The study included over 200 men with PE and nearly 1,400 without the condition.

This is one of the first studies on PE to address the concerns of female partners, the researchers note. Both men and women were asked to report on a variety of subjective factors. The study found significant overlap in what experts call "intravaginal ejaculatory latency time" -- the time between the start of vaginal intercourse and ejaculation -- between men with PE and those without PE. That suggests that this measure may not be sufficient to diagnose PE. Instead, other subjective factors -- such as lack of ejaculatory control -- may also be valid markers for PE.

PE is the most common sexual dysfunction affecting men and their partners.

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