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Health Highlights: July 27, 2005

U.S. Investigates New Suspected Mad Cow Case Circumcision Protects Men Against HIV Infection Health Canada Warns About Impotence Drugs and Blindness 1.8 Million Children's Folding Chairs Recalled Chinese Toll Rises From Mystery Pig Disease Gene Linked to Deadly Aorta Diseases

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

U.S. Investigates New Suspected Mad Cow Case

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating another possible case of mad cow disease, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The suspect cow, at least 12 years old, died on the farm where it lived. The department wouldn't give the farm's location, but said the cow died in April and hadn't entered the human or animal food chains, according to the Associated Press.

The department said it is conducting additional tests and was sending tissue samples to an internationally recognized lab in England. The USDA said testing options may be limited because a private veterinarian removed brain tissue for sampling in April, but apparently forgot to send the sample to the department until this month, the AP reported.

Two other cases of mad cow disease have been confirmed in the United States. The most recent was found in a Texas cow that died in November. The other was in a Canadian-born Holstein discovered in 2003 in Washington state.

The fatal brain-wasting disease is known medically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. In people, eating tainted meat has been linked to about 150 deaths from a fatal disorder called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Most of the deaths occurred in Great Britain during an outbreak in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Circumcision Protects Men Against HIV Infection

Male circumcision greatly lowers the risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, says a French study.

The study of more than 3,000 young men in South Africa found that circumcision reduced the risk of men contracting HIV during intercourse with infected women by about 65 percent, the Associated Press reported.

The finding was presented Tuesday at the Third International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

"There had always been a suspicion that male circumcision prevented AIDS ... but this is the first randomized study using control trials," Dr. Bertrand Auvert, who coordinated the study for France's National AIDS Research Agency, told the AP.

The 21-month study, conducted between 2002 and 2005, did not look at the effect of male circumcision on male-to-female transmission of HIV. It also did not examine whether circumcision offers effective long-term protection against HIV infection.

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Health Canada Warns About Impotence Drugs and Blindness

Men who experience vision problems while taking drugs for impotence and erectile dysfunction should seek immediate medical attention, advises a Health Canada warning that says the impotence drugs Viagra, Cialis and Levitra could cause blindness.

The warning, similar to one issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month, said that men who use these drugs may be at risk for a rare side effect called nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION), which occurs when there's a blockage of blood flow to the optic nerve, the Canadian Press reported.

Health Canada is currently investigating two reports of vision problems in men using Viagra.

"It is difficult to determine whether the use of Viagra, Cialis or Levitra is causing (eye problems), as individuals who have erectile problems often have high blood pressure, diabetes or other conditions that put them at increased risk," said a Health Canada statement released Tuesday.

The agency is monitoring the drugs and has asked for additional safety information from the drugs' manufacturers, the CP reported.

Earlier this month, the FDA ordered updated labeling on all three drugs to reflect a small number of reports of sudden vision loss among users.

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1.8 Million Children's Folding Chairs Recalled

Faulty safety locks on nearly 1.8 million children's folding chairs can cause the chairs to collapse suddenly, catching children's fingers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday in announcing recalls from three manufacturers.

Injuries have included finger tip amputations, fractures, and significant cuts, the CPSC said. The chairs, constructed of vinyl tubing with padded seats, were made in China and sold across the United States.

The recalls include:

  • 1.1 million chairs by Idea Nuova Inc. The firm has reports of two finger tip amputations and one finger fracture and laceration. Discount department and toy stores sold them as a set of one table and two chairs from September 2004 to June 2005. For more information, call 866-772-1666.
  • 522,000 chairs by Fourstar Group Inc. Three injuries reported included cuts and fractures. Discount and grocery stores sold them individually or as a set from July 2003 to July 2005. For more information, call 866-290-6191.
  • 175,000 chairs by Meco Corp. The three incidents reported involved a laceration and two pinched fingers. Furniture and wholesale club stores sold them as a table and four-chair set from July 2003 to May 2005. For more information, call 800-251-7558.

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Chinese Toll Rises From Mystery Pig Disease

At least 24 people in China have died, 21 are in critical condition, and 117 have been sickened by a mysterious disease that appears related to bacteria harbored by pigs, China's Xinhua news service said Wednesday.

Affected people appear to have contracted streptococcus suis infections from the slaughtering or handling of infected pigs, the news service said, adding that there are no known cases of person-to-person transmission.

Authorities in Sichuan Province are trying to identify and destroy infected animals, Xinhua said.

The World Health Organization has confirmed that the disease is unrelated to bird flu or SARS, the news service added.

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Gene Linked to Deadly Aorta Diseases

A gene linked to deadly diseases of the aorta, the body's main blood vessel, has been identified by University of Texas researchers.

Their genetic analysis of 80 families with a history of aortic aneurysm and dissection found that four of the families had a variant version of a gene called Transforming Growth Factor Beta Receptor Type II.

This gene contains the code for a protein receptor believed to play an important role in regulating the synthesis and breakdown of connective tissue in the body, BBC News reported. The finding offers scientists a molecular pathway they can study for the development of biological makers and therapies for aortic aneurysm and dissection, which can burst and cause massive internal bleeding.

The study was published in the journal Circulation.

"The fact that this particular mutation was detected in four of 80 families screened shows us that there are undoubtedly more culprit genes yet to be discovered," Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation told BBC News.

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