Health Highlights: March 17, 2004

Major League Baseball Bans New Steroid Electric Heaters Recalled as Shock Hazards Mixed Reviews for U.S. Mad Cow Testing Plan Las Vegas Hotel Guests Catch Contagious Stomach Virus FDA Advisers Study Temporary Artificial Heart

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

Major League Baseball Bans New Steroid

Major League Baseball has banned the recently uncovered steroid THG, which is at the heart of a scandal involving a San Francisco Bay Area supplement laboratory, the Associated Press reports.

Though the drug may have been used for some time, baseball and other sports didn't know about THG (tetrahydrogestrinone) until last October, so drug testing had been unable to detect it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since classified the substance as an illegal drug that can't be sold in the United States.

The personal trainer of San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds is among four men who have been indicted on charges of illegally supplying players with the performance-enhancing drug, produced by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO). Bonds and fellow pro baseball players Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, both with the New York Yankees, have been called before a grand jury to testify on the matter. The trio has denied using illegal steroids, the AP reports.

Anabolic steroids are lab-created versions of the male hormone testosterone. Some forms are approved by the FDA as prescription-only drugs to treat certain diseases and conditions.

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Electric Heaters Recalled as Shock Hazards

About 150,000 electric heaters are being recalled because they may contain loose wires that could pose a serious risk of electric shock to consumers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

The "Sun-Sational" brand heaters were sold at Sam's Clubs and other retailers nationwide from August 1996 to February 2004 for between $30 and $40. The products have a metallic gray heating element, white base, and red control knobs. A label at the base reads "SUN-Sational" and "Warning: Risk of Fire."

The heater's maker, Lakewood Engineering & Manufacturing Co. of Chicago, says consumers should stop using the product immediately, and contact the company for a free repair or replacement. For more information, call 1-888-858-3506.

recalled heater

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Mixed Reviews for U.S. Mad Cow Testing Plan

Mixed responses are greeting this week's announcement that the U.S. Agriculture Department plans to sharply increase testing for mad cow disease.

The plan proposes testing half of the nation's 446,000 "downer" cows, along with 20,000 older, apparently healthy cows at slaughter. A downer cow is an animal that cannot walk or that shows signs of nervous system disorders. Downer cows are deemed to have a higher risk of mad cow disease.

The goal of the new plan is to reassure consumers, the meat industry, and trading-partner countries that cows in the United States are being properly tested for mad cow, The New York Times reports.

Some experts in risk analysis praised the plan, saying it's an excellent method of assessing potential problems. But the plan failed to impress some consumer groups and trading partners.

Japan, for example, says it will continue its ban on American beef until every cow slaughtered in the United States is tested for mad cow. The Organic Consumers Association, based in Little Marais, Minn., also says the new plan doesn't go far enough.

Last December, the first and only case of mad cow disease in the United States was discovered in a Holstein in Washington state. The animal had been imported from a cattle farm in Alberta, Canada.

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Las Vegas Hotel Guests Catch Contagious Stomach Virus

More than 1,100 people have become sick after catching the highly contagious Norwalk-like virus while staying in downtown Las Vegas hotels during the past four months.

The city's downtown hotels are trying to contain the virus by stepping up their sanitation efforts. Most of the people who've contracted the Norwalk virus are Hawaii residents who stayed at Boyd Gaming Corp. hotels in downtown Las Vegas, the Associated Press reports.

The virus, which is spread through food, water, and close contact with infected people or things touched by infected people, can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours.

Health officials say the number of reported new cases seems to be declining. As of Monday, the total number of reported cases was 1,174.

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FDA Advisers Study Temporary Artificial Heart

U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisers are to discuss today whether a temporary artificial heart works well enough to be approved for sale in the United States.

The CardioWest Total Artificial Heart is being promoted by manufacturer SynCardia Systems Inc. as a way to help keep congestive heart failure patients alive long enough to receive a heart transplant, the Associated Press reports.

The CardioWest is essentially the same as the device used 22 years ago in Barney Clark, the first recipient of a permanent artificial heart. The device, then called the Jarvik-7, kept Clark alive for 112 days.

In a study, 79 percent of 81 patients receiving the CardioWest lived long enough to undergo a heart transplant.

But FDA experts say the study was done in a way that makes it impossible to adequately compare the patients who received the CardioWest with those who didn't. That makes it more difficult to assess the effectiveness of the device, the experts say.

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