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Health Highlights: May 18, 2005

Vitamin D May Prolong Life of Prostate Cancer Patients U.S. Proposes General Principles for Food Standards Bosch Circular Saws Recalled Some Antidepressants in Late Pregnancy May Affect Babies Hospital Officials Suspended Over Abnormal Pap Smear Results Noise Plus Carbon Monoxide Boosts Hearing Loss Risk: Study

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

Vitamin D May Prolong Life of Prostate Cancer Patients

A potent form of vitamin D developed at Oregon Health & Science University may extend the lives of dying prostate cancer patients, according to a new study.

It included 250 men with advanced tumors that continued to grow despite treatment with radiation or surgery and subsequent drug therapy. Currently, such patients receive the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, which extends their lives for an average of 16 months.

The new study found that adding the experimental vitamin pill DN-101 to that chemotherapy extended survival by an average of 7.1 months, the Associated Press reported.

While this study indicated that DN-101 prolongs the life of these prostate cancer patients, it wasn't large enough to prove that DN-101 is ready for market. That will require a study of about 600 patients, the AP reported.

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U.S. Proposes General Principles for Food Standards

A proposal to establish a set of general principles for evaluating whether to revise, eliminate or create new standards for food has been proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

"(This) action starts us down the road on a set of general principles that mark a significant step toward modernizing food standards," FSIS Acting Administrator Barbara J. Masters said in a prepared statement.

"The rule will likely encourage the development of food products with better nutritional profiles and stimulate innovations in food processing technology. The rule, if adopted, will allow both agencies to better utilize resources to better protect public health," Masters said.

Standards of identify define what a given food product is, its name and the ingredients that either must or may be used in making it. These food standards outline a number of areas, including minimum amounts of certain ingredients, such as meat or poultry or milk fat; maximum fat and water contents; processing methods; cooking and safe preparation; and which optional safe and suitable ingredients are permitted.

Overall, the food standards are meant to ensure that foods meet consumers' expectations no matter where they purchase the food.

FSIS and the FDA share the responsibility for ensuring that food labels are truthful. Written comments about the proposal are being accepted until Aug. 19, 2005.

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Bosch Circular Saws Recalled

About 69,000 Bosch circular saws are being recalled because the lower blade guard can malfunction and create a risk of serious injury, including amputation.

So far, there have been three reports of malfunctioning lower guards, including one incident that resulted in an amputation, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

The recalled saws, which use a 7 1/4-inch blade, include the BOSCH CS10, CS20 and CS20-XC models. They can be identified by looking at the product nameplate on top of the motor housing. The recalled models do not have an asterisk in the serial number box.

The saws were sold nationwide from February 2004 to April 2005 for between $120 and $150. Consumers should stop using these saws and contact Robert Bosch Tool Corp. of Mount Prospect, Ill. to receive a repair kit, which includes hardware and instructions for installation.

Contact the company at 1-800-856-9683 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

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Some Antidepressants in Late Pregnancy May Affect Babies

Women who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) or serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor antidepressants in the last three months of pregnancy increase the chances their babies will suffer respiratory problems, irritability and jitteriness during the first few weeks of life, a new study says.

SSRIs include Paxil and Prozac while Effexor is a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.

The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that babies born to women who take these antidepressants in the late stages of pregnancy were three times more likely to develop such symptoms than infants born to women who didn't take the drugs or took them in the early stages of pregnancy.

The University of Pittsburgh study, which analyzed previous findings, said most of the affected infants experienced only mild symptoms that vanished after about two weeks. However, some of the babies needed to be admitted to intensive care, the Associated Press reported.

According to the researchers, at least 80,000 pregnant women in the United States take these antidepressants each year, and about one out of 100 infants born to these women develop serious respiratory problems.

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Hospital Officials Suspended Over Abnormal Pap Smear Results

Three senior officials at the Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., have been suspended without pay over the hospital's failure to notify 307 women that they had abnormal results on Pap smear tests for cervical cancer.

The center's executive director, the clinical director of gynecological services and the nursing director for women's health were suspended this week, the city Health and Hospitals Corporation announced Tuesday.

City officials discovered the problem after they reviewed records of Pap smears over 16 months, from December 2003 to last month, The New York Times reported.

During that 16-month period, 19,650 women whose Pap test results were normal were not notified about the results. Usually, a woman is notified only if her Pap test results are abnormal.

But 307 women with abnormal Pap results were not notified, and 30 were at elevated risk for cervical cancer, health corporation spokeswoman Kate McGrath told the Times. All but one of the 307 women have since been contacted by mail or phone and told of their results.

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Noise Plus Carbon Monoxide Boosts Hearing Loss Risk: Study

Chronic exposure to noise combined with carbon monoxide increases the risk of hearing loss, says a University of Montreal study of 8,600 workers who were tracked between 1983 and 1996.

The study found that workers exposed to carbon monoxide and noise levels above 90 decibels (equal to the sound of a chainsaw) had difficulty hearing high frequencies. For example, they could not hear the sound of telephones ringing or birds singing.

This hearing loss occurred over decades and most of the workers didn't suffer significant hearing loss until they'd been in the workplace for 20 years.

This is the first study to find an association between carbon monoxide and hearing loss. The researchers suggested that the presence of carbon monoxide lowered levels of oxygen in the blood stream, leading to accelerated deterioration of the inner ear's sensory cells, CBC News Online reported.

It may also be possible that both carbon monoxide and noise produce free radicals that damage the sensory cells, the researchers said.

Workers exposed to both noise and carbon monoxide include foundry workers, miners, diesel engine operators, industrial mechanics, fork lift operators and welders.

The study was presented Wednesday at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

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