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Health Highlights: May 22, 2004

FDA Issues Warning About Salad MixSalmonella Almond Recall Expands Don't Just Tickle Elmo, Eat and Exercise With Him, Too AARP Pushes for Lower Drug Prices Nations Plan to Tackle Poor Diet and Lack of Exercise Portable Generators Linked to Rise in Carbon Monoxide Deaths California Seeks to Ban Teens From Tanning Booths

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

FDA Issues Warning About Salad Mix

Two separate outbreaks of an intestinal ailment known as cyclospora in Illinois and Texas have prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning about a salad mix.

The mixture, called raw basil and mesculin/spring salad mix, caused what the FDA terms cluster outbreaks of cyclospora last February in Wheaton,, Ill. And Arlington, Tex., a suburb of Dallas. The salad mixture is served in restaurants, and the suspect ingredients can also be bought in food stores. In Texas, 16 people were diagnosed with the illness, and in Illinois 20 people were positively diagnosed. In both incidents, the illness occurred after the subjects had been served in local restaurants.

The FDA says it is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to determine whether any more clusters of the illness have occurred.

Here's the FDA's description of the cyclospora infection: "It is caused by the cyclospora parasite, which causes a variety of debilitating symptoms, including diarrhea, loss of appetite, substantial weight loss, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting,muscle aches, low-grade fever and fatigue. Symptoms usually develop about a week after consuming the contaminated food. Cyclospora infection can be successfully treated with appropriate antibiotic therapy."

The agency is asking anyone who may have these symptoms to contact not only hir or her doctor, but also the local health department.

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California Salmonella Almond Recall Expands

A recall of raw almonds from a California farm has been expanded by three days.

The Food and Drug Administration is advising distributors, wholesalers and consumers the recall, announced by Paramount Farms of Lost Hills, Cal. On May 18, that the "best before" label on packages of the nuts is May 21 or later.

Paramount Farms announced a limited recall on May18 of whole natural raw almonds sold under the Kirkland Signature, Trader Joe's and Sunkist brands because of 18 reports of possible salmonella entereditis, a particularly nasty intestinal infection that sometimes results in death. Anyone who suspects he or she bought the almonds ffrom Paramount Farms should return them to the supermarket and notify the local health department, the FDA says.

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e.,infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

In addition to the United States, the FDA says the raw almonds were distributed in Mexico, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, France, England and Italy.

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Don't Just Tickle Elmo, Eat and Exercise With Him, Too

As divided as the United States Congress is over some issues, there are some things that dictate total bipartisan support. So it is with helping kids eat better and exercise more.

The Associated Press reports that Capitol Hill's most-welcomed visitors Friday were the lovable Muppets from Sesame Street, led by Elmo, a particular favorite with the toddler set.

Greeting them were a leading Republican, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of of Tennessee, and Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, an ex-college basketball player.

The government-sponsored program is called Healthy Habits for Life, and the Sesame Street gang will record some public service announcements to help promote it. Additionally, the wire service reports, more time will be spent on the Sesame Street program in 2005 to demonstrate good eating and exercise habits.

The senators weren't about to be upstaged by Muppets. Frist, a physician, told Elmo to drink plenty of liquids, and Wyden, who played basketball at the University of California, Santa Barbara, demonstrated his jump shot.

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AARP Pushes for Lower Drug Prices

The AARP is turning up the heat on the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices with plans next week to unveil its first issue of a new quarterly advisory called the "Rx Watchdog Report."

The report is meant to help consumers better understand and measure drug-industry pricing, along with industry trends and practices that affect consumer drug costs, the AARP says.

The "Rx Watchdog Report" will be unveiled at a news conference May 26. At the same time, the AARP Public Policy Institute will release a study that says drug prices increased at nearly three times the rate of inflation in 2003.

The study included pricing for the 200 most commonly prescribed medications.

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Nations Plan to Tackle Poor Diet and Lack of Exercise

Tentative agreement on a plan to tackle the expanding global epidemic of obesity and diseases caused by poor diet and lack of exercise was reached Friday by the world's health ministers.

The plan is meant to act as a guide for countries to develop policies that encourage people to adopt healthier diets and to get more exercise, the Associated Press reports.

The health ministers hope these lifestyle changes can slow growing rates of obesity and diseases -- such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease -- linked to poor diet or insufficient physical activity.

It's expected that the plan will be formally approved Saturday by the governing body of the World Health Organization, the AP reports.

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Portable Generators Linked to Rise in Carbon Monoxide Deaths

The number of reported carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning deaths in the United States caused by portable generators doubled in just two years, according to a new report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In 2003, the CPSC had reports of 36 deaths from portable-generator-related carbon monoxide poisoning, compared with 18 such deaths in 2001.

"If you use a gasoline-powered generator, set it up outside in a dry area, away from air intakes to the home," CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton said in a prepared statement.

"Opening doors and windows or operating fans to ventilate will not prevent CO build-up in the home. Even with a CO alarm, you should never use a gasoline-powered generator inside your home or in a garage," Stratton said.

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California Bill Would Ban Teens from Tanning Booths

The state famous for its tanned bodies and endless sunshine may be the first to ban its youth from artificial tanning booths without a doctor's approval.

California's state Assembly, citing 1 million new cases of skin cancer in the United States every year, has voted to bar anyone under 18 from tanning booths without a doctor's prescription. Along with 26 other states, California already requires a guardian's approval for teens to use the facilities, the Associated Press reports.

California has an estimated 1,500 tanning salons. Teens often visit the salons before proms, vacations and weddings. One owner cited by the wire service said teenagers account for about 5 percent of her business.

The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

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