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Health Highlights: Dec. 21, 2010

Health Highlights: Dec. 21, 2010

12/21/10

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

House Passes Overhaul of Food Safety System

A bill designed to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the power to keep the nation's food supply safe was passed by the House on Tuesday, and is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama as early as Wednesday.

The legislation represents the first significant strengthening of the nation's food safety laws since 1938, and follows a series of well-publicized outbreaks of food-borne illnesses linked to a wide variety of foods, including spinach, peanuts and eggs.

The 215-144 vote came just before Congress was set to adjourn for the year, and the overhaul will affect all whole and processed foods, with the exception of meat, chicken and eggsm, according to the Associated Press.

Under the auspices of the $1.4 billion bill, the government will be able to inspect processing plants, order recalls and set stricter standards for imported foods. Larger farms and food manufacturers will have to prepare detailed food safety plans and tell the FDA what food safety measures they are implementing at different stages of production, the wire service reported.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said Tuesday that the bill will give her agency new tools to guarantee food safety. "This law makes everyone responsible and accountable at each step in today's global food supply chain," she noted.

The bill does exempt small farmers and food processors, and those who sell directly to the public at farmers markets and farm stands, after advocates claimed that smaller food suppliers would be unable to afford the testing and record-keeping that the bill requires.

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Health Insurance Premium Hikes May be Reviewed

Health insurance companies will have to disclose and justify any premium increases of 10 percent or more next year, under regulations proposed Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The increases would be reviewed by state or federal officials to assess whether they are unreasonable, The New York Times reported.

The review of premiums would "help rein in the kind of excessive and unreasonable rate increases that have made insurance unaffordable for so many families," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The new federal health care law calls for an annual review of "unreasonable increases" in health insurance premiums but does not define unreasonable, The Times reported.

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Pfizer Recalls More Bottles of Lipitor

Consumer complaints about an "uncharacteristic" odor have prompted the recall of a batch of 19,000 bottles of the cholesterol drug Lipitor, Pfizer Inc. announced Tuesday.

The recall covers bottles containing 40-milligram tablets, the Associated Press reported.

This is the fourth such recall made by Pfizer since August. The previous odor problems were traced to a wood preservative chemical called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole. The chemical is often applied to pallets used for storage and transport, but Pfizer said this is not done with medicine shipments.

The company made changes in August to fix the problem but said the lot of Lipitor in this latest recall was shipped before the changes. So far, Pfizer has recalled more than 360,000 bottles of Lipitor, the AP reported.

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Scientists Document Proteins in Brain's Synaptic System

There are at least 1,461 protein components in the brain's synaptic information-processing machinery, says a new study.

Synapses, which are junctions where one neuron connects with another, play a critical role in the brain. The researchers said their findings could help improve understanding of how synapses lay down memories and how synapse defects lead to a number of brain diseases, The New York Times reported.

The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, is the first to compile a complete catalogue of all the protein components of the synaptic system.

The new inventory of synaptic proteins "should open a major new window in mental disease," Jeffrey Noebels, a genetics and epilepsy expert at the Baylor College of Medicine, told The Times. "We can go in there and systematically look for disease pathways and therefore druggable targets."

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XMRV Virus Doesn't Cause Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Study

A virus called XMRV is not the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, British scientists say.

In 2009, U.S. researchers linked the virus to the condition after finding it in blood samples. But this new study says that 2009 finding was the result of a "false positive," caused by cross contamination in the laboratory, BBC News reported.

While chronic fatigue syndrome may still be caused by a virus, it is not XMRV, according to the British team.

"Our conclusion is quite simple. XMRV is not the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome," said study leader Professor Greg Towers, a Wellcome Trust senior research fellow at University College, London, BBC News reported.

"It is vital to understand that we are not saying chronic fatigue syndrome does not have a virus cause -- we cannot answer that yet -- but we know it is not this virus causing it," he added.

The study appears in the journal Retrovirology.

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U.S. Face Transplant Recipient Meets Donor's Family

The first American to receive a face transplant met the donor's family on the weekend.

Connie Culp received her face transplant two years ago. The donor was Anna Kasper, a Cleveland resident who died of a heart attack in December 2008, the Associated Press reported.

Culp and Kasper's husband and children met for about 90 minutes Saturday. Culp later told The Plain Dealer newspaper of Cleveland that there were some initial awkward moments but also said the get-together was "awesome."

The Kasper family said Culp, who lives in southeast Ohio, is the perfect recipient because she has the same personality and love of life as Anna Kasper, the AP reported.

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Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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