Health Highlights: April 8, 2008

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

FDA Reports More Deaths Related to Tainted Heparin

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now says 62 deaths are associated with use of tainted batches of the blood thinner heparin, more than triple the previous estimate of 19 deaths.

The FDA said Tuesday that the deaths weren't new ones. The revised count is based on more data received recently by the agency after reports of the contaminated blood thinner first surfaced in February. The 62 deaths appear to be the allergic-type reactions seen with the other fatalities, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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There were only three deaths due to allergic reactions in 2006, the FDA said.

Heparin is often given to dialysis patients and people undergoing heart surgery. The raw materials for the drug come from the mucous lining of pig intestines. Many of those pigs come from rural farms in China, with the intestines often processed by unregulated mom-and-pop workshops.

The FDA last month identified the contaminant in heparin as oversulfated condroitin sulfate, which was found in samples of the blood thinner produced in China for Baxter Healthcare Corp., of Deerfield, Ill.

Oversulfated chondroitin sulfate mimics heparin's qualities and is a modified form of chondroitin sulfate. Chondroitin sulfate is a naturally occurring substance made from animal cartilage and is often used in supplements to treat arthritic joints. But, oversulfated chondroitin sulfate is man-made and doesn't occur naturally.

On Tuesday, the FDA posted a month-by-month heparin mortality count on its Web site, showing that a sudden jump in allergic-style fatal reactions actually began last November -- possibly signaling the time when the contamination began, the Associated Press reported.

FDA officials don't know how the contaminant got into the heparin.


Dyslexia's Impact Differs, Depending on the Language

The areas of the brain affected by dyslexia differ between children who learned to read in English and those who learned to read in Chinese, say researchers who compared MRI brain scans of children, the Associated Press reported.

"This finding was very surprising to us. We had not ever thought that dyslexics' brains are different for children who read in English and Chinese. Our finding yields neurobiological clues to the cause of dyslexia," said study lead author Li-Hai Tan, a professor of linguistics and brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Hong Kong.

The study was published Monday in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Children who learn English and other alphabetical languages learn the sounds of letters and how to combine them into words, while Chinese children memorize hundreds of symbols that represent words, Guinevere F. Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told the AP.

This finding shows that "we cannot just assume that any dyslexic child is going to be helped by the same kind of intervention," said Eden, who was not involved in the study.


Magnetic Dart Boards Recalled

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