Health Highlights: June 9, 2008

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

U.S. Restaurant Chains Stop Serving Some Tomatoes

McDonald's, Burger King and a number of other restaurant chains announced Monday that they were suspending the use of certain fresh tomatoes until they learn the source of a recent nationwide salmonella outbreak.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers nationwide over the weekend not to eat raw red Roma, raw red plum, and raw red round tomatoes while the agency investigates the source of 145 recent cases of "Saintpaul" salmonella in 16 states that appear linked to uncooked tomatoes, the Associated Press reported.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • U.S. Restaurant Chains Stop Serving Some Tomatoes
    • Kennedy Leaves Hospital After Brain Surgery
    • U.S. Supreme Court Takes Third Look at Case Against Cigarette Maker
    • Law Hasn't Reduced Teen Drivers' Cell Phone Use
    • Debt Stress May Be Affecting Health of Millions of Americans
    • Researchers Failed to Disclose Drug Company Funding: Report
    • Scientists Identify Gene Linked to Enlarged Heart

At least 23 people have been hospitalized since April. The FDA says it doesn't know the exact source of the salmonella outbreak. But it has said that cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and tomatoes sold with the vine attached are believed safe to eat.

McDonald's said it stopped serving tomatoes on all of its sandwiches in the United States, while Burger King said it halted use of raw tomatoes at most of its domestic locations, except for certain restaurants in California that are serviced by growers known to be safe, the AP said.

In addition, the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain said it would stop serving its tomato salsa, and Texas Roadhouse locations and Cracker Barrel Old Country stores said they also would stop dispensing tomatoes with salads and other foods.

Regional grocer Winn-Dixie said it would remove affected tomatoes from its more than 500 stores in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi, the AP said.

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Kennedy Leaves Hospital After Brain Surgery

One week after he underwent surgery for brain cancer, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was released Monday from Duke University Medical Center and returned to his home in Hyannisport on Cape Cod, the Associated Press reported.

"It's good to be home, good to be here," the wire service quoted him as saying.

Last month, Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant glioma brain tumor after he suffered a seizure. Last Monday, he had a 3.5-hour operation to remove as much of the tumor as possible to improve the success of chemotherapy and radiation treatment that he will undergo.

About 9,000 Americans have malignant gliomas diagnosed each year, the AP said. It's among the worst types of brain cancer.

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U.S. Supreme Court Takes Third Look at Judgment Against Cigarette Maker

The U.S. Supreme Court will review a $79.5 million punitive judgment against Marlboro-maker Philip Morris for a third time, the Associated Press reported Monday.

On two previous occasions, the Supreme Court has struck down the award to the family of a Portland, Ore. man who died of lung cancer in 1997 after smoking Marlboro cigarettes since the 1950s.

But Oregon courts have repeatedly upheld the judgment against cigarette maker Philip Morris USA.

In its first decision, the Supreme Court rejected the $79.5 million judgment. In its second decision, the high court ruled that jurors may punish a defendant only for harm done to someone who is suing, not other smokers who could make similar claims.

In the upcoming review, scheduled to take place in the fall, the high court will consider whether the Oregon Supreme Court ignored the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, but not whether the amount of the judgment is constitutionally permissible, the AP reported.

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Law Hasn't Reduced Teen Drivers' Cell Phone Use

A North Carolina ban on cell phone use while driving hasn't reduced the use of cell phones by young drivers, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In fact, there's been a slight increase in cell phone usage by drivers under 18.

Five months after the law went into effect, nearly 12 percent of teen drivers were observed using cell phones, compared to 11 percent prior to the ban, United Press International reported.

Girls were much more likely than boys to use cell phones while driving, as were teens driving alone in vehicles, compared to those driving with friends.

Lack of enforcement may be the reason why the ban appears ineffective.

"Drivers with phones to their ears aren't hard to spot, but it's nearly impossible for police officers to see hands-free devices or correctly guess how old drivers are," said study author Anne McCartt, vice president of the institute, UPI reported.

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Debt Stress May Be Affecting Health of Millions of Americans

Debt-related stress may be causing health problems for millions of Americans, suggests an Associated Press-AOL poll. An index tied to the survey showed that debt stress is 14 percent higher this year than in 2004.

Among respondents who reported high levels of debt stress:

  • 51 percent had muscle tension, including, pain the lower back, compared with 31 percent of those with low levels of debt stress.
  • 44 percent of high-stress respondents had migraines or other headaches, compared with 15 percent with lower debt stress.
  • 29 percent suffered severe anxiety, compared with 4 percent with lower stress.
  • 27 percent had ulcers or digestive tract problems, compared with 8 percent with lower stress.
  • 23 percent had severe depression, compared with 4 percent with lower stress.
  • 6 percent reported heart attacks, compared with 3 percent of those with lower stress.

The survey also found that people with high levels of debt stress were much more likely to have problems with concentration and sleep, and were more likely to get upset for no apparent reason, the AP reported.

Most Americans are managing their debts adequately, but as many as 10 million to 16 million are "suffering terribly due to their debts, and their health is likely to be negatively impacted," said Paul J. Lavrakas, a research psychologist and AP consultant who analyzed the survey results.

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Researchers Failed to Disclose Drug Company Funding: Report

A team of doctors who helped pioneer the use of psychiatric drugs in children are being investigated after they failed to properly disclose at least $3.2 million in funding from several drug companies.

Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital are looking into the disclosure and conflict of interest forms of Drs. Joseph Beiderman, Timothy Wilens and Thomas Spencer, who conducted research into how children are affected by psychiatric drugs, Bloomberg news reported.

The researchers filed yearly disclosure forms showing they received a total of $120,000 from several drug companies. But they admitted to receiving more after Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sought added documentation in March.

"Obviously, if a researcher is taking money from a drug company while also receiving federal dollars to research that company's product, then there is a conflict of interest," Grassley said in a statement.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health requires researchers to disclose when they receive at least $10,000 from companies whose products are being used in studies. When researchers fail to do so, institutions can lose their federal funding, Bloomberg reported.

Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital don't allow researchers to work on a company's product if the researchers get more than $20,000 a year from the company.

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Scientists Identify Gene Linked to Enlarged Heart

A new genetic cause of enlarged heart has been identified by an international team of scientists, who said their finding could lead to new treatments.

In research with rodents and humans, the scientists found that the gene osteoglycin (Ogn) regulates the growth of the heart's left ventricle, it's main pumping chamber. When Ogn behaves abnormally, the heart can become enlarged, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Nature Genetics.

It was already known that irregular heart growth can be caused by obesity, high blood pressure and strenuous exercise, but the influence of genes is largely unknown, BBC News reported.

"But, now that we are unraveling how genes control heart growth, we can gain a better understanding of common forms of heart disease. This could lead to new and more effective ways of treating people," said researcher Dr. Stuart Cook.

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