Health Highlights: March 23, 2011

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

Elizabeth Taylor Dies at 79

Following six weeks of hospitalization for congestive heart failure, Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor died Wednesday at the age of 79.

The Oscar-winning actress recently suffered a number of complications but her condition had stabilized and it was hoped she would be able to return home, ABC News reported.

She was surrounded by her four children when she died at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Along with her children, Taylor is survived by 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

In recent years, the two-time Academy Award winner experienced a number of health problems and appeared frail in public appearances, ABC News reported.

During her life, Taylor had between 30 to 40 surgeries, including lung, hip, brain and heart procedures, according to biographers. Her many health challenges included pneumonia, skin cancer, a tracheotomy, and treatment for alcohol and painkiller addictions.


Colon Cancer Screening Rates Rise for Some Americans

Colorectal cancer screening rates for whites, blacks and Asian-Americans age 50 and older improved between 2000 and 2008, barely rose for Hispanics, and fell for American Indians and Alaska Natives, says a U.S. government study.

In 2008, about 60 percent of whites and 55 percent of blacks age 50 and older said they had undergone at least one colorectal cancer screening, compared with 51 percent and 44 percent, respectively, in 2000. The rates for Asian-Americans in 2000 and 2008 were about the same as those for blacks, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The proportion of Hispanics who reported every being screened for colorectal cancer increased from 35 percent to about 44 percent, while rates fell from 49 percent to 37 percent among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The study also said that colorectal cancer screening rates increased from about 26 percent to about 30 percent among whites and blacks with no health insurance. But rates fell from 16 percent to 13 percent among Hispanics without health insurance.


New Blood Test Improves Diagnosis of Heart Attack

A new blood test improves the ability to diagnose heart attacks that may otherwise go undetected.

The test measures a protein called troponin that’s released when heart cells are damaged during a heart attack, BBC News reported.

In their study of more than 2,000 patients with suspected heart attack, U.K. researchers found that the test could detect troponin at levels four times lower than the standard blood test.

As a result, one-third more patients were diagnosed with heart attack, which halved their risk of dying of a heart attack within a year, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


U.S. Bans Imports of Some Japanese Food Products

Imports of dairy products and produce from the area around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan will be stopped by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency said Tuesday that those food items will be intercepted on entry to the U.S. in order to prevent their sale to the public, the Associated Press reported. Previously, the FDA said it would boost screening of dairy products and produce from the area affected by radiation leaking from the nuclear plant.

The FDA said it will allow the sale of other imported Japanese foods, including seafood, but the products will be screened for radiation.

Less than four percent of the United States’ food imports come from Japan. The most common Japanese food items sold in the U.S. are seafood, snack foods, and processed fruits and vegetables, the AP reported.

The FDA said it expects no radiation-related risk to the U.S. food supply. Doses of radiation in food products are low and don’t pose a threat to human health unless a person consumes abnormally high amounts of radiation-tainted products, according to officials and health experts.

This week, the World Health Organization said Japan needs to act quickly to ensure that no radiation-contaminated foods are sold, the AP reported.

In related news, officials said that infants in Tokyo and surrounding areas should not drink tap water due to elevated levels of radioactive iodine.

Tests of the capital’s water supply have found levels of iodine-131 to be 210 becquerels per liter. The recommended limit for infants is 100 becquerels per liter, while the limit for adults is 300 becquerels per liter, The New York Times reported.

While it’s unlikely that infants would suffer health problems if they drink the tap water, it should be avoided if possible and the water should not be used to make infant formula, said Japan’s Health Ministry.


CPSC Reissues Drop-Side Crib Recall

The suffocation death of a 7-month-old girl has prompted U.S. officials to reissue a 2008 recall of more than 985,000 drop-side cribs by Delta Enterprise Corp.

Missing safety pins can cause the crib’s side-rail to disengage from the track, creating a gap where an infant can become trapped and suffocate, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The cribs were sold at major retail stores in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005, the Associated Press reported.

The 2008 recall included information about the death of an 8-month-old girl. The reissue of the recall mentions the more recent death of a 7-month-old girl who became trapped and suffocated in her crib, which was purchased secondhand and re-assembled without safety pegs in the bottom tracks, the CPSC said.

For more information, consumers can phone Delta Enterprise Corp. at 800-816-5304 or visit the company’s website, the AP reported.