<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Health News]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/health http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Sat, 28 Mar 2015 06:04:03 -0500 Sat, 28 Mar 2015 06:04:03 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[WATCH: New Anti-Smoking Ads Highlight Pain, Suffering]]> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 12:51:57 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/smoking-stock-generic-73160938.jpg

Smokers are once again sharing their gruesome stories of pain and suffering to motivate cigarette-puffing peers to quit.

“If I’d had a crystal ball many years ago, I would never have put that first cigarette in my mouth," one woman who is losing vision due to macular degeneration says in a new video from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cautionary tales are part of a national tobacco education campaign from the CDC, Tips From Former Smokers, which first launched in March 2012. The often cringe-worthy advertisements, on television, radio, billboards, online and in theaters, magazines and newspapers, feature former smokers sharing their painful stories of smoking-related illnesses, the agency said in a release.

In one video, a woman lies on her hospital bed, and in raspy voice, says how she developed throat cancer at the age of 40. In another, a man, with a hole in his neck, informs viewers to stand away from the showerhead. And another woman, sitting at her kitchen table, advises to suction out her tube before eating.

The ads will also highlight how quitting smoking can benefit loved ones, and the importance of quitting completely, not just cutting down on smoking.

“These former smokers are helping save tens of thousands of lives by sharing their powerful stories of how smoking has affected them,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, said in a statement. “These new real-life ads will help smokers quit, adding years to their lives and life to their years.”

Since 2012, Tips has helped millions of smokers try to quit, the CDC reports. When the CDC’s 2014 campaign aired, nearly 80 percent more people called the national quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, for free help. Over 500,000 additional calls to the toll-free hotline have been made since 2012.

“All the Tips ad participants are heroes,” said Tim McAfee, senior medical officer in CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “By courageously sharing their painful personal stories, they’re inspiring millions of Americans to make the life-saving decision to quit smoking.”

Smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, the CDC reports, and remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the country. For every American who dies from smoking-related illnesses, nearly 30 more suffer from at least one smoking-related illness.



Photo Credit: FILE/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Level of Risk Not Yet Clear in Kraft Recall: FDA]]> Wed, 18 Mar 2015 17:43:38 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/kraft-macaroni-120331317-%281%29.jpg

One day after a major Kraft Macaroni and Cheese recall, the federal agency in charge of much of the nation’s food supply says it still has not determined the level of risk to consumers.

A spokesperson for the agency told NBC5 Investigates, “The FDA has not yet classified the Kraft recall as the agency is still gathering information.”

On Tuesday, Kraft Foods recalled about 6.5 million boxes of original flavor Kraft Macaroni & Cheese because some boxes contain small pieces of metal.

The boxes have "best when used by" dates ranging from Sept. 18, 2015 through Oct. 11, 2015 and are marked with the code "C2." They were sold throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, and in some countries in the Caribbean and South America.

FDA recalls are designated one of three levels. A Class I recall is the most serious, described as “a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.” Class II is a situation that may involve temporary or reversible medical consequences. The least serious is Class III, which is not likely to cause health consequences.

In a statement to NBC5 Investigates, Kraft referred questions back to FDA.

“Only FDA has the ability to classify recalls,” the company said. “Based on past recalls of FDA-regulated products, we believe the recall is likely to be designated a Class 2.”

A spokesperson also added that of eight incidents connected to this recall, no injuries have been reported.

Trying to gauge the level of risk posed to consumers in a food recall isn’t easy. Federal regulations allow manufacturers to be mum on certain details, regardless of whether the risk is high or low.

It’s a question NBC5 Investigates took on years ago, and not much has changed since.

In 2000, another popular Kraft product, Easy Mac, was pulled from store shelves in a voluntary recall. Parents told NBC5 they couldn’t find any answers about what was wrong with the product--so NBC5 investigated. A suburban family gave us two packets of the affected batch, and we took them to a lab for testing. The results: small amounts of a silicone oil comparable to the product WD-40 appeared in the food product.

Our report revealed what is still the case today -- When it comes to details of products involved in some FDA food recalls, consumers are often in the dark about the possible risk.
 



Photo Credit: FILE/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Poison Center Calls About Kids Hit 1.3 Million: Report]]> Wed, 18 Mar 2015 13:56:25 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/medicine-cabinet.jpg

Poison centers across the country get more than 1,100 calls a day that relate to children sickened by medicine, according to a new report.

In all, there were 1.3 million poison center calls about children 19 and under in 2013, the report by Safe Kids Worldwide found. The vast majority of those calls, 53 percent, involved 1 and two year-olds and medicine, a number that the organization Safe Kids Worldwide called “alarming” and “most surprising”

Older children are also at risk for unintentional medicine poisoning, the report found, sometimes experiencing far more serious outcomes. Teens 15 to 19 were six times more likely to experience "moderate or major effects" from unintentional ingestion than children 1 to 4 years old.

The report, “Medicine Safety for Children: An In-Depth Look at Calls to Poison Centers,” analyzed data from 547,042 calls made to poison centers across the country in 2013. It found that 81 percent of the children were given the wrong medicine, while the remaining got too much. More than 10,000 emergency room visits are made each year for over-the-counter medicine overdoses by adolescents, the report said.

The most common accidentally ingested items for children under age 4, according to the report, are ibuprofen, multivitamins and diaper care and rash products. Nearly half of the emergency room visits were connected to the consumption of those products, which the report said can fall into kids' hands after being found on the ground, a nightstand or in a purse.

For teens, the top medicine mistakes were related to forgetting to take drug and then doubling up, taking two medicines with the same ingredient and taking the wrong medicine.

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<![CDATA[Mom Fights MS With Body Building]]> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 11:27:26 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/web-vod-bodybuilding-mom-ms.jpg A diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis isn't slowing down Wendy Bordewisch. Megan Pringle from NBC station WBAL in Baltimore reports.

Photo Credit: WBAL]]>
<![CDATA[Many On-Campus Residents Lack Measles Vaccination Records]]> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 11:21:23 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/176*120/491404053.jpg

More than a third of Illinois’ colleges and universities allow a large number of students who have no proof of being vaccinated for measles to live on their campuses, a long-standing pattern NBC 5 Investigates has discovered. In 2015 alone, more than half of Illinois’ higher-education campuses allow non-immunized students at rates considered risky by most health officials.

With 15 people diagnosed with measles this year in the Chicago area – including a student at Elgin Community College – NBC 5 Investigates examined the vaccination rates for the group of people who are probably closest to one another all day (and all night as well): Full-time, residential students at the 36 public and private colleges and universities in Illinois where students can live on campus.

The risks can be real when it comes to immunizations. Nine students came down with the mumps at the University of Illinois last year. In previous years there were similar outbreaks at college campuses in California, Virginia, and Maryland. At Princeton University in New Jersey, six students contracted bacterial meningitis in 2013.

But currently, on 13 Illinois campuses, state records show that five-percent or more of the students currently living there have not been vaccinated for measles, a similarly contagious virus. At five additional schools, the rate jumps to more than 10 percent. And at two universities – Concordia and The School of the Art Institute – more than one in every four students who live on campus are not protected from measles, according to state records.

Illinois law says that all residential college students are supposed to provide proof of immunity against a variety of diseases – measles, mumps, rubella, and whooping cough – in order to enroll in school. As an alternative, they can apply for an exemption on either medical or religious grounds. The law says everyone else "shall be precluded from enrolling at that institution in a subsequent term." The law also says every college must report their immunization figures to the state, every year.

NBC 5 Investigates analyzed the yearly college immunization reports for measles that were filed with the Illinois Department of Public Health for the past six years. As a rule, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says a school should keep the number of non-immunized students below 10 percent. But many doctors point to the "herd immunity" threshold for measles – about 95 percent – as the rate of people who need to be vaccinated in order to protect those who can’t be [usually because of medical conditions – especially during an outbreak. That would keep the rate of non-immunized students below 5 percent.

Many Illinois schools make sure their students are immunized. Lake Forest College, for example, has kept its level of non-vaccinated students below two percent for most of the last six years. Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington consistently keeps its non-protected students at three percent or below.

But fourteen colleges and universities have a pattern of reporting high rates of students who have not been immunized for measles – 10 percent or more – for most, if not all, of the past six years.

Take Concordia University in west-suburban River Forest: It consistently reports to the IDPH that anywhere from 23 percent to 31 percent of its on-campus students are not protected from measles. Lombard-based National University of Health Sciences’ annual rate of students who are vulnerable to measles has ranged from 19 percent all the way up to 51 percent. The School of The Art Institute, Dominican University, and The University of Illinois at Springfield have also reported high rates of unprotected students, every year.

In a statement, a spokeswoman at the School of The Art Institute told NBC 5: "It is our belief that most students have received their immunization and simply have not submitted their immunization records." She said the school has taken steps to provide free vaccinations, and that they’ve removed 300 students from their non-immunized lists since the state report was filed.

The University of Illinois at Springfield has a high number of transfer and graduate students, according a spokesman there, though he adds that they would need to investigate more to see if that’s a cause of their higher rate of unprotected students.

None of the other schools with high rates of non-vaccinated students responded to NBC 5 Investigates’ request for comment.

Two schools – Columbia College and (again) the University of Illinois at Springfield – have not reported their current vaccination figures to the state, in apparent violation of state rules.

The UIS spokesman said their omission may be due to a database conversion, and they’re looking into it. At Columbia, a spokesman said their immunization report was delayed "because of circumstances beyond our control," but said they take the report seriously and do plan on filing it.

It is important to remember that these reports just reflect pure numbers. Because of privacy laws, there is no way for a student to find out if his or her roommates have gotten vaccinated for measles (or any other disease) unless they volunteer that fact.

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<![CDATA[Youth in Rural Areas Have Higher Suicide Rate, Study Says]]> Sat, 14 Mar 2015 14:10:01 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ambulance19.jpg

A new Ohio State University study has found that adolescents and young adults living in rural areas are more likely to commit suicide than those in cities.

The study analyzed suicides among people ages 10 to 24 between 1996 and 2010. Results show the adolescent and young adult suicide rate was almost twice as high in rural settings than in urban areas, and the gap appears be widening.

Cynthia Fontanella is clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center. She cites less access to health care, geographic isolation and stigma associated with mental illness as potential reasons for the disparities.

The researchers say the findings suggest there is an urgent need to improve access to mental health care in rural areas.


SUICIDE PREVENTION: If you know someone who needs help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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<![CDATA[Blue Bell Recalls Ice Cream Treats]]> Sun, 15 Mar 2015 23:04:06 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ice-cream-stock-79772399.jpg

The FDA issued a consumer advisory about some Texas-made Blue Bell ice cream products Friday, after three patients who had eaten the ice cream in a Kansas hospital died of a foodborne illness.

The illnesses prompted the Brenham, Texas-based creamery to issue the first recall in its 108-year history. Blue Bell has stopped production and distribution of ice cream products from that line and has removed them from stores and any other retail outlets.

The problem was discovered about a month ago, Blue Bell CEO Paul Kruse told NBC 5. He said the company picked up the affected products approximately three weeks ago from hospitals and stores.

The contaminated products were traced back to one machine, which has been shut down, Kruse said.

This is the first time in 108 years the company has experienced this type of problem, he added.

The affected products include the following novelty items made on the line:

  • Chocolate Chip Country Cookie
  • Great Divide Bar
  • Sour Pop Green Apple Bar
  • Cotton Candy Bar
  • Scoops
  • Vanilla Stick Slices
  • Almond Bar
  • No Sugar Added Mooo Bar (regular Mooo Bars are not included)

Consumers should not eat these items and should discard any of these products they may have in their freezers.

The advisory does not include Blue Bell cups, pints or half gallons.

Recent laboratory tests of three ice cream products from the Brenham production line — Country Cookie, Great Divide and Scoops — indicated the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause severe illness.

The company is calling back additional ice cream items because they were made on the same production line.

No Texas cases have been reported in connection to any Blue Bell products.

Five people in all developed listeriosis and three of them died at Via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita after eating products from the one production line at the Brenham creamery between December 2013 and January 2015, hospital officials say.

The patients who fell ill with listeriosis during their hospital stays had all initially been hospitalized for unrelated causes, hospital spokeswoman Maria Loving said.

The hospital was unaware that some items produced on one of the 25 production lines at Blue Bell's Central Texas creamery had been contaminated with listeria bacteria, Loving said.

She said all Blue Bell Creameries products were immediately removed from all Via Christi Health facilities in Kansas and Oklahoma once the risk was discovered.

"If you're worried about some sort of potential source of infection, and two weeks have gone by and nothing's happened to you, you're going to be fine," said Dr. Cedric Spak with Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

Spak said symptoms include vomiting, nausea and muscle ache, and they can appear suddenly.

He said those that are most at risk are those with compromised immune systems.

NBC 5's Holley Ford and Ray Villeda contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["We're Related": 8-Way Kidney Swap]]> Fri, 13 Mar 2015 09:40:24 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Kidney_Transplant_CT.jpg

Donors and recipients involved in a groundbreaking eight-way kidney swap in Connecticut came face to face for the first time Thursday, greeting each other with hugs, tears and laughter.

Four women donated kidneys to four men during a series of hours-long procedures at the Yale-New Haven Transplantation Center on March 3. The group included three sets of husbands and wives.

NBC Connecticut gained exclusive access to the surgeries, and our cameras were rolling during the life-saving procedures, which began at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. that day.

"All eight surgeries occurred on the same day and all procedures were deemed a success," said Dr. David Mulligan, director of the Yale-New Haven Transplantation Center and professor of surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, noting that the procedure "represents the largest internal kidney transplant exchange performed in Connecticut."

It started with "altruistic donor" Patricia Menno-Coveney, 61, of Mystic, Connecticut, who said she was inspired to donate by a woman at her church who gave one of her kidneys.

What she didn't know is that she would initiate an eight-person kidney chain, including three sets of husbands and wives.

Since the husbands didn't match their respective wives, doctors used computers to pair up the donors and recipients.

Menno-Coveney was matched to Shelton resident David Rennie, whose wife, Margaret Rennie, donated a kidney to Raymond Murphy, of Old Saybrook.

In turn, Murphy's wife, Sylvie Murphy, gave a kidney to Mario Garcia, of New Haven, and Garcia's wife, Hilary Grant, donated her kidney to Stamford resident Edward Brakoniecki.

Without the swap, the men would have endured years of waiting and dialysis. Brakoniecki had already waited five years for a transplant from a deceased donor.

But the generosity of one woman from Mystic sparked a chain that quite likely saved four lives. Nine days later, everyone is in good spirits.

"Look at me," said donor Hillary Grant. "This is a week and two days later. I feel absolutely normal."

Dr. Peter Schulam, professor and chair of urology at Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Yale School of Medicine, explained that the donors and recipients seem to be well on their way to recovery.

"They're usually in the hospital one or two nights," Schulam said. "They're able to return to work in two to four weeks depending on what their occupation is."

The donors and recipients met in person for the first time Thursday ahead of a news conference at Yale-New Haven Hospital. They hugged, cried, swapped contact information and promised to stay in touch.

"I was the lucky recipient in an eight-person kidney swap," David Rennie told NBC Connecticut during an exclusive interview. "It's kind of surreal, kind of like we're related now."

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<![CDATA[Ebola-Infected Worker Arrives in US]]> Fri, 13 Mar 2015 12:18:23 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/NIHClinic.jpg

An American healthcare worker infected with Ebola in West Africa arrived at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland Friday morning.

The patient is in serious condition and was flown in isolation from Sierra Leone on a chartered plane and admitted at 4:44 a.m., NIH officials said in a statement. The patient's name, age and gender were not released.

The patient had been volunteering at an Ebola treatment unit in Sierra Leone when he or she contracted the disease. The patient was flown to the United States on a chartered flight and then traveled to the hospital via private charter medevac.

The NIH Clinical Center's Special Clinical Studies Unit (SCSU) is designed for high-level isolation capabilities and is staffed by specialists in infectious diseases and critical care, the NIH said.

The person is the second to be treated for Ebola at NIH. Last fall, Texas nurse Nina Pham was treated there after contracting the disease while treating the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S.

The NIH has also cared for two other people who had high-risk exposures to Ebola, but were later determined to not be infected.

The World Health Organization estimated Thursday that the virus has killed more than 10,000 people, mostly in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The current outbreak is the largest ever for the disease. While deaths have slowed dramatically in recent months, the virus appears stubbornly entrenched in parts of Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
 



Photo Credit: NIH Clinical Center]]>
<![CDATA[Promising New Autism Research]]> Thu, 12 Mar 2015 10:32:54 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/autism6.jpg

A blood-based measure could lead to a clinical test that could spot signs of autism in boys just 1 or 2 years old, a new study has found, a finding that could help children with autism get the help they need earlier on. 

The study, conducted by an international team led by UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers and published in the current online issue of JAMA Psychiatry, found that certain genetic fingerprints might lead to an earlier method of diagnosing autism in male toddlers.

Researchers were able to identify those biomarkers, or genetic fingerprints, in blood samples from boys with autism as young as 12 months old.

Researchers analyzed two different blood samples with two groups of participants. The first group had 147 toddlers and the second group had 73 toddlers.

"The mean age of autism identification in the United States right now is four to five years so by that point, a lot of brain development opportunities have passed," said Eric Courchesne, Ph.D, professor of neurosciences and director of UCSD's Autism Center of Excellence. "What you really want to do is identify the child at the youngest possible age."

Autism is four times more common in males, researchers said, so the study started with looking at young toddlers because it would be easier to recruit young boys with autism for the study.

Because the causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are complex and can vary, it can be difficult to conclusively diagnose a child before the child turns four. 

One parent said an earlier diagnosis in her son could have had a positive impact on his development. 

"I thought I knew how to parent boys," said Karen Heumann. "And he came along, and he was wild and he was out of control, and I thought, 'Oh, he's just trying to keep pace with his brothers,' and instead, he's autistic."

Heumann said as soon as her family found out about her son's Asperger's syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, they were able to get him therapy. 

That was when her son was 5 years old. She said learning of the diagnosis earlier would have meant more services for him before he started school. 

In the study, researchers looked at blood-based genomic biomarkers that could lead to the development of a clinical test for ASD in boys as young as 1 or 2 years old.

Blood is expected to carry autism-relevant molecular signatures that can be used to detect early signs of autism, said the study's first author, Tiziano Pramparo.

The study found that the genes related to translation and immune/inflammation functions, as well as cell adhesion and cell cycle, were different in boys with ASD and boys without ASD. Genes such as those can have an effect on early brain development in toddlers.

The results of the study may lead researchers to diagnosing autism earlier than current methods. Early diagnosis methods could boost the efficacy of intervention and remedial treatments.

The Clinical Director for the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai in New York said the study is important and suggests progress but that results should be viewed cautiously.

“Larger studies and replication of the findings are necessary before these preliminary results can be considered clinically meaningful,” said Alex Kolevzon, MD.

The study was co-authored by Karen Pierce, Cynthia Carter Barnes, Steven Marinero, Clelia Ahrens-Barbeau and Linda Lopez, from the UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence; Michael V. Lombardo from the University of Cambridge and University of Cyprus; Sarah S. Murray from the Scripps Translational Sciences Institute; and Ronghui Xu from UCSD.

The study, partly funded by the Race for Autism and the National Institute of Mental Health, was published in the March 2015 online issue of JAMA Psychiatry.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Burger King Drops Soft Drinks From Kids' Meals]]> Tue, 10 Mar 2015 11:26:14 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/burger-king-thumb-82504247.jpg

Burger King is no longer promoting soft drinks on its kids' meal menus.

"We have removed fountain drinks from our kids' menu boards and they are no longer merchandised as part of kids' meals," the company said in an emailed statement to NBC.

The company will instead suggest the meals be accompanied with 100% apple juice, fat-free milk, or low fat chocolate milk.

The menu change does not completely prevent customers from getting sodas with the meals. Customers will still be able to request for a soft drink to accompany kids' meals, the company said.

Advocacy groups like MomsRising.org had been pressuring Burger King and other food chains to make the change. 

"Parents and families across the country are applauding as one by one, restaurants are listening to parents and public health experts and starting to do their part to help keep America’s kids healthy,” MomsRising.org director Monifa Bandale said in a statement.

Competitors McDonald's and Wendy’s have announced similar menu changes. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Dunkin' Drops Food-Coloring Additive]]> Fri, 06 Mar 2015 13:16:42 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dunkin-donuts-AP110727023936.jpg

Dunkin’ Donuts is removing a food-coloring ingredient from its powdered sugar goods, the brand announced Thursday.

The component titanium dioxide is used to brighten white substances. While certain quantities of the ingredient are permitted by regulators and commonly used in items in the U.S., according to CNBC, the use has come under fire from critics of using such substances in food.

As You Sow, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, conducted a food study in 2013 that examined the use of nanomaterial, matter broken down by technology into molecule-size particles. After finding that Dunkin’ Donuts and Hostess Donettes tested positive for the presence of the titanium dioxide materials of less than 10 nanometers, the advocacy group  brought a proposal to Dunkin’ Donuts’ shareholders urging them to eliminate nanoparticles from their goods.

Karen Raskopf, chief communications officer of Dunkin’ Donuts, confirmed that the company plans to phase out the ingredient, but disagreed with the characterization that it is a nanoparticle.

“The ingredient used in our powdered donuts does not meet the definition of “nanoparticle” as outlined under FDA guidance,” she said, “Nevertheless, we began testing alternative formulations for this product in 2014 and we are in the process of rolling out a solution to the system that does not contain titanium dioxide.”

Both the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency classify titanium dioxide as a nanomaterial. Although the FDA has approved the use of it, the agency has said it will continue to monitor the safety of nanotechnology as the science emerges. The EPA is likewise investigating the ingredient, which it says can also be found in sunscreens, cosmetics, and paints and coatings.



Photo Credit: AP Images]]>
<![CDATA["Top 10 Tips" for Medical Marijuana Patients]]> Fri, 06 Mar 2015 12:01:13 -0500 Illinois Department of Public Health has created a "Top 10" list of tips for people applying for medical marijuana cards. Scroll through to see what they recommend.]]> Illinois Department of Public Health has created a "Top 10" list of tips for people applying for medical marijuana cards. Scroll through to see what they recommend.]]> http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/medical+marijuana+stock+capsule+cannabis+prescription+note+bottle+stethoscope.jpg The Illinois Department of Public Health released its top 10 tips for people applying for medical marijuana cards.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA["Wake-Up Call": Study Reveals Magnitude of Memory Loss]]> Thu, 05 Mar 2015 15:47:30 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/alzheimers-149679784.jpg

About 4 million American households include at least one adult with increasing memory loss or confusion, a new federal study shows,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study is the first to report on worsening memory loss or confusion in households and could offer insight into the health and financial consequences for families. Older adults with complaints about memory have a greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, which is potentially a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Matthew Baumgart, the senior director of policy for the Alzheimer’s Association, told NBC Owned Television Stations that the findings should be a "wake-up call for the long-term care system."

“It is really important to look at these numbers, and for the public health system to take notice,”  Baumgart said. “It’s a wake-up call for the long-term care system. It should be a wake-up call for the federal government to invest more in the research so that we can change the trajectory of the disease.”

The researchers analyzed data from the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, looking at households in 13 states in which at least one adult had memory loss or confusion that had gotten worse in the last 12 months.

They found that included 12.6 percent of households. In 5.4 percent of households, all of the adults had experienced increased memory loss or confusion.

The researchers wrote that their findings highlighted the magnitude of the problem and could affect public policies.

“For example, increasing awareness about recognition of signs and symptoms of cognitive decline in self or others can allow household members to seek medical advice and plan for future needs,” they wrote.

Baumgart said that there was an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States and that the numbers were projected to get even worse.

“We’re going to go from over 5 million Americans living with the disease today to as many as 16 million by 2050 — that’s tripling the number of people who are living with this disease,” Baumgart said. “It’s the most expensive disease in America so you can imagine the burden that this huge growing number of people with it will is going to have on our system unless we do something about it.”

Baumgart said that the CDC’s data on people beginning to have memory problems was important as a good predictor for future dementia.

“It is really important to look at these numbers, and for the public health system to take notice,” he said. “It’s a wake-up call for the long-term care system. It should be a wake-up call for the federal government to invest more in the research so that we can change the trajectory of the disease.”

A second report, also from the CDC, looked at the age and health of Americans with memory limitations and also difficulties functioning. It found that they tended to be younger.

Those researchers looked at data for people 45 years or older from 21 states that participated in the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

“Eligibility for services is often age-dependent; our findings underscore a need to ensure assistance for people who have increased confusion or memory loss and functional difficulties but who do not meet the present age-related eligibility requirements,” the researchers wrote.

NBC Owned Television Stations' Jennifer Vasquez and Evan Carr contributed to this report.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pot: "The Conservative Thing To Do"?]]> Wed, 04 Mar 2015 13:53:16 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000011320220_1200x675_408074819728.jpg A Texas state lawmaker proposes legalizing marijuana, saying "God didn't make a mistake the government needs to fix when he made marijuana." Valerie Kilgore from NBC station KETK reports.]]> <![CDATA[Lasers Target Mosquitoes]]> Wed, 04 Mar 2015 14:12:55 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Yellow+Fever+Mosquito.jpg A new high-tech bug zapper identifies certain types of mosquitoes, then shoots them out of the air with low-power lasers. Glenn Farley from NBC station KING reports.

Photo Credit: County News Center]]>
<![CDATA[Thousands of Bassinets, Cradles Recalled Due to Suffocation Risk]]> Wed, 04 Mar 2015 11:46:13 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bassinet-recall.jpg

Fall and suffocation hazards prompted the recall of thousands of two-in-one bassinets.

Dream on Me recalled nearly 13,000 two-in-one bassinet to cradle products after learning that the wire supports on the sides can disconnect and cause the fabric sides to lower, leaving infants susceptible to falling out or suffocation.

The company issued the recalled after receiving a report of one such incident. No injuries were reported.

The bassinet to cradle was sold nationwide from May 2012 to October 2014 at Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Wayfair.com, ToysRUs.com and Kohls.com.

Consumers should stop using the product and contact Dream on Me for a free repair.

For More Information:

www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2015/Dream-on-Me-Recalls-2-in-1-Bassinet-to-Cradle/



Photo Credit: US Consumer Product Safety Commission]]>
<![CDATA[Plague-Carrying Flea Found on NYC Rats: Study]]> Wed, 04 Mar 2015 09:41:42 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/101214rats.jpg

The type of flea that spread the bubonic plague across Europe in the 1300s, killing millions of people, lives in NYC, according to a study published in a medical journal.

Cornell University researchers trapped 133 rats in five different locations across the city. They then euthanized the rodents and killed the insects living on them using a vapor. Combing through the rats’ fur, they found 6.500 parasites, including the tropical rat mite, the spine rat louse, the spiny rat mite and the now infamous oriental rat flea, according to the Journal of Medical Entomology study.

Among those parasites was the oriental rat flea, which is believed to have caused the Black Death pandemic in Europe centuries ago, according to the researchers.

New Yorkers can breathe a sigh of relief, however. The report said rats in the city no longer carry the disease. But some rats do carry Bartonella, a bacterium that causes fever and flu-like symptoms. 

Diseases are spread from rats to humans via flea bites, which involve the flea regurgitating its gut matter into a human's bloodstream.

The parasite survey shows that more research is needed to determine the danger posed by rats, Matthew Frye, the study’s co-author, told The Verge.

Although such parasite surveys have been possible since the early 1900s, none have been conducted in the city since the 1920s.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Brain Surgeons Use 3-D Technology]]> Tue, 03 Mar 2015 09:07:32 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/generic-brain2.jpg

For the first time, brain surgeons at UCLA’s Neurosurgery Center can look inside the heads of their patients before they go under the knife.

Using a breakthrough tool called the Surgical Theater, doctors can create ultra-realistic 3-D virtual replicas of a patient’s brain and look inside when preparing for surgery.

"We can see the anatomy with great precision and it’s not obscured by fluid, by blood, by any of the things that can be problematic during the operation," explains to Dr. Neil Martin of the UCLA Neurosurgery Center. “That allows us to operate with greater precision and a lot more confidence.”

Some problems can be cured if the surgery is performed perfectly. This 3-D technology improves the chance of a successful procedure by giving doctors a road map for the surgery. Once the 3-D virtual brain is created by combing layers of a traditional CT scan, it’s displayed on a large touch sensitive screen.

The surgeon can then manipulate the image by touch, rotating it, resizing it and locating specific parts of the anatomy.

"We’re prepared before we even get there," Dr. Martin said. "It shortens the operative time and, in my experience, that sense of déjà vu leads you to a much better operation."

Recently, Dr. Martin used the device to prepare for two surgeries that if performed perfectly could lead to a full cure.

Sibyl Stringer was diagnosed with an aneurism - a weakened blood vessel - which could have killed Stringer if it burst.

"I didn’t have any symptoms and it was discovered while we were looking for something else," Stringer said.

Lucas Deines discovered he has a non-cancerous brain tumor when visiting his doctor because of an unrelated problem with headaches. Although benign, the tumor had the power to recur and require further surgery or even radiation, according to Dr. Martin.

"I was scared to death to be frank," Deines said.

After studying the 3-D models of each of their brains, Dr. Martin was able to successfully complete Sibyl and Deines’ difficult surgeries without any major complications.

"I feel blessed that I’m talking to you, and that it’s not a bad dream," Deines said.

Dr. Bruce says: "Lucas told us that just five days after his surgery. This breakthrough technique may soon be used in other areas of the body as well. It may save lives and cut down on risks."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mother Denied Potentially Life-Saving Medical Device by Insurance]]> Sat, 28 Feb 2015 11:36:08 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/NBC5INV-insulin-pump.jpg

A suburban mother living with Type 1 Diabetes said she is being denied a potentially life-saving medical device by her insurance provider.

Amy Carbone of Palos Heights said she also has hypoglycemia unawareness, a complication of diabetes in which the patient is unaware of a deep drop in blood sugar levels. She said her condition makes her more susceptible to losing consciousness.

"Without knowing when my blood sugar gets low I could lose consciousness and I could die,"  Carbone said.

Carbone’s nine-year-old son, Matthew, recently found his mother lying unconscious in her bedroom.

"I could hear him saying, 'Mommy, Mommy.’ But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t react. I couldn’t do anything," Carbone said.

Carbone recovered but she said she is concerned about future bouts of unconsciousness. She currently wears an insulin pump to manage her diabetes, but due to her hypoglycemia unawareness, her medical team is urging her to keep her blood sugar levels high. Unfortunately, high blood sugar levels can result in additional health problems, including blindness and kidney failure.

That’s why Carbone’s nurse practitioner prescribed her a new device called the Medtronic MiniMed 530G with Enlite. It includes an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitoring system. The device shuts off when blood sugar gets low.

"I’ve got other patients who are on this device who said it’s a God-send because without it they would have no idea that their sugars were dropping," said Terese Bertucci, APN.

Medical professionals call the device state-of-the-art and the future of diabetes management.

"The combination of continuous glucose monitoring plus the pump could potentially be life-saving and even cost-saving," said Dr. Louis Philipson of the University of Chicago’s Kovler Diabetes Center.

But there’s a problem.

Carbone’s insurance provider, United HealthCare, will not cover the device for her. The company sent a denial letter to Carbone which read the services "are not eligible for coverage because your plan does not cover unproven procedures." The letter also stated "current medical studies have not shown that this device is equal to or better than other standard pumps" for Carbone’s condition.

"I have worked really hard to keep myself healthy and I really resent the fact that they are trying to undo all that I’ve done," Carbone said.

United HealthCare would not comment on whether it’s approved the device for its members but they responded by saying there are many insulin pump that the plan covers.

"We would be happy to work with Ms. Carbone and her physician to find an insulin pump that meets her needs and is covered under her benefit plan," United HealthCare spokesperson Tony Marusic wrote in a statement to NBC 5 Investigates.

The FDA-approved MiniMed 530G with Enlite is listed online at a cost of more than $10,000. The device also requires constant supplies. But other insurance companies, including Aetna, Cigna, Humana and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, told NBC 5 Investigates they would cover the device for members who meet their criteria.

Medicare said it does not cover the device or any other devices that perform continuous glucose monitoring.

Philipson said there are an estimated 2.8 million people in the United States living with Type 1 Diabetes. He said the MiniMed device checks a patient’s glucose levels about 288 times a day and could alert the patient before his or her blood sugar drops.

"I think it’s very acceptable technology," Philipson said. "It’s FDA-approved, it’s certainly not an experiment."

Philipson is supporting an effort in the Illinois legislature that would require increased insurance coverage of diabetes test strips used to monitor blood sugar levels.

"To prevent low or high blood sugar over the course of a lifetime more than repays whatever few pennies a day we’re talking about," Philipson said.

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<![CDATA[New App Lets Patients Receive Diagnosis Through Phone]]> Sun, 01 Mar 2015 19:57:37 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Liberty11P0228_1200x675_406144067928.jpg

Not feeling up for a visit to the doctor? A new phone application may be able to help you out.

Doctor on Demand can help diagnose common health problems without the patient ever having to step foot inside a hospital.

Users can download the application and talk with board-certified and licensed doctors in their area through a web cam.

Some doctors say this is another way of dealing with day-to-day care, but should not be used for chronic health issues.

The application works on a pay-per-visit basis with no other feeds and has medical and pediatric doctors available as well as psychologists and lactation consultants.

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<![CDATA["Biggest Loser" Winner Visits NBC 5]]> Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:22:51 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Toma-Dobrosavljevic.jpg Addison's Toma Dobrosavljevic dishes on the show, the behind-the-scenes drama, relationships he's made and what's next for him.]]> <![CDATA[WATCH: Body Bags Are Getting Bigger]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:56:06 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/NC_bigbodybags.jpg With more than one third of U.S. adults overweight, coroners are having problems with standard body bags sizes being too small.]]> <![CDATA[Lake County Warns of Possible Measles Exposure]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 19:33:49 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/doctor-generic1.jpg

One day after public health officials announced a 15th person has been diagnosed with measles in Cook County, the Lake County Health Department warned residents about the potential for exposure.

Officials said the latest person to test positive for the virus visited Lake County at a time when they could have been contagious.

The health department warned that residents who visited or worked at the Menards store at 2700 W. Lake Cook Rd. in Long Grove between 7:55 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. Feb. 15 may have been exposed.

Epidemiologist Victor Plotkin with the Lake County Health Department asks that Menards employees and customers who were in this store during that time take inventory of any unusual symptoms they may be experiencing.

"Measles starts as a cold illness, a non-specific cold illness," Plotkin said. "Because of how contagious it is, it can spread like a fire. Therefore, we are taking no chances."

Clinics offering free measles, mumps, rubella vaccines will be offered for customers and employees of the store who feel they may have been exposed, the department said.

"The measles vaccine is safe, effective and the best protection against this disease," Tony Beltran, the Lake County Health Department's executive director, said in a statement. "Before the U.S. measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 to 4 million people in the U.S. got measles each year, 400 to 500 of them died and 48,000 were hospitalized."

Health officials said there have been no confirmed measles cases in Lake County as of Thursday afternoon.

All 15 cases reported statewide are in Cook County and 13 of them are related to the outbreak at the KinderCare Learning Center, including one adult and 12 infants.

Officials say the latest case is an adult, but does not appear to be related to the KinderCare Learning Center at the center of a northwest suburban outbreak.

Illinois health officials are still trying to figure out how the people became infected with the measles virus. No ties have been found to the December outbreak at Disneyland in California, health officials said.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can cause severe health complications, including pneumonia, encephalitis and death.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Anthem Breach Affects 215,000 Blue Cross Members in Ill.]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:27:01 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/219*120/doctor_generic_health.jpg

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois said around 215,000 members’ personal information was compromised in a data breach at Anthem, Inc. this month.

The company said personal information about current and former members, including addresses, birthdates, social security numbers and telephone numbers may have been exposed in the breach. Medical and credit card information was not affected.

The breach affects members of an Anthem plan dating back to 2004 and includes customers of Amerigroup, Anthem and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, Caremore and Unicare.
Customers who used their Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance in one of fourteen states, including Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, could have also been impacted.

Anthem announced the breach earlier this month, estimating the attack could have affected up to 80 million records.

BCBSIL said it planned to mail notifications to the current and former members in Illinois whose personal information may have been compromised.

“BCBSIL regrets that this may cause our members inconvenience,” the company said in a statement. “The privacy of our members is a top priority. BCBSIL has a robust information security program and has established additional security measures following the Anthem data breach.”

Anthem said it will offer 24 months of credit services to all current and former BCBSIL members affected in the breach.

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<![CDATA[Hand Washing Dishes May Prevent Allergies: Study]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 11:24:46 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dishwashingAllergy-529008409.jpg

Washing dishes might be the best chore for a kid.

Doing dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher might prevent or reduce allergies in children, according to a Swedish study published in the journal Pediatrics yesterday.

The study of more than 1,000 children from Sweden found that those living in homes where dishes were washed by hand were 40 percent less likely to develop allergies compared to those in homes with a dishwasher.

A questionnaire asked parents about their dishwashing practices as well as whether their 7- or 8-year-olds had asthma, eczema or seasonal allergies.

The researchers suggest that allergy development was reduced due to increased microbial exposure from the bacteria left on dishes, and that the exposure is good for children because it may stimulate their immune systems.

The report references a German study from 2004 that compared hand-washing techniques and dishwashers and found that half of the subjects did not clean as well as a dishwasher. That study also found that milk products have the potential to stay on utensils enough to pose health risks.

"People whose immune systems are no longer busy fighting infection become disregulated and allergic,” Susan Wasserman, professor of medicine at McMaster University in Canada, told Live Science. Wasserman referred to the "hygiene hypothesis," a theory that the immune systems of children not exposed to as many microbes do know how to fight off allergens such as pollen.

The new study of Swedish children found that the development of allergies in children was reduced even more once the researchers analyzed other lifestyle factors. Eating fermented foods, living in crowded situations, and being a part of an immigrant family all prevent or reduce the development of allergies.

In the commentary of the study, two physicans at University of California, San Francisco, said that dishwater usage and other lifestyle choices should be researched further.



Photo Credit: Illustration/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Study Finds Obesity, Diabetes Link]]> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 16:26:17 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/UC-San-Diego-generic_6.jpg

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, believe they have discovered the "root cause" of Type 2 diabetes — a molecular link between obesity and diabetes that may lead to new treatment.

Inflammation that results from obesity leads to insulin resistance, the first step in developing Type 2 diabetes, the study found.

One inflammatory molecule in particular, LTB4, is released by immune cells living in extra fat, called macrophages. Positive feedback then signals for the body to release more macrophages, which then release more LTB4 into the fatty cells in the liver, researchers found.

"This study is important because it reveals a root cause of type 2 diabetes," the study's senior author Dr. Jerrold M. Olefsky, professor of medicine and associate dean for scientific affairs, said in a statement. "And now that we understand that LTB4 is the inflammatory factor causing insulin resistance, we can inhibit it to break the link between obesity and diabetes."

Those LTB4 then bind to nearby cell surfaces, the researchers found. In people who are obese, those cells become inflamed and the body becomes resistant to insulin.

In the UC San Diego study, Olefsky and his team of researchers used genetically engineered mice to look for ways to reverse insulin resistance.

The team created genetically engineered mice that did not have the LTB4 receptor. Without the receptor, the health of obese mice “dramatically improved.”

The study was authored by Pingping Li, Da Young Oh, Gautam Bandyopadhyay, William S. Lagakos, Saswata Talukdar, Olivia Osborn, Andrew Johnson, Heekyung Chung, Rafael Mayoral, Michael Maris, Jachelle M Ofrecio, Sayaka Taguchi, Min Lu. All of the researchers are at UC San Diego.

The research was funded in part by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Merck Inc.



Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[Study Examines Peanut Allergy]]> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:45:57 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/peanut+butter+recall.jpg

A groundbreaking study released Monday argues that the key to preventing peanut allergies in children may lie in early and regular exposure to the food, but some parents aren't quite ready to expose their children.

Researchers at King’s College London found introducing peanut snacks to children at high-risk for the allergy made them less likely to develop it by the time they turned 5 than kids who avoided peanut snacks completely.

"Consumption rather than avoidance seems to protect against developing peanut allergy," said Dr. Gideon Lack, of King’s College.

But the news doesn't provide relief for parents of kids who already have a potentially fatal peanut allergy. 

"We just can’t take a chance. We don’t eat out. We don’t travel on planes. We have to live differently than the normal family," said Debbie Adler, whose 6-year-old son suffers from allergies.

Adler first discovered her son’s allergies when he experienced a severe reaction after eating frozen yogurt.

"He started vomiting profusely. I had never seen anything like this. Nonstop. Nonstop. Went on and on until he turned blue and passed out in my arms," Adler said.

In addition to milk, doctors found Adler’s son also had a peanut allergy. Allergies like his are not only a nuisance, but they can also be deadly. In some cases, just smelling peanuts is enough to cause a child to go into anaphylactic shock.

Adler’s son is not alone: More than 2 percent of kids in the United States are allergic to peanuts and that number is only climbing, according to the Associated Press. However, the King's College study could help reverse this upward trajectory.

Researchers enrolled 640 children under age 1 who were at high risk for peanut allergy. Half were given a peanut snack at least three times a week, while the others were told to avoid all peanuts until five.

Although counterintuitive, the results confirmed avoiding peanuts did not help ward off peanut allergies. In fact, 17 percent of the kids who avoided peanuts developed an allergy by age five. However, only three percent of the kids who ate the peanut snacks developed the same allergy.

"You need to be introduced to these proteins very early in life," Lack continued.

There is also a new patch designed to desensitize peanut allergy patients by exposing them to a small dose of peanut protein. The common thread appears to be that a little bit of exposure and consumption seems to teach the body that peanuts are not an enemy.

Adler hopes this technique will free other families from the debilitating effects of nut allergies.

"It would change our lives significantly is he could eat all of the things he’s allergic too."

Dr. Bruce’s Advice: If your kid has a lot of allergies, speak with a doctor and begin exposing them to tiny amounts of the allergens under supervision. If your child gets a rash or other symptoms, stop.

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<![CDATA[New Rules to Combat "Superbugs"]]> Sat, 21 Feb 2015 02:35:50 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/web_superbug_gordon_5p_1200x675_401693763890.jpg

Doctors and administrators at Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center said Thursday that new procedures for cleaning a medical device used in some exams will prevent the "superbug" that led to two deaths and five other infections from spreading to anyone else.

Officials also faced tough questions as many wondered why it had taken them until yesterday to tell the public about an outbreak that began more than a month ago.

"It takes a little bit of time to identify the patients who are at risk for the procedure," said Dr. Zachary Rubin, the hospital’s medical director of infection prevention.

In mid-December, a UCLA patient received a gallbladder exam using a device called an endoscope.

The patient, whose identity was not disclosed, developed immediate symptoms of the "superbug" bacteria, doctors said. The patient had a fever, chills and then a massive infection.

Doctors tested the scope to make sure it was used and sterilized properly.

The devices are difficult to sterilize completely, and even feature warnings from the manufacturer. Doctors found two of the scopes may have transmitted the bacteria.

Researchers then found seven other cases of the infection stemming from the CRE bacteria, which is fatal in as many as half of those whose bloodstreams are exposed to it.

The bacteria exists naturally in many people’s intestines and will not affect them, but once it enters the bloodstream it can be deadly.

"We do do surveillance on a regular, routine basis for CRE, and we've actually done additional investigation over the past few years," Rubin said.

But the bacteria did not turn up when the first patient was admitted, the one who may have been a "carrier."

While researching any possible exposure, the hospital implemented new and stricter requirements for sterilizing the scopes.

Checking records to find out which endoscopies were performed on which patients with the two contaminated devices took time, said doctors.

They also didn't want to alarm all patients who'd had endoscopies if they weren't exposed to the same contaminated instruments.

Ultimately, they discovered 179 patients total who may have been exposed during procedures between October 2014 and Jan. 28.

Doctors are continuing to reach out to patients who may have been affected. Rubin said they have called and emailed patients out of an “abundance of caution.”

"What we're doing now is trying to identify any patients that have 'carrier state,'" Rubin said.

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<![CDATA[FDA Warning: Traces of Peanuts Found in Cumin]]> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 11:52:15 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/cumin-86069470.jpg

Hundreds of products are being pulled from store shelves after traces of peanut were found in cumin spice — a life-threatening danger to some people with peanut allergies.

The recall has been ongoing since December, as more retailers identify products that contain the cumin. The Food and Drug Administration is now warning all people with peanut allergies to avoid cumin and products that contain cumin.

While such large allergy-related recalls are rare, undeclared allergens like peanuts are the leading cause of food recalls in the United States. That can be very unsettling to people who are keeping a close watch on what they or their children eat, since food allergies can be a matter of life or death.

"You might do all of the things you are supposed to do and read the label, but there could still be undeclared allergens," says Dr. Michael Pistiner, a Boston-based pediatric allergist. "It's challenging to know that and still feel comfortable."

Pistiner says he sees the recalls as low-risk, since often the amount of the undeclared allergen is very small. "But the highest risk is to our comfort," he says.

According to the group Food Allergy Research and Education, or FARE, 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 1 in 13 children. Eight foods account for more than 90 percent of the allergies — peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

Since 2006, those allergens are required by law to be listed on food packages if they are ingredients. The law is less clear when it comes to cross- contamination, however — companies aren't required to list on the label if peanuts or another allergen are processed in the same facility or on the same equipment.

Little is known about how many people may have reactions to allergens that accidentally make their way into food. Those reactions are hard to track — much harder than a pathogen like salmonella, for instance, which can be identified in a person's stool and traced directly to the same strains in a food manufacturing facility or on a farm.

The FDA said it had 428 reports of "adverse events" related to undeclared allergens between January 2012 and December 2014, including reports of three deaths. The agency would not release any detailed information on those reports, which are made by consumers and can't always be confirmed by the agency.

The agency said it has had at least seven reports from consumers related to the cumin recall. Hundreds of products have been recalled since December, from spice mixes to black beans to meats with marinades that include cumin. The spice is often used in Tex-Mex and Indian dishes. The FDA declined to provide any further details on how it happened or what company added peanuts or peanut residue to its cumin spice.

The FDA said packaged foods may not have enough of the affected cumin to trigger a reaction — but those who are sensitive should be careful just in case. Some products may not actually list cumin, but list "spices" instead.

Multiple recalls have spanned a two-month period. The first was on Dec. 26, when Texas-based Adams Foods recalled several of its cumin spices. On Feb. 9, the retailer Whole Foods recalled more than 100 products that potentially contained the cumin. Last Friday, Goya Foods recalled some brands of its black beans and black bean soup. Several other foods have been pulled off store shelves as well.

FARE, the allergy group, routinely notifies its members of what recalls are out there so they can keep track. And the group is pushing the FDA to ensure that allergens are treated as importantly as pathogens like salmonella and E. coli when the agency issues final food safety rules later this year.

"Requiring food processors and manufacturers to identify potential allergen hazards and develop plans to avoid those hazards is critical," the group told the FDA in comments on the rule.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>