A look at some of the week’s top health stories includes tap water and food allergies, FDA and device companies speeding up medical device approvals, and early flu season readiness.
A new study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology links high levels of dichlorophenols–chemicals used for chlorinating tap water–to a higher risk of food allergies. According to the study, people with higher levels of these chemicals in their urine have a greater risk of developing food allergies.
Out of the 2,211 people with high levels of dichlorophenols who participated in the study, 411 had food allergies and 1,016 had an environmental allergy, according to researchers. Researchers say their findings shouldn’t lead people to stop drinking tap water, because in addition to being used in tap water, these chemicals are also found in pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables.
These findings could lead to studies that investigate pesticides as a probable cause of allergies. Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore University Hospital, told ABC News that the link “justifies pursuing the kinds of studies that can help sort [out] if these pesticides are, indeed, the cause.”
FDA Works with Medical Device Manufacturers to Speed Approvals
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with medical device manufacturers to make the approval process of new medical devices quicker and cheaper. The new organization, called the Medical Device Innovation Consortium (MDIC) will begin working on creating tools that can help assess effectiveness and safety of devices. LifeScience Alley and the FDA first announced their intent to work together in December 2011.
One of the planned projects could be developing computer programs that would test devices on “virtual patients” before manufacturers begin expensive, human clinical trials. LifeScience Alley is one of the consortium’s co-founders, along with medical device giant Medtronic –the manufacturer of INFUSE Bone Grafts. Other founding companies include Abiomed, BD, CVRx, Boston Scientific, Cyberonics and Immucor Gamma.
An employee of Medtronic, Maura Donovan, is serving as the executive director of the MDIC and is also recruiting additional board members. The group hopes to get new medical devices on the market sooner.
CDC: Nation Prepared for Early Flu Season
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States has just begun what could be one of its worst flu seasons in a decade. Normally, the worst of the flu doesn’t usually strike until after Christmas.
The good news is that the CDC says the nation is prepared with flu vaccines that match the current flu strain; 112 million people have already been vaccinated.
One of the most lethal flu seasons in the past 35 years occurred in the winter of 2003-2004, when there were 48,000 deaths. That was the last time the flu came early, and that strain of flu is reportedly the same strain that has come early this season.
The worst-hit states seem to be in the South, with Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana reporting above-average numbers of flu cases. There was also one case of a new virus strain reported in Iowa called H3N2v.