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Health Highlights: Aug. 19, 2020

Last Updated: August 19, 2020.

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

Recalled Onions Linked to 869 Salmonella Cases in 47 States

Recalled onions have been linked to a salmonella outbreak that's caused 869 illnesses in 47 states, according to an an update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency said there have been 116 hospitalizations, CBS News reported Wednesday.

The onions and foods that contain them have led to a number of consumer alerts and recalls by major retailers nationwide.

For example, Kroger -- the country's largest supermarket chain -- last week recalled more than 30 varieties of cheese dips and spreads as they may contain the recalled onions, CBS News reported.

Consumers have also been warned about eating prepared foods that contain the recalled onions and were sold by other retailers, including Giant Eagle and Walmart.


FDA Emergency Approval on Hold for Blood Plasma to Treat COVID-19

U.S. Food and Drug Administration's emergency approval of blood plasma as a COVID-19 treatment was put on hold last week after senior federal health officials said data supporting the therapy was too weak.

More data is under review and the approval could still be issued in the near future, according to H. Clifford Lane, the clinical director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, The New York Times reported.

Plasma donated by people who've survived COVID-19 has high levels of antibodies against the disease and is considered safe, but clinical trials have not proven that it can help COVID-19 patients.

The proposed emergency approval was based on the history of plasma's use in treating other diseases, animal research, and a number of plasma studies, including a federal government-financed Mayo Clinic research that's tested plasma in more than 66,000 COVID-19 patient and is the largest such study in the U.S, The Times reported.

However, a number of leading health officials -- including Lane, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert -- cautioned last week that available data from the Mayo study wasn't strong enough to support emergency approval.

"The three of us are pretty aligned on the importance of robust data through randomized control trials, and that a pandemic does not change that," Lane told The Times.

An emergency approval at this stage would "change the way people view trials," according to Dr. Mila Ortigoza, an infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health who started a plasma clinical trial with colleagues at Montefiore Medical Center.

"We want to make sure that when we say it works, we are confident, with indisputable evidence," she told The Times. "We're dealing with patients' lives here."

An FDA spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter, The Times reported.

Plasma is the pale liquid that remains after red and white cells are removed from blood. Using plasma from people who've recovered from COVID-19 to treat patients with the disease has attracted considerable attention as a potential therapy while scientists try to develop vaccines against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.


Women's Bodies Can Impede Less Desirable Sperm

A woman's body can act to lower less desirable sperm's chances of fertilizing an egg, researchers report.

They found that genetic compatibility between a woman's cervical mucus and a man's sperm affects the swimming motion, speed and viability of the sperm, CNN reported.

The study was published Aug. 19 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

A previous study by the same researchers showed the same thing occurs in a woman's follicular fluid.

"The whole reproductive tract of the female seems to have evolved to filter out 'unwanted' spermatozoa," said the author of both studies, Jukka Kekalainen, an associate professor, Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland, told CNN.

"We argue that cryptic female choice can potentially occur in multiple stages during the sperm migration from the vagina towards the unfertilized egg," she said.

The findings could help improve infertility treatment.

Between 30-40% of couples struggling with infertility don't know the exact cause, so if "both are diagnosed as fertile, it is possible 'gamete-level incompatibility concept' can help them to understand the reasons behind their reproductive problems," Kekalainen told CNN.

"Thus, we would encourage future infertility research to test the possibility that infertility is not always a pathological condition, but instead can also result in demonstrated evolutionary mechanism," she said.


California Has First Plague Case in Five Years

California's first case of plague in five years has been confirmed by health officials.

The patient, a resident of South Lake Tahoe, is receiving medical care while recovering at home, CBS News reported. Plague is easily treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early.

The patient is believed to have been bitten by an infected flea while walking a dog along the Truckee River corridor or in the Tahoe Keys area on Tahoe's south shore, according to health officials.

Fleas can acquire plague bacteria from infected chipmunks, squirrels and other wild rodents, and dogs and cats can also carry infected fleas, CBS News reported.

California's last confirmed plague cases were in 2015. Both patients were treated and recovered.

"It's important that individuals take precautions for themselves and their pets when outdoors, especially while walking, hiking and/or camping in areas where wild rodents are present," said El Dorado County Public Health Officer, Dr. Nancy Williams, CBS News reported. "Human cases of plague are extremely rare but can be very serious."

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