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Health Highlights: March 23, 2013

Health Highlights: March 23, 2013

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

North Dakota Measure Would Ban Abortions in the State

North Dakota is about to become the epicenter of the national debate on abortion.

On Friday, state lawmakers adopted a resolution to let voters decide whether the state Constitution should be changed to assert that life begins at conception. If voters approve the measure, which will appear on next year's ballot, it would essentially ban abortions in the state, The New York Times reported.

Friday's action by lawmakers comes a week after the Republican-controlled Legislature approved legislation outlawing abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the Times reported.

Abortion-rights advocates have vowed to challenge the measure, saying it violates the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that allows abortions until a fetus is considered viable, typically at about 24 weeks.

"The thought that the politicians of North Dakota would put their own state through another ballot initiative that does absolutely nothing to advance the well-being of the people of that state is just unconscionable, said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

North Dakota state Senator Margaret Sitte, a Republican and a sponsor of Friday's measure, said she hoped it would bring an end to abortions in her state, the newspaper reported.

"I'm hoping that it will be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade," she said.

New Lethal Meningitis Strain Affecting Gay Men: NYC Officials

Twenty-two cases of a unique and particularly lethal strain of bacterial meningitis that affects only men have been reported in New York City since 2010, health officials say.

Seven men have died of the new disease, which kills one out of three patients instead of the one out of five who die from other strains of meningitis, and officials are growing increasingly concerned about it, The New York Times reported.

Many of the men with this strain of meningitis were infected during anonymous sexual encounters with other men they met at bars or parties or through Internet chat rooms or digital apps. This makes it nearly impossible to trace the path of infection, according to authorities.

"It's been sort of marching through the community in a way that makes us very scared," said Dr. Jay Varma, the deputy commissioner for disease control at the city's health department, The Times reported.

A health department warning issued this month recommends the standard meningitis vaccination for "men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men through a website, digital application or at a bar or party."

Georgia Compounding Pharmacy Recalls all Sterile Products

A Georgia compounding pharmacy has recalled all of its sterile products due to concerns about possible contamination.

On Monday, Clinical Specialties Compounding Pharmacy of Augusta recalled shipments of the cancer drug Avastin, which is used off-label to treat an age-related eye disease called macular degeneration, USA Today reported.

That recall came after reports that five patients developed serious eye infections after receiving injections of Avastin that the pharmacy had repackaged into single-use syringes, from vials labeled as sterile.

On Thursday, the pharmacy expanded the recall to include all of its sterile products, USA Today reported.

This is the second recall by a compounding pharmacy this week. On Monday, concerns about mold contamination prompted Med Prep Consulting of New Jersey to recall all products compounded at its facility.

Late last year, a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis was linked to contaminated steroid injections distributed by a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts.

Researchers Trying to Develop Hypo-Allergenic Apple

Scientists are working to create an apple that won't cause allergic reactions.

While apples rarely cause severe allergic reactions, they often cause problems -- such as irritation or blistering of the tongue or lips -- for people who are allergic to birch pollen, ABC News reported.

Italian researchers are trying to find hypo-allergenic proteins that exist naturally in other plants and swap them for the proteins in apples that cause allergic reactions.

These genetic changes will have to be studied to ensure they don't cause unintended complications, said Alessandro Botton, a plant physiologist at the Department of Agronomy, Food, Natural Resources, Animals and Environment in the University of Padua, ABC News reported.

However, the use of other plant proteins means that there likely won't be any major changes to the genetic structure of the apple, Botton added.

Some 'Male Enhancement' Products Can Be Risky: FDA

They claim to be all herbal, but three "male enhancement" products sold online contain hidden prescription drug ingredients and could be harmful, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The agency said the three products -- Rocket-It Man, Libido Sexual Enhancer and Stiff Days -- contain compounds similar to the active ingredient in the erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra and Cialis, NBC News reported.

This ingredient may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs, such as nitroglycerin, and may cause blood pressure to fall to dangerous levels, the FDA said. Nitrates are often taken by men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.

The FDA said anyone who has these products should throw them away, and that anyone who has suffered negative side effects after taking the products should consult a doctor as soon as possible, NBC News reported.