Health Highlights: Jan. 4, 2018

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

Romaine Lettuce Suspected in E. Coli Illnesses

A rash of serious illnesses link to E. coli infections across the United States and Canada is perhaps tied to tainted romaine lettuce, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a recent statement on the cases, the agency said that, beginning Nov. 15, seventeen cases of a particularly severe strain of the gastrointestinal infection have occurred across 13 states. California was hit with three cases, Connecticut and New Hampshire with two cases each, and there was one case each reported in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington state.

A similar strain has also sickened people in multiple Canadian provinces, the CDC noted. Preliminary genetic testing suggests the same strain -- and potentially same food source -- may be responsible for all the cases.

"The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak in Canada," the CDC said in the statement. "In the United States, state and local public health officials are interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the week before their illness started. CDC is still collecting information to determine whether there is a food item in common among sick people, including leafy greens and romaine."

Until romaine lettuce is either confirmed or ruled out as the culprit, "CDC is unable to recommend whether U.S. residents should avoid a particular food," the agency said. "This investigation is ongoing, and more information will be released as it becomes available."

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Novel Diabetes Drug Battles Alzheimer's in Mice

British researchers report that a new kind of type 2 diabetes drug pulled double duty and reversed memory loss in mice engineered to develop Alzheimer's.

The mice were already showing signs of the symptoms associated with the brain-robbing disease -- including poor memory and trouble learning -- but the diabetes drug triggered dramatic improvement in the rodents.

The medication "holds clear promise of being developed into a new treatment for chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease," lead researcher Christian Holscher, from Lancaster University, told the New York Post.

One Alzheimer's expert said the need is pressing.

"With no new treatments in nearly 15 years, we need to find new ways of tackling Alzheimer's," Dr. Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer's Society, in England, said in a Lancaster University news release.

"It's imperative that we explore whether drugs developed to treat other conditions can benefit people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. This approach to research could make it much quicker to get promising new drugs to the people who need them," Brown added.

The medication, known as a triple agonist, appeared to act on three fronts: it protected nerve cells; reduced amyloid plaques in the brain (which have been linked with Alzheimer's); and lowered inflammation, the scientists said.

The finding, published Jan. 1 in the journal Brain Research, is not a complete surprise: Type 2 diabetes has been linked to Alzheimer's in previous studies, the researchers noted. Also, insulin desensitization has been observed in the Alzheimer's brain.

While the research has only been conducted in mice and such findings often don't pan out in humans, the researchers said they have high hopes for the medications, the Post reported.

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