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Health Highlights: July 31, 2013

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

Well-Known Hospitals Not Always Best for Surgery: Report

Big-name hospitals in the United States aren't always the best when it comes to surgery, according to a new report.

The Consumer Reports team analyzed federal government data to assess patient outcomes after surgery at nearly 2,500 hospitals. When it came to preventing infection and other measures of quality of care, some well-known hospitals did not always do well, while some big-city hospitals that care for the poorest and sickest patients did surprisingly well, NBC News reported.

For example, the poorest overall rating was given to Harvard Medical School-associated Brigham and Women's Hospital and to two of Washington D.C.'s flagship hospitals, MedStar Washington Hospital Center and Sibley Memorial Hospital. Johns Hopkins Hospital received an average rating.

On the other hand, top ratings were given to urban hospitals such as the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, along with some regional facilities such as Nebraska Heart Hospital in Lincoln, NBC News reported.

"Consumers have very little to go on when trying to select a hospital for surgery, not knowing which ones do a good job at keeping surgery patients safe and which ones don't," Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project, said in a news release. "They might as well just throw a scalpel at a dartboard."

While it's a good idea to provide patients with information about the quality of surgical care provided at hospitals, the data used in this report is flawed, Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins, told NBC News.


Bagged Salad Mix May be Source of Cyclospora Outbreak

Investigators suspect that a bagged salad mix was the cause of a cyclospora stomach bug outbreak that has sickened 372 people in at least 16 states.

Iowa had the most cases -- 143 -- and the state's health department determined that about 80 percent of the patients had been exposed to a prepackaged salad mix, CBS News reported.

State health officials have not disclosed the brand or manufacturer of the salad mix, but said it contains iceberg and romaine lettuce, carrots and red cabbage. The salad mix is no longer available in the state.

It hasn't been determined if this same prepackaged salad mix is the source of the multi-state outbreak, said federal officials, who added that they are following other leads as well, CBS News reported.


Artificial Ear Created in Lab

Scientists who grew a human-like ear from animal tissue say the achievement moves them a step closer to being able to grow a complete human ear from a patient's cells.

The full-sized artificial ear has the shape and flexibility of a real ear, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital team, BBC News reported.

The researchers took living tissues from cows and sheep and grew them on a flexible wire frame in the shape of human ear. This was then implanted in a rat, where it grew for 12 weeks, according to an article in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

The team is working on creating artificial living ears to help people with missing or deformed ears, BBC News reported.


Scientists Use Urine to Create New 'Teeth'

Scientists who grew tooth-like structures in mice using cells collected from human urine say their research could lead to a new way of replacing teeth lost due to age or poor dental hygiene.

The Chinese team gathered cells -- such as those that line the urinary tract -- found in urine and coaxed the cells into becoming stem cells, which are cells that can grow into any type of tissue. A mixture of the cells and other material were implanted in mice, BBC News reported.

Within three weeks, there were tooth-like structures. However, they were not as hard as natural teeth, according to the study in Cell Regeneration Journal.

This research won't immediately lead to the regeneration of teeth for patients, but could be a step in that direction, said the scientists at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health.

One expert wasn't impressed with the study, saying that urine was a poor starting point for creating new teeth.

"It is probably one of the worst sources, there are very few cells in the first place and the efficiency of turning them into stem cells is very low," Professor Chris Mason, a stem cell scientist at University College London in the U.K., told BBC News. "You just wouldn't do it in this way."


NYC Ban on Large Sodas Struck Down by Appeals Court

New York City's ban on large sodas has been struck down by an appeals court.

In a unanimous decision, the four-judge panel of the state Supreme Court Appellate Division said that the city's Board of Health exceeded its legal authority and acted unconstitutionally when it moved to limit the size of sodas and other sugary beverages served in restaurants and other food outlets, CBS News/Associated Press reported.

While the health board has the power to ban "inherently harmful" food and beverage products from being served to the public, sugary drinks don't fall into that category, the judges said.

The city plans a quick appeal.

"Today's decision is a temporary setback, and we plan to appeal this decision as we continue the fight against the obesity epidemic," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement, CBS News/AP reported.

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