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Minnesota links caramel apples, 2 listeria deaths

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota health officials say two people died and two others became ill this fall after eating prepackaged caramel apples contaminated with the bacterium listeria.

The Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture are warning consumers to wait for more information before eating any pre-packaged, commercially-produced caramel apples, including those topped with nuts, chocolate and sprinkles.

The department's press release says federal health officials are investigating the listeriosis outbreak. It wasn't immediately clear what other states were affected.

The four people who became ill in Minnesota in late October and November were between 59 and 90 years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with listeria. It usually affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.

Unilever drops mayonnaise suit against Just Mayo maker

(Reuters) - Unilever Plc's U.S. division said it has withdrawn its lawsuit against food startup Hampton Creek over false advertising and unfair competition related to its Just Mayo product.

Unilever, famous for its mayonnaise brand Hellmann's, had filed a suit against Hampton Creek earlier this year accusing the company of advertising Just Mayo, an eggless spread, as mayonnaise.

Unilever alleged that the spread could not be defined as mayonnaise under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's definition as it did not contain eggs.

Common dictionary definitions of mayonnaise similarly define mayonnaise as "a dressing made chiefly of egg yolks, vegetable oils, and vinegar or lemon juice," the company had said in its lawsuit.

The case gained national attention when a petition on Change.org gathered 112,000 supporters asking Unilever to "stop bullying sustainable food companies."

Neither company was immediately available for comment outside normal business hours.

(Reporting by Kanika Sikka in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

With Cuba decision, Obama hands Hillary Clinton a gift

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton knows a political gift when she sees one.

She was quick to embrace the step this week when President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat no longer having to face an electorate, relaxed U.S. policy toward Cuba.

While assailed by Republicans opposed to restoring ties with the communist-led island, the action has the power to solidify support for Democrats among increasingly influential Latino voters and appeal to voters in farm states like Iowa eager to do business in Havana.

Obama's unilateral move has gently shaken up the 2016 race to succeed him, exposing divisions among Republicans and possibly helping Democrats already buoyed by his decision to liberalize immigration policy.

Potential contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio adhered to the traditional Republican hard line on Cuba and sharply criticized Obama. But Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has a libertarian streak, backed the new policy.

A likely White House candidate, Paul told a West Virginia radio station that the 50-year-old embargo with Cuba "just hasn't worked."

Clinton, Obama's former secretary of state, also had asserted the previous policy was not working. In her memoir, "Hard Choices," she wrote that she urged Obama to shift. She welcomed the change in a statement on Wednesday.

Democrats argue that Clinton's embrace of Obama on Cuba could help her with Latino voters, especially younger ones in the key state of Florida, who are less inclined than their elders to be virulently opposed to the Cuban government.

Of America’s 1.5-million-strong Cuban-American population, about 80 percent live in Florida.

"I think it'll help her with the younger folks," Democratic strategist Bud Jackson said of Clinton.

Latinos already like what they see in Clinton.

A Telemundo/NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found on Thursday that 61 percent of Latinos see themselves supporting Clinton in 2016, 11 points more than the general population.

MORE OF A PLUS

The Cuba shift could also prove popular among those dependent on America's agricultural businesses, major hotels and even sports fans who enjoy watching the best Cuban players make it to Major League Baseball.

"The political calculation has to be that this is more of a plus for a candidate for president than a minus," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll of more than 31,000 adults between July and October showed Americans largely open to forging diplomatic relations with Cuba. About one-fifth opposed such a move, while 43 percent backed it and around 37 percent were unsure.

But there are potential pitfalls for Clinton. She will need to stake out some positions of her own or risk criticism that she simply represents the third term of a president who is saddled with a 40 percent approval rating.

In their 2008 battle for the Democratic presidential nomination that Obama won, Clinton accused him of being "naive" for offering to meet leaders of such renegade nations as Cuba without conditions.

Since flirting with a presidential race, Clinton for the most part has chosen not to separate herself from Obama other than to question his decision not to arm Syrian rebels, as her memoir reveals.

Lanhee Chen, a Hoover Institution scholar who advised Republican Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid, said if Clinton is "trying to draw some distance from the president's foreign policy in some ways, it was not useful to have something where she's perfectly aligned with him."

There are also risks for Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, and Rubio, a Florida senator. In their criticisms of Obama's policy, the two Republicans are aligning themselves with their party's conservative base but their views could appear outdated to moderate voters.

"I think it's kind of a blind cul-de-sac for people like Rubio and Bush to get pushed into," said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who was Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's campaign manager in 2004. "It reflects a Florida that doesn't exist anymore."

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Caren Bohan and Howard Goller)

German medics report on drug success for Ebola patient

German doctors on Friday gave details of how an experimental drug together with advanced intensive care helped save a Ugandan physician who had been airlifted from Sierra Leone with Ebola.

A prototype drug called FX06, designed to stop haemorrhage, was given to the patient after the doctors got special authorisation from their hospital's ethics committee, they reported in The Lancet.

"Even though the patient was critically ill, we were able to support him long enough for his body to start antibody production and for the virus to be cleared by his body's defences," said Timo Wolf of University Hospital Frankfurt.

The Frankfurt team and the makers of the experimental drug had announced its use in early November.

Publication in The Lancet, a leading peer-reviewed medical journal, validates this announcement.

The unnamed 38-year-old male doctor had been airlifted to Frankfurt in early October, five days after the onset of Ebola symptoms, and admitted to a Biosafety 4 facility, the highest level of medical security, the study said.

Within three days of admission, he was suffering from failure of the lungs, kidneys and gastro-intestinal tract, as well as haemorrhaging blood vessels, a hallmark of Ebola infection.

He was placed on a ventilator and kidney dialysis and administered with antibiotics and a three-day course of FX06.

Called a fibrin-derived peptide, FX06 is designed to seal off the walls of blood vessels, which become permeable when infected by a haemorrhagic virus.

The peptide works by binding to the surface of endothelial cells, which form the inner cell layer of blood vessels. It latches onto the cells via a target called VE-cadherin.

The drug was invented at Vienna General Hospital and is made by a small Austrian firm called MChE-F4Pharma.

It had previously been tested on lab mice infected with the dengue virus and was also put through a trial among 234 European patients to assess its potential for limiting damage to cardiac tissue after a heart attack.

The combination of intensive care and the drug helped the Ugandan patient to stabilise and then recover, the doctors reported.

After a 30-day observation period, no trace of Ebola was found in his blood, and he was released from hospital to return to his family.

But the Lancet study also reported that shortly after this case, another Ebola patient with acute Ebola and haemorrhage was treated with FX06 at a hospital in the eastern Germany city of Leipzig, but died.

Treating Ebola cases in intensive care is a task with "complexity and specific challenges," it warned.

FX06 is "a potentially valuable therapeutic candidate" for fighting the disease, the authors said, calling for the drug to be assessed in clinical trials.

More than 6,900 people have died in the latest Ebola epidemic, which is centred on the west African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Booze calculator: What's your drinking nationality?

In the month of December alcohol consumption increases as many people celebrate the festive season. But how does your drinking measure up to the average from countries around the world? Find out below if you are similar to a boozy Belarusian or a teetotal Kuwaiti.

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