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Health Headlines - May 18

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm

U.S. Meat Company Recalls 129,000 Lbs. of Beef Products

Possible E. coli contamination has prompted the recall of 129,000 pounds of beef products in 15 states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday.

The USDA said the meat products were made by Davis Creek Meats and Seafood in Kalamazoo, Mich., for Gordon Food Service stores, the Associated Press reported.

The recalled beef products were made between March 1 and April 30 and sent to distribution centers and retailers in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Boxes -- labeled "Est. 1947A" -- of mechanically tenderized steaks and ground beef of different weights are included in the recall, the AP reported.

E. coli bacteria can cause symptoms such as stomach cramps and diarrhea. In severe cases, the infection can result in dangerous complications such as kidney failure.

In a related matter, NBTY Inc. and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday a nationwide recall of three lots of Shark Cartilage Capsules that the company manufactured in 2004 and distributed through mail and Internet orders and retail stores throughout the United States. The reason for the recall: Possible contamination with Salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.


Fewer Japanese Men Smoking

The Japanese government's anti-smoking campaign appears to be succeeding, according to new figures showing that the rate of smoking among Japanese men is at its lowest level in at least 20 years, Bloomberg news reported.

In 2005, 39.3 percent of men smoked at least 100 cigarettes or smoked for more than six months. That's a four percent decline from the previous year and the lowest rate since the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare started recording such information in 1986.

Rates of smoking among women declined by 0.7 percent, to 11.3 percent, Bloomberg reported.

Japan intensified its anti-smoking efforts three years ago. Measures have included stronger health warnings on cigarette packages, designated smoking areas in buildings, and higher tobacco taxes.


Large Decline in Use of Coronary Stents: Report

A major decline in the number of coronary stents implanted in the United States in April was likely due to a study that showed the devices offer little advantage over drug therapy in patients with chronic chest pain, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In April, doctors performed about 71,200 stent procedures, a drop of more than 10 percent from March, and a decline of more than 15 percent from April 2006, said the Millennium Research Group.

A study released in late March concluded that heart drugs reduce chest pain nearly as well on their own as when combined with stents, which did not prevent heart attacks or deaths.

Doctors say the findings seem to have made physicians and patients think twice about stenting, the newspaper reported.

"We've definitely seen a decline" in the use of coronary stents and it's likely that many more patients are going to be treated with drugs instead of stents, said Dr. William O'Neill, a cardiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.


Sarin Gas May Have Altered Gulf War Vets' Brains

Low-level exposure to sarin gas during the Persian Gulf war in 1991 may have caused lasting brain problems in the more than 100,000 American troops exposed to the gas, says a study by scientists working with the U.S. Defense Department.

The preliminary findings, to be published in the June issue of the journal NeuroToxicology, found that troops exposed to the sarin gas showed changes in the brain's connective tissue, or white matter, The New York Times reported.

These brain changes -- less white matter and slightly larger brain cavities -- were more pronounced in troops who had greater exposure to the gas.

The gas was released when U.S. soldiers exploded two large Iraqi army stockpiles of ammunition and missiles, some of which contained the nerve gases sarin and cyclosarin. Based on the size of the plume and wind patterns, U.S. officials estimated that more than 100,000 American troops may have been exposed to at least small amounts of the gases.

The new study may renew debate about why so many American troops who served in the Persian Gulf war have suffered unexplained health problems, the Times reported. Several U.S. lawmakers who've been briefed on the study say the findings mean the Department of Veterans Affairs is now obligated to provide increased neurological care to veterans who may have been exposed to sarin.


FluMist Safe for Children 2 and Older: FDA Panel

FluMist vaccine is effective and safe in children ages 2 and older, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel concluded Wednesday.

While the vaccine is effective in children as young as 6 months old, the panel of medical experts expressed concerns about an increased risk of respiratory problems in children under age 2 who receive the nasal spray vaccine, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Currrently, FluMist is approved for use in people ages 5 to 49. MedImmune Inc., the company that makes FluMist, has applied to the FDA for approval to market the vaccine to children as young as 1 year old who have no history of asthma or wheezing.

The FDA isn't required to follow the advice of its advisory panels, but it does so in most cases.


'Medicare Advantage' Harmed by Questionable Sales Tactics: Report

U.S. Senate investigators have found that insurance agents in at least 39 states used illegal or unethical methods to sell private Medicare Advantage plans, the Washington Post reported.

The underhanded tactics included enrolling dead or mentally incompetent people, using personal information stolen from federal records, and impersonating Medicare representatives.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday to look into the issue, the Post reported.

"There's a lamentable lack of oversight when it comes to the sales practices being used to sell Medicare Advantage plans to our seniors," said committee chairman Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). "Our goal is that these plans must be represented in a transparent, honest and fair way."

The sales schemes have resulted in a number of civil and criminal legal cases and damaged the credibility of the Medicare Advantage program, the Post reported.

Medicare Advantage plans are health-plan options that are part of the Medicare program. If you join one of these plans, you generally get all your Medicare-covered health care through that plan. This coverage can include prescription drug coverage, according to the Medicare Web site.

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