Health Highlights: July 4, 2008

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

Jalapeno Peppers Latest Suspects in Salmonella Outbreak

If it's not the tomatoes, maybe it's the peppers.

That's the latest theory into the cause behind the salmonella outbreak that has sickened almost 1,000 people across the United States since April, according to the Baltimore Sun

The newspaper reports that health authorities are investigating whether jalapeno peppers in salsa and other condiments may have become tainted, causing the strain of salmonella poisoning known as Salmonella saintpaul. Samples have been taken from restaurants and homes in a number of states, the Sun reports.

The newspaper quotes one government health official as saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is moving quickly to determine whether combinations of the green jalapeno pepper, along with the herb cilantro -- often used in various Mexican foods -- and tomatoes, may be the cause of the salmonella outbreak.

On July 1 officials warned consumers not to abandon caution when selecting tomatoes. "The tomato trail is not getting cold; rather, other items are getting hotter," said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for food protection. Acheson said the FDA has also activated the Food Emergency Response Network, which could bring to 100 the number of laboratories across the country working to identify the source of the outbreak.

Meanwhe advice to consumers remains the same, Acheson said. Avoid raw red plum, red Roma, round red tomatoes, and products containing these raw tomatoes. To date, infections have been reported in 36 states and the District of Columbia, making it the largest produce-linked salmonella outbreak in U.S. history. There have been no deaths, officials said.

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U.S. West Nile Activity Remains Stable

In 2007, there were 3,630 reported cases of West Nile Virus disease in people, including 1,227 cases of more serious infection known as West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease (WNND), says an article in the current Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The overall 2007 incidence of WNND was 0.4 per 100,000 population, similar to that reported from 2004 to 2006, but substantially lower than the incidence in 2002 and 2003. The highest incidence of WNND in 2007 occurred primarily in the west-central United States.

The relative stability in the number of reported WNND cases is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the study authors said.

They added that their findings highlight the need for ongoing surveillance, mosquito control, promotion of personal protection from mosquito bites, and research into additional prevention strategies, including a WNV vaccine.

"Research is currently being done to develop vaccines to protect humans against West Nile virus infection, but because the virus infects many wild birds and animals and has been detected in 62 different North American mosquito species, it makes development of an effective vaccination strategy very difficult, Stephen Higgs, a member of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), said in a society news release.

"West Nile is spreading steadily and will likely never be eradicated from the U.S. So, the best way to avoid the virus is to avoid the mosquito," he advised.

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Woman Develops Accent After Stroke

A 50-year-old woman in the central Canadian province of Ontario developed a Canadian East Coast accent after she suffered a left-sided stroke. Rosemary Dore lived in southern Ontario all her life, has no East Coast relatives, and has never traveled to the East Coast, CBC News reported.

"Everybody, even the doctors ... they (thought) I was from Newfoundland, because I have an accent," Dore said.

This is the first case of its kind reported in Canada, and one of fewer than 20 cases reported worldwide, said the researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton who examined Dore, CBC News reported. In these types of foreign accent cases, individual brain changes can lead to speech disparities, the researchers explained.

"It's not necessarily a 'generic foreign accent' that results. Instead, the specific phonological changes that occur may be unique to each individual, reflecting differences in damage within the motor speech network," the researchers wrote. "These changes can give rise to specific-sounding accents, including ones like a regional dialect change, rather than a complete foreign accent."

The case study appears in the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.

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Beef Recall Expanded to Kroger Stores in 20 States

The voluntary recall of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli has been expanded to Kroger grocery chain stores in more than 20 states, the Cincinnati-based company said Wednesday.

The Kroger Co. also told consumers to check ground beef in their refrigerators and freezers to determine whether it's included in the recall, the Associated Press reported.

The initial June 25 recall involved Kroger stores in Michigan and in central and northern Ohio. The expanded recall includes ground beef sold at Fred Meyer, QFC, Ralphs, Smith's, Baker's, King Soopers, City Markets, Hilander, Owen's, Pay Less and Scott's with overlapping sell-by dates from mid-May through mid-July.

Click here to view recall information on Kroger's Web site.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified the supplier of the beef that may be contaminated with E. coli as Nebraska Beef Ltd., which itself recalled about 532,000 pounds of ground beef produced over the past two months.

The Nebraska Beef meat has been linked to 38 reports of E coli-related illness in Ohio and Michigan, the AP said.

Infection with E. coli O157:H7 can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration, and in severe cases, kidney failure. Children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible.

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Work-Based Weight Loss Programs Effective

Work-based weight loss programs are modestly effective for people who participate in them, say University of Cincinnati researchers who reviewed 11 studies published since 1994.

Most the programs, which lasted from two to 18 months, included education and counseling on how to improve diet and increase physical activity. Of the studies included in the review, 46 percent looked at low-intensity programs, 18 percent at moderate-intensity programs, and 36 percent at high-intensity programs, United Press International reported.

Employees in high-intensity programs lost an average of between 2.2 pounds and nearly 14 pounds, compared with a loss of 1.5 pounds to a gain of 1.1 pounds among workers who didn't take part in a weight loss program.

Programs that included face-to-face contact between instructors and participants more than once a month appeared to be more effective than other programs, UPI reported.

The study was published in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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Sleep Problems Increase During Menopause

Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep increases as women go through menopause, according to a study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The study of more than 3,000 women, ages 42 to 52, also found that waking up earlier than planned increases through late perimenopause (before menopause) but decreases in post-menopause, United Press International reported.

The researchers also compared different racial and ethnic groups and found that Caucasian women were more likely than others to report trouble staying asleep, and Hispanic women were less likely than others to wake several times during the night.

The findings are published in the July issue of the journal Sleep.

Posted: July 2008


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