Health Highlights: Sept. 17, 2010

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

California Facing Record Number of Whooping Cough Cases

The whooping cough epidemic in California that's killed nine infants has reached at least 4,017 reported cases and appears likely to break the 1955 record of 4,949 cases in the state.

The highly contagious bacterial infection tends to peak during summer months, but new cases could continue to occur over the next few weeks, Dr. Gil Chavez, an epidemiologist for the California Department of Health, told the Associated Press.

Nationwide, there have been 11,466 reported cases of whooping cough (pertussis) as of Sept. 12, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That's 519 more cases than at the same time last year.

Other states with high numbers of whooping cough infections include Texas (1,783 reported cases) and Ohio (1,019 reported cases), said the AP.

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HIV-related Monkey Virus At Least 32,000 Years Old: Study

The virus in monkeys that led to HIV in humans is far older than previously believed, says a new study.

It had been thought that simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) was only a few hundred years old, but a team of American and African scientists say SIV has been around for at least 32,000 years and perhaps as long as one million years, Bloomberg news reported.

The researchers identified four strains of SIV in monkeys on Bioko Island, which has been separated from mainland Africa for more than 10,000 years. The island strains of SIV are very different than those on the mainland.

Using computer models to determine the rate of DNA change, the scientists concluded that SIV is at least 32,000 years old and likely much older, Bloomberg reported.

This means that monkeys have had a long time to adapt to SIV, which explains why it doesn't make them ill. But it raises questions about why HIV only emerged in the 20th century. Humans have long hunted monkeys and would have regularly been exposed to SIV.

"Something happened in the 20th century to change this relatively benign monkey virus into something that was much more potent and could start the (HIV) epidemic," study leader Preston Marx, of Tulane University in New Orleans, said in a statement. "We dont know what that flashpoint was but there had to be one."

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Face Transplant Patient Encourages Organ Donation

The woman who received the United States' first face transplant says she plans to become an advocate for organ donation.

One person's decision to be a donor spared her a life of eating and breathing through a tube, 47-year-old Connie Culp said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Doctors used that female donor's face to replace 80 percent of Culp's face, which was destroyed when her husband shot her in 2004. The transplant, which included bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels, means that Culp can taste, smell, breathe on her own, eat solid food, drink from a cup, and smile.

"Just one person can make a difference by donating your organ," Culp told the AP.

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3 Maine Egg Farms Targeted By Congressional Committee

Safety rules for Maine egg farms will be under the spotlight as a U.S. congressional committee inspects state inspection records and documents related to three farms linked to Jack DeCoster.

DeCoster is the owner of an Iowa farm that produced 380 million eggs that had to be recalled due to possible salmonella contamination, the Associated Press reported.

Maine state veterinarian Don Hoenig said the state's regulations are stricter than federal laws and no commercial chicken farm buildings have tested positive for salmonella since October 2009.

He told the AP that the state requires vaccinations of young birds for salmonella, follow-up testing to guarantee the vaccinations were effective, and increased inspections and cleaning of buildings.

Number of Insured Americans Drops for First Time in Decades: Census

For the first time in 23 years, there was a decrease in the number of Americans with health insurance, from 255.1 million in 2008 to 253.6 million in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"This is a pretty dramatic development. It's not just a percentage drop but a drop in the actual number of people who had health insurance," Deborah Chollet, senior fellow and health economist at Mathematica Policy Research, told CNNMoney.com.

"It also points to the obvious need for health reform," she added.

This is the first decline since the federal government began collecting health insurance data in 1987. The Census Bureau also said that between 2008 and 2009:

  • The percentage of people without health insurance increased to 16.7 percent, from 46.3 million to 50.7 million.
  • The number of people with private health insurance decreased from 201 million to 194.5 million, and the number of people covered by employer-based health insurance decreased from 176.3 million to 169.7 million.
  • The number of people covered by government health insurance such as Medicare or Medicaid increased from 87.4 million to 93.2 million.

"Historically what we've seen during recessions and then job recovery is that when unemployed people find new jobs, more of the newly employed find jobs that don't offer health coverage. This may be happening now.," Chollet told CNNMoney.com.

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Soil Amoeba Caused Transplant Patients' Deaths: Officials

Two organ transplant recipients in Arizona died of a brain infection from an amoeba that was passed from their organ donor, say health officials.

The deaths were caused by Balamuthia mandrillaris, which is found in soil and is especially dangerous to transplant patients, who are given drugs to suppress their immune system in order to reduce the risk of organ rejection, the Associated Press reported.

The two patients were a 56-year-old male liver recipient who died Aug. 17 and a 24-year-old male kidney and pancreas recipient who died Aug. 30. The donor was a 27-year-old male landscaper who died from what was believed to be a stroke.

Two other patients received organs, one a heart and another a kidney, from the same donor but are alive and have no symptoms, the AP reported.

This is the second confirmed cluster of transplant-related encephalitis caused by this microscopic parasite. The previous cluster occurred last year in Mississippi.

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Posted: September 2010


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