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Health Highlights: Dec. 19, 2011

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

Tyson Fresh Meats Recalls Ground Beef

A positive test for E. coli has led to the recall of more than 40,000 pounds of ground beef products distributed by Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. of Dakota City, Neb.

The recall involves 10-pound chubs of chuck fine ground beef 80/20 packed in cases containing eight chubs. The meat was shipped to distributors and institutions in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, the Associated Press reported.

The E. coli was discovered through routine monitoring, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. There have not been any reported cases of illness.

The USDA said consumers can call Tyson Fresh Meats at 866-328-3156, the AP reported.


States Allowed to Determine Essential Health Insurance Benefits

The new U.S. health care law will allow states to specify which health benefits within broad categories must be provided by insurers, the Obama administration said Friday.

The surprise announcement that the federal government will not define a single uniform set of "essential health benefits" means there could be significant variations in benefits from state to state, The New York Times reported.

That would make it similar to the current differences in state Medicaid programs and the Child Health Insurance Program.

The Obama administration's decision was questioned by an expert on health law at Washington and Lee University.

"The new bulletin perpetuates uncertainty about what benefits an insurer will be required to cover under the Affordable Care Act," Prof. Timothy S. Jost told The Times.

For the sake of consumers, he added, "I wish the Department of Health and Human Services had signaled that there would be more uniformity and less flexibility."


Two People Die After Using Tap Water in Neti Pot

Tap water should not be used in Neti pots, Louisiana officials warned after investigating two deadly infections.

A 20-year-old man and a 51-year-old woman died from Naegleria fowleri infections after using Neti pots containing tap water to flush their sinuses, ABC News reported.

Naegleria fowleri, a parasite sometimes called the brain-eating amoeba, causes a brain infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. Without treatment, the infection can cause death within one to 12 days.

"If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a Neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution," Louisiana State epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said in a statement, ABC News reported. "Tap water is safe for drinking but not for irrigating your nose."


FDA Approves Heart Assist Device for Children

A new mechanical cardiac assist device for children with heart failure has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The EXCOR Pediatric System is meant to keep children with heart failure alive until they can undergo a heart transplant. The device comes in different sizes to fit children from newborns to teens.

The FDA approved the new device under a Humanitarian Device Exemption. Under this application, a device doesn't have to show a reasonable assurance of effectiveness. Rather, a company has to show that the probable benefit from the device outweighs the problem risk of illness or injury.

"This is a step forward, it is the first FDA-approved pulsatile mechanical circulatory support device specifically designed for children," Dr. Susan Cummins, chief pediatric medical officer in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in an agency news release. "Previous adult heart assist devices were too large to be used in critically ill children to keep them alive while they wait to get a new heart."

The heart device is made by Berlin Heart of Germany.

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Posted: December 2011