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Health Highlights: Feb. 6, 2009

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

Schools Received Potentially Tainted Peanut Products

Schools in three states were sent potentially contaminated peanut products for a free lunch program in 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday.

Peanut butter and roasted peanuts processed by the Peanut Corp. of America were sent to schools in California, Idaho and Minnesota, the Associated Press reported.

The company's plant in Blakely, Ga., has been linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 575 people and potentially caused eight deaths. Recalls have been issued for more than 1,300 foods that used ingredients from the plant, which hadn't undergone a U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspection since 2001.

On Thursday, members of the Senate Agriculture Committee chastised FDA and Centers for Disease Control Prevention officials for their slow intervention in the salmonella outbreak and demanded they find ways to cooperate to ensure the safety of Americans' food, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"All of this happened because of a failure -- the failure of our government to prevent unsafe food from entering the food chain," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minn.), told FDA and CDC officials who attended a committee hearing.

Steeper penalties than fines are needed to enforce food safety laws, said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the Times reported.

"I'd like to see some people go to jail," Leahy said. "You give them a fine, well, it's just the cost of doing business. But if somebody thinks they're going to go to jail ... that's an entirely different thing."


U.S. Soldier Suicides Spiked in January

There was a sharp increase in U.S. soldier suicides in January, with seven confirmed and 17 suspected suicides, Army officials said Thursday.

If all 24 cases are confirmed as suicide, the toll would be greater than the number of U.S. troops killed in action in January in both Iraq (four deaths) and Afghanistan (12 deaths), Agence France Presse reported.

Last week, the Army revealed that suicides among active duty soldiers reached a record high in 2008 for the second year in a row. There were as many as 143 suicides last year and 115 in 2007.

"The trend and trajectory seen in January further heightens the seriousness and urgency that all of us must have in preventing suicides," Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, said in a statement, AFP reported.

Last week, Chiarelli said special army-wide training sessions to boost suicide awareness among soldiers and their leaders would begin Feb. 15.


Traffic Deaths Decline in 40 States

Road deaths declined in 40 states and the District of Columbia in 2008, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association survey released Wednesday.

The average decline was 10.7 percent, according to the survey of 44 states. It did not include several large states, such as California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported.

Declines of 20 percent or more were seen in Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Among other states included in the survey, declines were: 18 percent in New Jersey, 16 percent in Illinois, 12 percent in Georgia, 7.7 percent in Michigan, 6.8 percent in Florida, and 4 percent in Ohio.

Vehicle deaths increased in Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming.

Higher gas prices and economic worries meant that Americans drove less in 2008, which reduced the number of road fatalities, Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the AP. But she also noted that seat belt use reached a record high of 83 percent in 2008.


Drug for Hereditary Angioedema Gets FDA Panel Approval

A new drug to treat a genetic condition that can lead to dangerous swelling should be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an agency advisory panel recommended Wednesday.

The panel voted 6-5 in favor of recommending approval of DX-88, which targets hereditary angioedema. There were two abstentions, the Associated Press reported.

While the FDA doesn't have to approve the drug, it usually follows the advice of its advisory panels.

Dyax Corp.'s DX-88 was given priority review by the FDA in November, with an action date of March 23. A priority review shortens the review time to 6 months from the standard 10 months, the AP reported.

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Posted: February 2009