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Health Highlights: July 16, 2008

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

Senate Bill Would Relax U.S. Ban on Visitors With HIV

An amendment to a global AIDS bill working its way through the U.S. Senate would ease a two-decade-old ban on people with HIV/AIDS entering the country, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) have attached the repeal to a measure that combats AIDS and other diseases in impoverished areas including Africa.

The United States is among about a dozen nations that don't allow entry by visitors and immigrants with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Others include Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Russia, the AP said.

"There is no excuse for a law that stigmatizes a particular disease," Kerry was quoted as saying Tuesday at a policy speech. China is among nations that recently relaxed its entry policy for people with HIV/AIDS, he said.

In attempting to relax the ban that has been in place since 1987, the Kerry-Smith proposal would equate HIV with other infectious diseases. As such, federal health officials would decide who is eligible to visit the United States, not consular officials at embassies and other diplomatic posts, the AP said.

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton sought to change the policy, but Congress balked. Current opposition includes Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who says ending the ban could cost the government more than $80 million over the next decade, the wire service reported. Sessions is contemplating his own measure to remove the Kerry-Smith proviso from the rest of the AIDS bill.


E. coli Outbreak in Beef May Have Widened to 5 States

An outbreak of E. coli-tainted beef in Ohio and Michigan has produced additional cases in the states of New York, Kentucky, and Indiana, the Associated Press reported.

The outbreak has been traced to a meat supplier of the Kroger supermarket chain and other retailers in Ohio and Michigan. The supplier, Nebraska Beef Ltd., has recalled 5.3 million pounds of beef. Kroger also has recalled ground beef sold in both states.

The three new states each have a single confirmed case of the bacterial infection that matches 41 others confirmed in Ohio and Michigan, the wire service said, citing information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the stricken person in Kentucky lives near Ohio, the other two recent victims did not travel to either Midwestern state where the outbreak originated, a CDC spokesman told the AP.

The outbreak emerged between May 30 and June 24. While 21 of those stricken have been hospitalized, none has died, the CDC said.

Infection with this strain, 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 at greater risk of serious infection.


Congress Overrides Bush Veto of Physician Medicare Bill

Within hours of President Bush's veto of legislation designed to restore a 10.6 percent cut to Medicare reimbursement fees paid to doctors, the House and Senate on Tuesday both voted overwhelmingly to override the veto.

In restoring the money to doctors, the legislation makes up the resulting shortfall by trimming fees to private insurers who participate in a program called Medicare Advantage.

In vetoing the measure Tuesday, Bush said that while he supported restoring the cut aimed at doctors, he disapproved of shifting the cuts to the insurers. "Taking choices away from seniors to pay physicians is wrong," Bush said in his veto message.

But Congress disagreed. The Senate voted 70-26 to override the veto, shortly after the House did so by a lopsided vote of 383-41, the Bloomberg news service reported.

"We thank the bipartisan majority in Congress who voted to put patients first," Dr. Nancy Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association, said in a news release hailing the Congressional action.


Recalled 'Lean Pockets' Sandwiches May Contain Plastic Pieces

Nestle is recalling 199,417 pounds of "Lean Pockets" frozen stuffed chicken sandwiches that may contain pieces of plastic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

The recall involves 9-ounce boxes of "Lean Pockets Spinach Artichoke Chicken - 2 sandwiches." Affected packages have a "best before" date of "Nov 2009," followed by a package code starting with "8144 544616." The establishment number "P7721A" is printed on the side of the package.

The sandwiches were produced May 23 and distributed to retailers nationwide.

recalled sandwiches

Two unspecified injuries have been reported to the company, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said on its Web site.

Consumers with questions should contact Nestle at 800-350-5016.


Drug Thwarts Bone Loss in Prostate Cancer Patients: Study

Amgen's experimental bone-loss drug denosumab increased bone density and prevented fractures among clinical trial participants being treated for prostate cancer, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing company research.

The injected drug was evaluated among 1,400 men who were being treated with prostate cancer therapy that blocks male hormones including testosterone, increasing their risk for weakened bones and fractures. Those who took denosumab fractured vertebrae at less than half the rate of those who took a placebo, the newspaper said.

The drug works by blocking certain immune system defenses, which could increase users' risk of infection. Serious infections were reported among 6 percent of denosumab users, versus 5 percent of those who took a placebo.

An estimated 186,000 U.S. men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, the American Cancer Society predicts. And according to the National Cancer Institute, about half of all men with the disease are treated at some point with hormone therapy, the newspaper said.

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Posted: July 2008