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Health Highlights: June 1, 2016

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

U.S. Death Rate Rises for First Time in Decade

Increasing numbers of people dying from drug overdoses, suicide, Alzheimer's disease and heart disease helped drive up the death rate in the United States last year for the first time in a decade, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The death rate increased from 723.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014 to 729.5 in 2015, The New York Times reported.

The suicide death rate rose from 12.7 in the third quarter of 2014 to 13.1 in the third quarter of 2015, the death rate for overdoses rose from 14.1 in the second quarter of 2014 to 15.2 in the second quarter of 2015, and the death rate from unintentional injuries (including car crashes and drug overdoses) rose from 39.9 in the third quarter of 2014 to 42 in the same quarter of 2015.

The rate of death from Alzheimer's disease increased from 25.4 in 2014 to 29.2 in 2015, The Times reported.

The death rate in the U.S. has been falling for years due to improvements in health, medical technology and disease management, so the increase in 2015 surprised experts.

A severe flu season pushed the death rate up in 2005, AIDS and the flu contributed to a sharp increase in 1993, and there was a slight rise in 1999.

If the death rate continues to rise, it could be a sign of problems in the health of the nation, according to federal researchers.

"It's an uptick in mortality and that doesn't usually happen, so it's significant," Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Times.

"But the question is, what does it mean? We really need more data to know. If we start looking at 2016 and we see another rise, we'll be a lot more concerned," he added.

"We are not accustomed to seeing death rates increase on a national scale," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research Andrew Fenelon, who did not work on the paper, told The Times.

"We've seen increases in mortality for some groups, but it is quite rare to see it for the whole population," he explained.

If the trend continues, the U.S. would fall further behind its European counterparts, according to Fenelon.

"Many countries in Europe are witnessing declines in mortality, so the gap between the U.S. and other countries is growing," he told The Times.

Some experts believe a rising death rate among working class whites is a major factor in the rise of the overall U.S. death rate.

"This is probably heavily influenced by whites," Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal, told The Times. "It does sort of fit together."

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General Mills Flour Brands Recalled

Possible E. coli contamination has prompted the recall of Gold Medal flour, Wondra flour and Signature Kitchens flour, General Mills says.

To date, no E. coli has been found in any of these products sold at Safeway, Albertsons, Jewel, Shaws, Vons, United, Randalls, and Acme, in any other General Mills flour products, or in the flour manufacturing facility, according to the company.

State and federal officials are investigating 38 cases of illnesses in 20 states caused by E. coli O121 between Dec. 21, 2015 and May 3, 2016. About half of the patients said they made something homemade with flour prior to becoming ill, and some reported using a General Mills flour brand.

E. coli O121 can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration and is potentially deadly. Those most at risk are seniors, very young children and people with weakened immune systems.

Consumers with any of the recalled products should not use them. People with questions can visit General Mills' website or call 1-800-230-8103.

Posted: June 2016


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