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Health Highlights: June 26, 2008

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

Maker of Anti-Flu Drug Seeks Corporate Stockpiling

The maker of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu has begun a program to encourage company stockpiling of the drug -- for an annual fee.

The plan announced Thursday by Roche Holding AG coincided with an effort by the U.S. government to begin encouraging corporate stockpiling of anti-flu drugs, since government reserves wouldn't include enough medication to treat every person in the United States in the event of a widespread flu outbreak, the Associated Press reported.

Experts have long warned that the virulent strain of bird flu that has been largely confined to Asian fowl over the past several years could mutate into a form that's more easily passed from animal-to-person and person-to-person, sparking a human flu pandemic.

Roche's plan includes provisions to substitute new supplies when older doses of Tamiflu expire, the wire service said.


Anheuser-Busch to End Production of Alcohol Energy Drinks

Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewer in the United States, will no longer produce caffeinated alcoholic beverages nationwide in order to settle an investigation involving 11 state attorneys general, the Bloomberg news service reported Thursday.

The so-called "energy drinks," including "Tilt" and "Bud Extra," had been illegally marketed to people under age 21, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo declared in a statement announcing the agreement.

The attorneys general had said they were concerned about the mistaken belief that caffeine in the drinks would counter the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

The brewer issued a statement saying it would reformulate the recipes for the drinks, dropping caffeine as an ingredient. The company also has agreed to pay $200,000 to cover the investigations in the 11 states, which besides New York included: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, and Ohio, Bloomberg said.


High School Cigarette Use Levels Off

Cigarette use among high school students was virtually unchanged from 2003 to 2007, hovering at about 20 percent, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday. The rate had declined from 36.4 percent in 1997 to 21.9 percent in 2003.

While high school cigarette use remained steady between 2003 and 2007, smoking did decline among black and female students, the agency said in a prepared statement.

Getting more teens to quit will require "full implementation of comprehensive tobacco control efforts that make smoking socially unacceptable," the statement said.

It suggested community- and school-based efforts to reduce tobacco advertising and promotion, limit commercial availability of tobacco products, and spark higher cigarette prices through general price increases and excise tax hikes.


Senators Strike Deal on World AIDS Bill

U.S. Senate negotiators have struck a tentative compromise on a $50 billion bill to fight AIDS and other diseases that have ravaged nations including Africa, the Associated Press reports.

The five-year bill would more than triple funding over the $15 billion global AIDS bill passed by Congress in 2003. That act expires at the end of September.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said he expected the Senate would vote on the "agreement in principle" before President George W. Bush departed next week for a summit of G-8 nations in Japan.

"That would send an important message to the world that our country's commitment to fight HIV/AIDS has not wavered," Reid said.

The compromise, which stresses AIDS treatment programs, also targets malaria and tuberculosis, the wire service said.


New York City Doubts Claims of Some 9/11 Plaintiffs

Of the 10,800 people who have sued New York City over purported health effects stemming from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many aren't really sick, city lawyers claim in new court filings.

About half of the total claims filed represent city employees, including police and firefighters, the Associated Press reported.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, the city's law firm, Patton Boggs LLP, said nearly one-third of those who want compensation allege "only nominal injuries." The letter contends that these cases mostly include ailments that haven't been diagnosed, representing symptoms such as insomnia or a runny nose, the AP reported.

In fact, more than 300 of the lawsuits "do not claim any past or current physical injury," the lawyers alleged.

Attorney Marc Bern, representing workers who are suing the city, disputes the letter's contention that 30 percent of the plaintiffs don't have serious health problems. He said their cases would be helped when additional medical records are obtained.

"We're continuing to get more records every day, virtually by the minute," he said.

The U.S. government has established a $1 billion insurance fund to cover 9/11 claims. It's overseen by the city, the AP said.


Kroger Recalls Ground Beef Possibly Linked to E. Coli Cases

The Kroger supermarket chain is recalling an unspecified amount of its ground beef products that may be tied to an outbreak of E. coli illnesses in Ohio and Michigan, the Columbus Dispatch of Ohio reported.

The chain is recalling all varieties of ground beef sold between May 21 and June 8 at its locations in both states for possible contamination with E coli O157:H7.

The recall doesn't end an investigation into which of several Kroger suppliers may be responsible for the outbreak, "nor does it rule out the possibility that meat purchased elsewhere is contaminated," the newspaper said Thursday. The Kroger suppliers also distribute meat to other retailers.

Ohio health officials said they identified a genetic match between 17 illnesses in Ohio and 16 in Michigan to ground beef sold at a Kroger store in Gahanna, Ohio, the newspaper said.

E. coli O157:H7 infection can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration, and in severe cases, kidney failure. Children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible.

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Posted: June 2008