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Health Highlights: Nov. 25, 2007

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

96,000 Pounds of Ground Beef Recalled in 7 States

Yet another recall of ground beef has been issued, this time by Omaha-based American Foods Group.

The Associated Press said that nearly 96,000 pounds of ground or chopped beef products were recalled by American Foods after two people became ill, possibly with the E. coli O157:H7 bacterium. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Saturday that the cases were being investigated by the Illinois Department of Health.

The meat was distributed to retailers and distributors in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Virginia.

E. coli O157:H7 has been associated with a number of meat recalls in recent months. It can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration, and it is most dangerous to the very young, the very old and people whose immune systems are low.

The meat was produced on Oct. 10, and some of the expiration dates may have already elapsed. "Est. 18076" is inside the USDA mark of inspection on each package, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, Topps, the Elizabeth, N.J., meat company that had to recall almost 22 millions of ground beef last summer, applied for bankruptcy liquidation Saturday.


M.D.s, U.S. Government Stressing Flu Vaccination

It's certainly not too late to get your flu shot. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is emphasizing the week of Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 as National Influenza Vaccination Week.

According to a news release from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the importance of getting vaccinated against influenza now may stem last-minute rushes to the doctor if this year's flu season should be a bad one.

And unlike the situation in 2005, there is enough vaccine for everyone in the United States, officials from the CDC and AAFP say.

The AAFP is also emphasizing Tuesday, Nov. 27 as Children's Flu Vaccination Day, with a reminder that more than 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized every year as a result of influenza.

A letter to all AAFP members from AAFP President Dr. Jim King and Board Chair Dr. Rick Kellerman, urges doctors to stress the importance getting a flu shot, and the vaccine is not just for patients. "Immunization of health care workers protects not only the worker but also those around them," the letter says. "For example, influenza can be transmitted to patients and co-workers from an infected person 24 hours before symptoms appear."

A complete list of vaccination schedules is available on the AAFP Immunization Resources Web page .


New Bird Flu Outbreak Reported in South Korea

Avian flu has returned to South Korea for the first time in eight months.

However, this strain, which forced the extermination of thousands of ducks in the southern part of the country, was not be the deadly H5N1 strain that scientists fear could mutate into a pandemic among humans, the Associated Press reported.

Rather, it was described by government health officials as a "low pathogenic" H7 strain that so far has not shown up in humans. About 17,000 ducks were slaughtered on a poultry farm 205 miles southwest of Seoul, the wire service reported. Cases of the H5N1 virus have occurred seven times in South Korea during the past year, the AP said.

From December 2003 to mid-July 2007, 319 cases of H5N1 bird flu in humans were reported to the World Health Organization. Among these cases, 60 percent (192) were fatal. To date, no human cases of bird flu have been reported in the United States.

All human cases were reported from Asia (Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam) and Africa (Djibouti, Egypt, and Nigeria).


FDA Review Recommends Warnings on Kids' Flu Drugs

Reports of neurological problems in children taking the flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza mean the medicines need a warning label on their packaging, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety review released Friday.

According to the Associated Press, the safety review follows 25 deaths among Tamiflu users under the age of 21, most of them occurring in Japan. In five cases, children fell from windows or balconies or ran into traffic, the AP said.

The FDA began its review in 2005 after receiving reports of children experiencing hallucinations, convulsions and other neurological problems while on Tamiflu.

Data from the review will be considered by a special panel of outside experts that will meet on Tuesday to mull the agency's proposed label changes. The FDA is not required to follow the advice of its advisory panels, but usually does.

According to the AP, there have so far been no child deaths linked to Relenza, but regulators say some children taking the drug have shown similar neurological symptoms.

Neurological side effects may come from a rare strain of the flu, or a rare genetic reaction to the flu drugs, according to the FDA.

Relenza's current label makes no mention of neurological problems. Tamiflu's labeling currently mentions the potential for self-injury or delirium, but does not say these incidents could prove fatal. The proposed labeling change would add that warning to Tamiflu, the AP said.

In a statement, Tamiflu's maker, Swiss-based Roche, said there's no hard evidence linking the drug to neurological trouble, which the company says can also be caused by the flu. However, referring to a proposed label change, Roche said it is "open to that consideration."


Leg Vein Clots Boost Heart Attack, Stroke Risks

Patients with clots in the veins of the legs, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), face higher risks for heart attack or stroke in the year after a clot, according to a study in the Nov. 24 issue of The Lancet.

These clots have been noted in passengers on long-haul flights and have been dubbed "economy class syndrome," although they do occur in other settings.

In the study, researchers at Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark, tracked one-year outcomes for over 25,000 people with DVT, almost 17,000 people with pulmonary embolism (clots that travel to the lung), and close to 164,000 healthy controls.

They found that DVT boosted the 12-month risk of heart attack and stroke by 60 and 119 percent, respectively, compared to controls. Pulmonary embolism boosted the odds for heart attack over the following year by more than two-and-a-half times compared to controls, while nearly tripling a patent's risk of stroke.

The increase in risk was roughly equivalent to that of conventional cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes and smoking, the team noted.


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Posted: November 2007