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F.ood & H.ealth : B.iological A.gents Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

2 New E. coli Cases Bring Total to 173
Sep 25, 2006, 13:37

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Health Highlights: Sept. 25, 2006

* NFL Quarterback Has Spleen Removed
* Indonesia Reports 51st Bird Flu Fatality
* Gentle Walking May Not be Enough: Study
* Big Jump Seen in War Vets Suffering From Stress
* Possible New Approach to Stem-Cell Research Reported

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

Football Player has Emergency Spleen Removal

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms, 26, was reported in stable condition after emergency surgery to remove his spleen Sunday night following a game against the Carolina Panthers.

Simms is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery, said a statement released by team doctor Joe Diaco. He didn't say how long Simms would be sidelined, but the average recovery time after removal of the spleen is four to six weeks, the Bloomberg news service reported.

The spleen, located in the upper left of the abdomen, helps prevent infections.

Simms took several hard hits from Carolina players during Sunday's game, but it's not clear when he may have suffered the spleen injury, Bloomberg reported. He left the game for a short time after a third-quarter touchdown run, but returned to lead a fourth-quarter field goal drive.

After the game, Simms was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He's the son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms.


Indonesia Reports 51st Bird Flu Fatality

A 9-year-old boy who died two hours after being admitted to a Jakarta hospital Friday is Indonesia's 51st confirmed victim of bird flu, a government health official said Monday.

The boy had recent contact with chickens infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus, the Associated Press reported. He first started showing symptoms of bird flu nine days before he was admitted to hospital.

"By the time he arrived at hospital, it was too late," Health Ministry official Nyoman Kandun told the AP.

Indonesia has the most confirmed human fatalities from bird flu. The country has been criticized for not dong enough to control the spread of the virus in poultry.

Worldwide, the H5N1 virus has killed at least 144 people, according to the World Health Organization. Most of those deaths have been due to contact with infected birds but some experts fear that the virus could mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between people, sparking a global pandemic.


Gentle Walking May Not be Enough: Study

On its own, low-intensity walking may not be enough to significantly help a person's health, says a Canadian study presented at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

The University of Alberta study of 128 people compared a 10,000-step-a-day gentle exercise program to a more moderate-intensity exercise regimen. The researchers found that people who did moderate-intensity exercise had significantly higher fitness levels, BBC News reported.

"Generally, low-intensity activity such as walking alone is not likely to give anybody marked health benefits compared to programs that occasionally elevate the intensity," said lead researcher Dr. Vicki Harber.

She and her colleagues are concerned that there may be too much emphasis on simply getting people to exercise, without also stressing the need for a certain level of intensity, BBC News reported.

However, they did note that the gentle 10,000-step-a-day walking program did help motivate people to exercise and was an excellent way to start being active.

"But to increase the effectiveness, one must add some intensity or "huff and puff" to their exercise," Harber said. "Across your day, while you are achieving those 10,000 steps, take 200 to 400 of them at a brisker pace."


Big Jump Seen in War Vets Suffering From Stress

A new Veterans Health Administration report found that more than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are now seeking medical treatment for stress or other mental disorders -- a ten-fold increase in the last 18 months, the Associated Press reported.

The surge in cases, which coincides with more troops facing multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to combat stubborn insurgency groups, has prompted some veterans organizations to say they're concerned the VA may not be able to meet the demand for mental-health services. They say veterans have had to contend with long waits for doctor appointments, staffing shortages, and lack of equipment at VA-run medical centers, the AP said.

On the plus side, VA and Defense Department officials said the increase in soldiers complaining of stress or mental-health problems may indicate that efforts to reduce the stigma of problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder are working. Also, commanders and medical personnel may be more skilled at recognizing symptoms.

VA officials say they've increased funding for mental-health services, have hired at least 100 more counselors, and aren't struggling to meet the rising demand, the AP said.

"We're not aware that people are having trouble getting services from us in any consistent way or pattern around the country," said Dr. Michael Kussman, acting undersecretary for health and the top doctor at the VA.


Possible New Approach to Stem-Cell Research Reported

European researchers say they may have come up with an alternative method of harvesting embryonic stem cells, one that doesn't require destruction of an embryo.

If the research proves successful, it could blunt criticism of embryonic stem-cell research, which opponents say leads to the destruction of human life.

The scientists, from Spain and England, said they created a stem-cell line from a human embryo that had stopped developing naturally in a laboratory setting. The researchers studied embryos donated by an in-vitro fertilization clinic with consent of the patients. Part of the research focused on 132 "arrested" embryos -- those that had stopped dividing for 24 or 48 hours after reaching various stages of development, the Associated Press reported.

Thirteen of those embryos had developed more than the others, reaching 16 to 24 cells before cell division stopped. The researchers were able to create a stem-cell line from just one of these embryos. But, these stem cells performed normally on a series of tests, Miodrag Stojkovic of the Prince Felipe Research Center in Valencia, Spain, told the AP.

The research was published online Thursday by the journal Stem Cells.

But opponents of stem-cell research said there's no way to know if an arrested embryo would have continued growing if it had been removed from a lab dish and placed into woman's womb, said Robin Lovell-Badge of the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research in London.

Many scientists believe that embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into any cell type in the body. They envision a future where stem cells might help replace diseased or injured tissue, thereby treating a host of ailments.

Last Updated: Sept. 25, 2006

Copyright 2006 ScoutNews LLC. All rights reserved.

2 New E. coli Cases Bring Total to 173

Health officials start to ease restrictions on spinach, while examining farms in 3 Calif. counties

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 25 (HealthDay News) -- The number of victims in the nationwide E. coli outbreak continued to climb Sunday, even as U.S. health officials began to relax their warnings on fresh spinach.

Consumers could safely resume eating some fresh spinach within the next few days, the health officials announced, as long as agriculture industry officials come up with a way to label the products that don't come from California's Salinas Valley, the suspected center of the bacterial outbreak.

"The public can be confident that spinach grown in those non-implicated areas can be consumed, and industry is working to get spinach from these areas back on the market," Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said at a telephone press conference.

"I anticipate it will be fast," he added later of that process, the Associated Press reported. "Whether it will be three days, four days -- I don't know. That will be an industry determination."

As of Sunday evening, 173 people in 25 states had been infected with the strain of E. coli O157:H7; 92 had been hospitalized; 28 had developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremia, and one had died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One hundred twenty-five (72 percent) were female and 15 (9 percent) were children under 5 years old, the agency said.

The CDC also said that Idaho officials were investigating the death of a 2-year-old who died Wednesday, reportedly after she had eaten spinach. And officials are investigating the death of an 86-year-old Maryland woman who died Sept. 13 after becoming infected with E coli. Her family said she'd eaten fresh spinach before getting sick, the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., reported.

Following a breakthrough New Mexico lab test Wednesday that confirmed the E. coli strain in a partly eaten fresh spinach package from one victim, health authorities had narrowed their search to the greater Salinas Valley, where more than half the country's spinach crop is grown.

Investigators are looking at at least nine farms and several processing plants in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

"All the affected spinach appears to come from that area. We are getting a better handle on where it's grown," the FDA's Acheson said Wednesday night.

Thursday, the FDA said that other produce grown in the region was not implicated in the outbreak. It also said processed spinach, either frozen or canned, was not suspect.

And health officials began talking about what it would take to lift the nationwide embargo and get fresh spinach back to consumers.

Meanwhile, tighter regulation of the growing and processing of spinach was being considered, federal officials said.

The comments followed criticism earlier Thursday from consumer groups and agriculture experts, who cited what they called lax oversight of the industry itself.

"It's a very serious problem," Jean Halloran, director of the food policy initiative for Consumers Union, told the San Jose Mercury News. "Things fall through the cracks, and they can't make a coordinated attack on a problem or share information or allocate resources properly."

In the Salinas Valley, 97 percent of irrigation water comes from private wells, but there is no mandatory inspection of them and no requirement that they ever be tested, the Mercury News reported. In addition, the newspaper said, Cal-OSHA is responsible for checking field sanitation, but with thousands of farms in the state, it conducts fewer than 1,200 inspections yearly.

And state and federal inspectors generally don't visit farms unless there's a problem, the newspaper added. The industry follows voluntary rules known as "good agricultural practices," which range from watering and fertilizing practices to field-hand sanitation and pest control.

What Acheson on Wednesday called the "confirmed positive sample" definitely linking the contamination to fresh spinach came from a bag of Dole baby spinach with a "best if used by Aug. 30" date. The source of the spinach was Natural Selection Foods, the California food producer that has been the focus of the investigation.

It became the first solid evidence to emerge after almost a week of public-health warnings on fresh spinach products, massive recalls by major spinach producers, and state-by-state reports of growing numbers of sickened people.

Acheson said that in November 2005 there had been a small outbreak of E. coli in spinach from the Salinas Valley. "More should have been done," he added. "We are learning from this outbreak."

In 18 other outbreaks of E. coli since 1995, the FDA has not been able to trace the outbreak to a specific farm, Acheson said.

"In this case, the likelihood that we will get it back to a specific farm is good because of the number of cases and because of the UPC codes on the packages," he noted. However, trying to identify a specific cause on that farm is unlikely, he added.

The earliest onset of illness known to be linked to spinach consumption was on Aug. 19.

On Thursday, Maryland and Tennessee became the latest states to report their first confirmed cases of E. coli. Also reporting cases have been Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Wisconsin has the largest number of reported cases, and the one death.

The affected products were also distributed to Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Iceland, but no illnesses have been reported from any of those countries, the FDA said.

Natural Selection Foods, in San Juan Batista, began recalling all of its prepackaged spinach and its salad mix products that contain spinach on Sept. 16.

River Ranch Fresh Foods, which operates in Salinas and El Centro, recalled its brands of mixed salads containing spinach on Sept. 17, after FDA inspectors found that the company had bought spinach from Natural Selection.

And RLB Food Distributors, based in West Caldwell, N.J., said it was recalling salad mixes that may contain spinach supplied by Natural Selection, which were distributed on the East Coast with the "Enjoy Thru date of 9/20/06."

Meanwhile, farm growers and processors planned to unveil an industry blueprint to protect their products from future E. coli outbreaks, the AP reported.

According to the CDC, E. coli lives in the intestines of cattle and other animals and can be found in undercooked meats; vegetables like spinach, sprouts and lettuce, and unpasteurized milk and juice.

The primary symptom of E. coli contamination in humans is diarrhea, often with bloody stools. There are an estimated 73,000 cases of infection, including 61 deaths, each year in the United States, according to CDC statistics.

More information

Visit the CDC for more E. coli outbreak updates.

SOURCES: Sept. 22, 2006, news conference with David Acheson, M.D., chief medical officer, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Associated Press; San Jose Mercury News; Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md.

Last Updated: Sept. 25, 2006

Copyright 2006 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

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