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Health Highlights: April 13, 2008

21 Salmonella Cases Reported in 13 States After Cereal RecallFormer NYC Hospital Employee Charged in Theft of 50,000 Patient Records Nine States Chosen for Health Care Quality Improvement Recalled Dietary Supplements May Pose Serious Health Hazard Michaels Recalls 310,000 Writing Pens Scientists Say EPA's New Smog Standard Fails to Protect Public

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

21 Salmonella Cases Reported in 13 States After Cereal Recall

At least 21 people in 13 states have been infected with the latest outbreak of Salmonella poisoning, possibly from a number of processed cereal products that were recalled by the manufacturer April 5.

In issuing a consumer warning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the strain of salmonellosis in the victims was the same found in the recalled containers of unsweetened Puffed Rice and unsweetened Puffed Wheat cereals produced by Malt-O-Meal, of Minneapolis, Minn.

According to the FDA, the recalled products were also distributed nationally under private label brands including Acme, America's Choice, Food Club, Giant, Hannaford, Jewel, Laura Lynn, Pathmark, Shaw's, ShopRite, Tops and Weis Quality. The cereals have Best If Used By dates from April 8, 2008 (coded as "APR0808") through March 18, 2009 (coded as "MAR1809"), the FDA says.

Consumers are warned to throw out any of the cereal that is part of the recalled lots. You can get a complete list of the recalled products at this Malt-O-Meal site.

While there have been no reports of deaths in these latest cases, the Salmonella bacterium causes nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following states and number of reported cases: California reported 1; Colorado, 1; Delaware, 1; Maine, 3; Massachusetts, 2; Minnesota, 1; North Dakota, 1; New Hampshire, 2; New Jersey, 3; New York, 3; Pennsylvania, 1; Rhode Island, 1; and Vermont, 1.


Former NYC Hospital Employee Charged in Theft of 50,000 Patient Records

The hospital records of as many as 50,000 patients have been stolen from a major New York City hospital, the New York Times reports.

A former employee of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center has been charged with the thefts, according to the Times. Dwight McPherson, 38, a patient admissions representative, was arrested Saturday and charged with stealing nearly 50,000 patient files and selling at least 1,000 of them, the newspaper reported.

McPherson was charged with selling about 1,000 patient files to a person described only as "a man from Brooklyn" for $750, the Times said. The theft of the files, which contained no medical records but had other personal information, possibly including a patient's Social Security number, had been going on since 2006, the Times reported.

McPherson, who had been suspended in February after the investigation began, told government officials that he had been offered money for information about male patients born between 1950 and 1970, the newspaper quotes the criminal complaint as stating.

While saying that there had been as yet no reports of a patient falling prey to a financial scam or fraud, hospital spokeswoman Myrna Manners told the Associated Press that the missing information was possibly part of a "larger criminal enterprise."

Manners said the patients -- all of whom had been treated in the past two years -- had been notified, and that a hotline had been established for them to use as more information became available.


Nine States Chosen for Health Care Quality Improvement

Nine states have been selected to take part in the State Quality Improvement Institute, a program to help states devise and implement action plans to improve performance in a number of health care quality indicators. The institute is a collaboration of the Commonwealth Fund and AcademyHealth.

"Our State Scorecard on Health System Performance found that we could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars if all states could achieve the level of the top performers on key indicators of health outcomes, quality, access, efficiency, and equity," Karen Davis, Commonwealth Fund president, said in a prepared statement.

"The State Quality Institute will allow states to learn best practices to improve health care quality, and is an important step toward achieving a high performing health care system in the U.S.," she said.

Each state will appoint a team to take part in an interactive process for developing policy and program strategies. The nine states selected for participation are: Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.


Recalled Dietary Supplements May Pose Serious Health Hazard

Twelve dietary supplements containing ephedra, aristolochic acid or human placenta that may pose a serious health hazard to consumers are being recalled by Herbal Science International, Inc.

The recalled products are: Wu Yao Shun Qi San; Qing Bi Tang (nasal cleanser); Zhong Fong Huo Luo Wan (stroke revito formula); Xiao Qing Long Tang (Little Green Dragon); Ding Chuan Tang; Xiao Xu Ming Tang; Feng Shi Zhi Tong Wan (joint relief); Guo Min Bi Yan Wan; Fang Feng Tong Sheng San; Tou Tong San (headache formula); Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang (Du Huo joint relief); and Seng Jong Tzu Tong Tan.

Ephedrine alkaloids can have potentially dangerous effects on the heart, while aristolochic acid is potent carcinogen and can cause serious kidney damage. Human placenta can transmit disease, and dietary supplements that contain it are not allowed to be sold in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration said.

All 12 products were distributed in white plastic bottles of 100 capsules and sold nationwide in herbal stores, by acupuncturists and on the Internet. Consumers who bought these products should immediately stop using them and return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

People who have taken these products and have had adverse reactions should consult a doctor, the FDA said.

For more information, call Herbal Science International, Inc. at 626-333-9998.


Michaels Recalls 310,000 Seasonal Writing Pens

About 310,000 Flower Writers, Christmas Writers, Easter Writers and Spooky Writers Seasonal Writing Pens with high levels of lead are being recalled by Michaels Stores Inc., of Irving, Texas.

Lead levels in the surface coating on the Chinese-made pens violate the federal lead paint standard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said. The pens, with decorations including flowers, Christmas, Easter and Halloween ornamentation, were sold individually at Michaels stores from August 2007 through March 2008.

pens recalled

Consumers should stop using these pens and return them to any Michaels to receive a refund, the CPSC said.

For more information, contact Michaels at 800-642-4235.


Scientists Say EPA's New Smog Standard Fails to Protect Public

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new air quality standard for smog doesn't protect public health as required by law and needs to be strengthened, an advisory panel of scientists wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

In the letter, sent earlier this week, the 25 scientists expressed frustration that their unanimous recommendation for a stricter standard was ignored, the Associated Press reported.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, created by Congress to advise the EPA, recommended the ozone (smog) limit be lowered from 80 parts per billion to between 60 parts per billion and 70 parts per billion. The EPA's new standard is 75 parts per billion.

In the letter, the scientists also criticized the EPA for not further strengthening a separate smog standard meant to protect forests, agricultural land and the ecosystem, the AP reported.


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