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Health Highlights: Dec. 25, 2010

Salmonella Outbreak May Be Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts: CDC Congress Passes 9/11 Responder Aid Package Pregnancy Linked to Upped Risk of Mental Health Woes in Female Vets EPA Taking Action on Carcinogen in Tap Water Study Warns About Alternative Therapies and Children Drugmaker Recalls Millions of Diabetes Testing Strips

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

Salmonella Outbreak May Be Linked to Alfalfa Sprouts: CDC

Eighty-nine people in 15 states and the District of Columbia have fallen ill with salmonella possibly linked to tainted alfalfa sprouts, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

About 23 percent of those who fell ill were hospitalized but there have been no fatalities, CNN reported. The bulk of cases appear to be in Illinois, where 50 people fell ill after eating sprouts at various locations of the Jimmy John's restaurant chain.

According to the CDC, the first cases appeared around Nov. 1. "Preliminary results of this investigation indicate a link to eating alfalfa sprouts at a national sandwich chain," the agency said in a statement.

Jimmy John's founder Jimmy John Liautaud said in a letter sent to all franchises that tests of sprouts from the restaurant chain's main supplier, as well as tests done at all store locations, have come up negative for salmonella.

"As a good faith and goodwill gesture I am asking Illinois stores to pull sprouts until the state can give us some better direction," the letter states. "We are working closely with the state and they are doing a darn good job in helping find the source. Again, no source has been found yet, this is a precautionary measure."

The CDC says that besides the 50 cases reported in Illinois, Missouri has reported 14 cases, Wisconsin 3 and Pennsylvania 2. Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and the District of Columbia all have one confirmed case.

"The FDA is aware of the situation and is working with the CDC to determine the cause of the illnesses," Michael Herndon, a FDA spokesman, confirmed, CNN reported. "As more information becomes available we will alert the public."


Congress Passes 9/11 Responder Aid Package

An aid package for World Trade Center rescue and cleanup workers is smaller than originally proposed but is being called a "Christmas miracle" by some.

The measure was passed by Congress after a last-minute compromise and was sent Wednesday to President Barack Obama, who is eager to sign it, the Associated Press reported.

The package provides $2.7 billion to reopen a victim's compensation fund and $1.5 billion to treat illnesses among Ground Zero rescue and cleanup workers and to monitor their health.

The bill was believed dead a few days ago when Republican senators blocked it from being put to a vote. But political pressure and a downsizing of the bill led to Congressional approval, the AP reported.

The effort to save the bill was led by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both of New York. "The Christmas miracle we've been looking for has arrived," they said in a joint statement.

Even though the aid package is smaller than originally proposed, a lawyer for Sept. 11 responders said his clients were "ecstatic."

"This is the recognition, compensation and health care they so richly deserved," Andrew Carboy told the AP.


Pregnancy Linked to Upped Risk of Mental Health Woes in Female Vets

U.S. female veterans who become pregnant may be at increased risk for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to researchers at Yale University School of Medicine.

They studied 43,078 female veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and were treated at Veterans Administration facilities over five years. Mental health disorders were diagnosed in 32 percent of those who were pregnant, compared with 21 percent who were not pregnant, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Pregnant vets had two times higher rates of PTSD, depression and anxiety. They were also more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and alcohol or drug abuse/dependence.

The study was published in the Journal of Women's Health.


EPA Taking Action on Carcinogen in Tap Water

The U.S. Environmental Agency is taking action to deal with the issue of the likely cancer-causing chemical chromium 6 in tap water, the agency's chief said Wednesday.

Lisa Jackson said the EPA plans to work with local and state officials to determine the extent of the problem, and will offer technical help to cities with the chemical in their tap water, USA Today reported.

A study released earlier this week by the Environmental Working Group said chromium 6 (also known as hexavalent chromium) was found in the tap water of 31 of 35 cities tested. The chemical has been linked to leukemia and cancer in animals, as well as liver and kidney damage.

Jackson also said she met with 10 U.S. senators Tuesday to update them on the agency's review of chromium 6. The EPA has been weighing whether to set a specific limit for the chemical, USA Today reported.


Study Warns About Alternative Therapies and Children

In rare cases, it could be deadly to give children alternative treatments instead of conventional medicines, says a new study.

Researchers analyzed reports filed from 2001 to 2003 by Australian pediatricians about side effects caused by alternative medicines such as herbal treatments, vitamin supplements or naturopathic pills, the Associated Press reported.

During that time, there were 39 reported cases of side effects, including four deaths, the researchers found. Nearly 65 percent of the cases involved infants to children aged 16. In 44 percent of the cases, pediatricians believed patient harm was the result of not using conventional medicines.

The study was published online Thursday in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

"We have known for a long time that alternative medicines can put patients at risk," Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England, told the AP. He was not involved in the study.

"Perhaps the most serious harm occurs when effective therapies are replaced by ineffective alternative therapies," he noted. "In that situation, even an intrinsically harmless medicine, like a homeopathic medicine, can be life-threatening."


Drugmaker Recalls Millions of Diabetes Testing Strips

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that Abbott Laboratories is recalling as many as 359 million diabetes testing strips because they may give falsely low blood sugar results.

The testing strips are used to help diabetics check their blood sugar levels. But the FDA said the falsely low blood glucose results can lead patients to try to raise their blood sugar levels when it isn't necessary, or to fail to treat elevated blood glucose due to a falsely low reading. Both scenarios pose health risks.

The FDA said the problems are caused by a defect that limits the amount of blood absorbed by each strip.

Abbott is recalling 359 lots marketed under these brand names: Precision Xceed Pro, Precision Xtra, Medisense Optium, Optium, OptiumEZ and ReliOn Ultima.

The test strips, which were manufactured between January and May 2010, are sold both in retail and online settings directly to consumers, but are also used in health-care facilities, the FDA said.

Abbott said it will replace the test strips for free.


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