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Health Highlights: Feb. 5, 2009

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg Has Pancreatic Cancer Surgery Disaster Relief Food Kits May Contain Tainted Peanut Butter: FEMA Traffic Deaths Decline in 40 States Drug for Hereditary Angioedema Gets FDA Panel Approval Obama Signs Children's Health Bill FDA Reviews Sepsis Drug Xigris

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

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg Has Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery for pancreatic cancer at a New York City hospital on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

Ginsburg, 75, had the operation at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where she's expected to remain for seven to 10 days, according to a news release from the Supreme Court cited by the AP.

The cancer appears to be in its early stages, the release said. It was found during a routine checkup last month.

Ginsburg has been a justice since 1993, and is the only woman on the court. A decade ago, she had colon cancer surgery and received follow-up chemotherapy and radiation, the AP said.

Pancreatic cancer is among the most lethal forms of the disease. Some 38,000 cases are diagnosed annually, and fewer than 5 percent survive five years, the wire service said.


Disaster Relief Food Kits May Contain Tainted Peanut Butter: FEMA

Salmonella-tainted peanut butter may be included in disaster relief food kits distributed in Kentucky and Arkansas after the states were hammered last week with rain, ice and snow. People who received the food kits should inspect them and discard the peanut butter packets, said the Federal Emergency Management Association, CNN reported.

The food kits were made by Red Cloud Food Services Inc., under the Standing Rock label.

"We just received this information from FEMA. Tonight, out of an abundance of caution, we are in the process of finding alternative sources of food for people in shelters. The Kentucky National Guard is starting to notify people who've already received the (meal kits) or might be getting one," Jay Blanton, spokesman for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, told CNN.

In related news, more peanut products are being added to a recall list that now includes more than 1,000 items that may be contaminated with salmonella. Experts say it may be a record for a recall involving food products for humans, the Associated Press reported.

The salmonella outbreak, which has sickened at least 550 people and caused eight deaths, is being blamed on a Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga. Federal lawmakers are investigating the outbreak and promising stronger food safety laws and more money for inspections.

"It's time to find the gaps in the system and remedy them," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which is holding a hearing Thursday on the outbreak.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been criticized for its handling of the salmonella outbreak. But in testimony prepared for the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, FDA Food Safety Center chief Stephen Sundlof said the agency started to investigate the salmonella outbreak even before there was a scientific link to a particular food, the AP reported.


Traffic Deaths Decline in 40 States

Road deaths declined in 40 states and the District of Columbia in 2008, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association survey released Wednesday.

The average decline was 10.7 percent, according to the survey of 44 states. It did not include several large states, such as California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported.

Declines of 20 percent or more were seen in Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Among other states included in the survey, declines were: 18 percent in New Jersey, 16 percent in Illinois, 12 percent in Georgia, 7.7 percent in Michigan, 6.8 percent in Florida, and 4 percent in Ohio.

Vehicle deaths increased in Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming.

Higher gas prices and economic worries meant that Americans drove less in 2008, which reduced the number of road fatalities, Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told the AP. But she also noted that seat belt use reached a record high of 83 percent in 2008.


Drug for Hereditary Angioedema Gets FDA Panel Approval

A new drug to treat a genetic condition that can lead to dangerous swelling should be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an agency advisory panel recommended Wednesday.

The panel voted 6-5 in favor of recommending approval of DX-88, which targets hereditary angioedema. There were two abstentions, the Associated Press reported.

While the FDA doesn't have to approve the drug, it usually follows the advice of its advisory panels.

Dyax Corp.'s DX-88 was given priority review by the FDA in November, with an action date of March 23. A priority review shortens the review time to 6 months from the standard 10 months, the AP reported.


Obama Signs Children's Health Bill

President Barack Obama signed into law late Wednesday afternoon new legislation that will allow four million more U.S. children to get government-sponsored health coverage.

Obama acted right after the House, by a vote of 290-135, approved spending an additional $32.8 billion for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the Associated Press reported. The program, with about 7 million children now enrolled, includes children whose family income is too high for Medicaid but whose families have difficulty affording private insurance.

And, for the first time, the new law also permits states to cover legal immigrants -- among them, children under 21 and pregnant women.

Previously, legal immigrants had been barred from Medicaid and SCHIP for five years after arriving in the United States. The states may now cover those immigrants without the five-year delay, according to The New York Times.

The U.S. Senate passed the SCHIP measure last week. To cover adding the additional children, the measure raises federal excise taxes on cigarettes by 62 cents, to $1.01 a pack, the wire service said.

Former President George W. Bush twice vetoed similar legislation.


FDA Reviews Sepsis Drug Xigris

U.S. health officials are reviewing cases of serious bleeding in patients taking the drug Xigris, which is used to treat severe sepsis (bloodstream infection).

A recently published study showed that the injectable drug increased the risk of dangerous internal bleeding when taken by patients with a recent history of hemorrhages, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

The study of 73 patients treated with the Eli Lilly drug found that serious bleeding occurred in 35 percent of patients with a history of bleeding problems, compared with 3.8 percent of other patients.

Xigris already carries a warning that internal bleeding is a serious effect, but the FDA plans to work with Eli Lilly to reassess the drug's risks, the AP reported.

Patients taking Xigris should not stop taking the drug, the FDA said.

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