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Health Highlights: Jan. 6, 2012

Tainted Ground Beef Linked to 19 Salmonella Cases: CDC Most U.S. Hospital Errors Unreported U.S. Proposes New Rules for Face, Hand Transplants Questions Raised About FDA's Breast Implant Safety Review

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

Tainted Ground Beef Linked to 19 Salmonella Cases: CDC

Salmonella linked to ground beef sold by Hannaford supermarket stores has sickened 19 people in Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said most of the victims bought the ground beef between Oct. 12 and Dec. 10 and some of the beef may still be in consumers' homes, the Associated Press reported.

On Dec. 15, Maine-based Hannaford announced a recall of ground beef with a sell-by date of Dec. 17 or earlier. The company said any customers with the recalled ground beef should throw it away or return it to a Hannaford store.


Most U.S. Hospital Errors Unreported

Only one in seven errors, accidents or other events that cause harm to Medicare patients in U.S. hospitals are recognized and reported by hospital employees, says a federal government report being released Friday.

And even after hospitals investigate reported cases of preventable injuries and infections, few changes in policies or practices are made to prevent such problems from occurring again, according to the study from Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson, The New York Times reported.

In many cases, hospital officials told federal investigators that the incidents of patient harm did not reveal any "systemic quality problems." But many hospital administrators did acknowledge that employees underreport such incidents.

The inspector general's report included an in-depth review of 293 cases of harm suffered by Medicare patients while in hospital. Forty of the cases were reported to hospital managers and 28 were investigated by the hospitals, but only five led to changes in policies or practices, The Times reported.

Many unreported events were identified by independent doctors who reviewed patients' records at the request of the federal investigators.

More than 130,000 Medicare beneficiaries experienced one or more adverse events in hospitals in a single month, according to the study. Adverse events include severe bedsores, medication errors, hospital-acquired infections, delirium caused by overuse of painkillers, and excessive bleeding caused by improper use of blood thinners, The Times reported.

As a condition of being paid under Medicare, hospitals must "track medical errors and adverse patient events, analyze their causes," and improve care, Levinson said in the report. He noted that nearly all hospitals have some type of system for employees to inform managers about adverse events in patients.

However, hospital employees often do not recognize "what constitutes patient harm" or don't realize that specific events caused patient harm and should be reported, Levinson said. He added that employees may assume that someone else will report the incident, that the problem was so common that it didn't need to be reported, or that the event was rare and unlikely to recur, The Times reported.

To reduce confusion, Medicare officials said they'll create a list of "reportable events" for hospitals and their employees, and also said that hospitals should provide employees with "detailed, unambiguous instructions on the types of events that should be reported."


U.S. Proposes New Rules for Face, Hand Transplants

Proposed new rules for transplants of faces, hands and certain other body parts have been introduced by the U.S. government agency that oversees organ transplants.

The Health Resources Services Administration wants tighter regulation of transplants of feet, ankles, legs, fingers, windpipes, voice boxes, the abdominal wall and possibly even a penis or uterus, the Associated Press reported.

Currently, waiting lists for these body parts are informal and local.

"These body parts are starting to become more mainstream, if you will, than they were five or 10 years ago when they were first pioneered in this country," said Dr. James Bowman, medical director of the Health Resources Services Administration, the AP reported.

The new regulations will make transplants of these body parts part of the nationwide system operated by the United Network For Organ Sharing.

Public comments on the proposed new rules will be accepted until Feb. 14. The rules are expected to take effect later this year or early next year, the AP reported.


Questions Raised About FDA's Breast Implant Safety Review

Last year's U.S. Food and Drug Administration review that said silicone breast implants are safe is being challenged by consumer safety advocates.

The FDA concluded that silicone-gel implants are essentially safe as long as women understand that the implants come with complications. The agency noted that one in five women who get implants for breast enhancement will need to have the implants replaced within five years, the Associated Press reported.

But a letter issued by the National Research Center for Women and Families wants the FDA to explain incomplete and seemingly erroneous data used to support the finding that the implants are safe.

The group asks why the FDA did not present information showing that women experienced reduced levels of emotional, mental and physical well-being after receiving the breast implants, the AP reported.

The letter also outlines concerns about implant manufacturers' figures that seem to show implant complications declining over time.


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