Health Highlights: July 11, 2008

Is Your Grocer Involved in Meat Recall? USDA to Name Names U.S. Olympic Swimmer Has Testicular Cancer Twins' Deaths Not Caused by Overdose: Hospital Fewer Inhaling Second-Hand Smoke: CDC Drug Reps to Stop Doling Out Gifts to Doctors AMA Formally Apologizes for Policies Against Blacks

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

Is Your Grocer Involved in Meat Recall? USDA Will Name Names

The next time there's a serious recall of meat or poultry in the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will tell you if your local grocer had once sold any of the affected product.

USDA Secretary Edward Schafer announced the policy change Friday, following the nation's largest-ever recall of 143 million pounds of beef produced at a California slaughterhouse, MSNBC reported.

The policy is to take effect next month, Schafer said. Up till now, there's been no federal edict requiring the government to reveal where potentially tainted meat was sold.

While consumer groups applauded the move, they noted that it only applied to the most serious Class I recalls, thought to pose the greatest health risk.

"We're pleased that USDA will no longer keep consumers in the dark about recalled meat," said a news release from Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine. "Up until now, when USDA announced a recall of contaminated meat, it would only tell the public the states where the product was distributed. The specific names and locations of stores that got the product -- the information that can actually help the consumer -- were kept confidential."

The California recall would not have been affected by the new rule, since it was designated a less-significant Class II recall, Consumers Union noted.


U.S. Olympic Swimmer Has Testicular Cancer

U.S. Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau has testicular cancer, but has been medically cleared for next month's games in Beijing, China, he told the Associated Press.

Shanteau, 24, said that although his doctors approved his participation in the games, they advised him to have surgery now. While he plans to postpone an operation until after the Olympics, he pledged to drop out of the games if there were any sign that the cancer was spreading.

The Georgia native told the wire service that the illness was diagnosed June 19 -- a week before Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb. Shanteau wound up making the U.S. team in the 200-meter breaststroke.

"[The diagnosis] almost numbed me," he told the AP. "I'll remember that day for the rest of my life."

Shanteau said his doctors pronounced his cancer treatable and said it hadn't spread. He said he had heard from the agent who represents cyclist Lance Armstrong, who despite the same diagnosis went on to win seven straight Tour de France races.

"If I can have a fraction of the impact that [Armstrong has] had, just a tiny little bit, then I think what I'm going through will be good," Shanteau told the AP.


Twins' Deaths Not Caused by Overdose: Hospital

Two newborn twins who died at a Texas hospital after receiving an overdose of the blood thinner heparin did not appear to die as a direct result of the mishap, according to a spokesperson for Christus Spohn Hospital South in Corpus Christi cited by the Associated Press.

The hospital said it found no direct link between the deaths of twins Keith and Kaylynn Garcia and the overdose of heparin, which was used to flush intravenous lines used by the newborns. As many as 17 infants in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, including the Garcias, may have received the overdose. The mishap has been blamed on a mixing error by hospital pharmacists.

Keith Garcia, who died Tuesday, died of a blood infection called sepsis and from complications of being born premature, the AP said, citing a local newspaper report. A cause of death for the other twin, who died a day later, was not immediately revealed.

The infants' parents have received a judge's order that prevents the hospital from destroying any of the babies' records or accounts of the heparin overdose, the wire service said.


Fewer Inhaling Second-Hand Smoke: CDC

Fewer nonsmokers are inhaling second-hand smoke than in years past, thanks to recent laws that prohibit smoking in offices, bars, restaurants and other public places, a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes.

A decline in the number of adult smokers to slightly below 20 percent also is a factor, the Associated Press said, citing the study's conclusions.

Some 46 percent of nonsmokers had evidence of measurable blood nicotine levels between 1999 and 2004, compared with 84 percent of nonsmokers sampled in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Exposure to second-hand smoke can increase a nonsmoker's lung cancer risk by at least 20 percent and the risk of heart disease by at least 25 percent, the wire service said.

Despite the decline, study co-author Cinzia Marano said the numbers were still too high. "There is no safe level of exposure," Marano told the AP.


Drug Reps to Stop Doling Out Gifts to Doctors

Those free pens, note pads and coffee mugs emblazoned with drug company logos that adorn many physician offices may soon be a thing of the past.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PRMA) says its new guidelines ban such gifts to doctors from drug company sales reps, the Associated Press reported. Also on the critical list are free trips to restaurants and other forms of entertainment and recreation.

An occasional quick bite in the doctor's office is still allowed, however.

"I don't think you'll find a physician who will acknowledge that the gift of a pen or a cup with a company's name on it influences their prescribing patterns," the wire service quotes PRMA CEO Billy Tauzin as saying. "But there are people who believe that, and as long as that's a perception out there, we felt we ought to end that."

The new guidelines take effect Jan. 1.


AMA Formally Apologizes for Policies Against Blacks

The American Medical Association issued a formal apology Thursday night for its discriminatory policies that prevented blacks from joining the physicians' group for more than a century, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement on its Web site, the association said it was sorry "for its past history of racial inequality toward African-American physicians and shares its current efforts to increase the ranks of minority physicians and their participation in the AMA."

The action came more than four decades after delegates first condemned racist policies at state and local chapters dating back to the 1800s, the wire service said.

"It is true that what the AMA did historically was awful," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told the AP. "There were AMA local chapters that actually had rules against black members well into the late 1960s, and policies that made blacks not feel comfortable well into the 1980s."

The apology is part of an effort by the group, long thought of as the voice of American doctors, to pare or eliminate racial disparities in medicine, the AP said.

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