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Health Highlights: July 5, 2008

Jalapeno Peppers Latest Suspects in Salmonella Outbreak Emergency Rooms Often Being Used as 'Holding Areas' for Mental Patients U.S. West Nile Activity Remains Stable Woman Develops Accent After Stroke Beef Recall Expanded to Kroger Stores in 20 States Work-Based Weight Loss Programs Effective

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

Jalapeno Peppers Latest Suspects in Salmonella Outbreak

If it's not the tomatoes, maybe it's the peppers.

That's the latest theory into the cause behind the salmonella outbreak that has sickened 943 people across the United States since April, according to the Baltimore Sun

The newspaper reports that health authorities are investigating whether jalapeno peppers in salsa and other condiments may have become tainted, causing the strain of salmonella poisoning known as Salmonella saintpaul. Samples have been taken from restaurants and homes in a number of states, the Sun reports.

The newspaper quotes one government health official as saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is moving quickly to determine whether combinations of the green jalapeno pepper, along with the herb cilantro -- often used in various Mexican foods -- and tomatoes, may be the cause of the salmonella outbreak.

On July 1 officials warned consumers not to abandon caution when selecting tomatoes. "The tomato trail is not getting cold; rather, other items are getting hotter," said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for food protection. Acheson said the FDA has also activated the Food Emergency Response Network, which could bring to 100 the number of laboratories across the country working to identify the source of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, advice to consumers remains the same, Acheson said. Avoid raw red plum, red Roma, round red tomatoes, and products containing these raw tomatoes. To date, 130 people have been hospitalized from infections reported in 36 states and the District of Columbia, making it the largest produce-linked salmonella outbreak in U.S. history. There have been no deaths, officials said.


Emergency Rooms Often Being Used as 'Holding Areas' for Mental Patients

Are hospital emergency rooms, becoming "dumping grounds" for mentally ill patients?

According to the Associated Press, a recent survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that 79 percent of hospitals who responded said they routinely let psychiatric patients remain in ER waiting rooms for "at least some period of time." This could be as long as 24 hours because of the lack of support services for those with mental problems, the A.P. said.

One-third reported that those stays averaged at least eight hours, and 6 percent said they had average waits of more than 24 hours for the next step in a patient's care.

Dr. David Mendelson, an emergency physician in Dallas who wrote the ACEP report, said that the ideal solution would be to provide a "quiet spot" with nursing care until the patient could be seen. "Unfortunately, sometimes the only thing we can do is restrain them, or medicate them," the wire service quotes him as saying.

Sometimes, the situation can be tragic, the A.P. reports.

In June at Kings County Hospital Center's emergency room in Brooklyn, N.Y., 49-year-old Esmin Green, a Jamaican immigrant collapsed to the floor from her chair in the waiting room where she had been sitting for more than 24 hours, the wire service reports.

Security cameras caught the incident, which showed no one coming to her aid for more than hour. She eventually died, and a cause of death is still undetermined, the A.P. said.


U.S. West Nile Activity Remains Stable

In 2007, there were 3,630 reported cases of West Nile Virus disease in people, including 1,227 cases of more serious infection known as West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease (WNND), says an article in the current Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The overall 2007 incidence of WNND was 0.4 per 100,000 population, similar to that reported from 2004 to 2006, but substantially lower than the incidence in 2002 and 2003. The highest incidence of WNND in 2007 occurred primarily in the west-central United States.

The relative stability in the number of reported WNND cases is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the study authors said.

They added that their findings highlight the need for ongoing surveillance, mosquito control, promotion of personal protection from mosquito bites, and research into additional prevention strategies, including a WNV vaccine.

"Research is currently being done to develop vaccines to protect humans against West Nile virus infection, but because the virus infects many wild birds and animals and has been detected in 62 different North American mosquito species, it makes development of an effective vaccination strategy very difficult, Stephen Higgs, a member of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), said in a society news release.

"West Nile is spreading steadily and will likely never be eradicated from the U.S. So, the best way to avoid the virus is to avoid the mosquito," he advised.


Woman Develops Accent After Stroke

A 50-year-old woman in the central Canadian province of Ontario developed a Canadian East Coast accent after she suffered a left-sided stroke. Rosemary Dore lived in southern Ontario all her life, has no East Coast relatives, and has never traveled to the East Coast, CBC News reported.

"Everybody, even the doctors ... they (thought) I was from Newfoundland, because I have an accent," Dore said.

This is the first case of its kind reported in Canada, and one of fewer than 20 cases reported worldwide, said the researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton who examined Dore, CBC News reported. In these types of foreign accent cases, individual brain changes can lead to speech disparities, the researchers explained.

"It's not necessarily a 'generic foreign accent' that results. Instead, the specific phonological changes that occur may be unique to each individual, reflecting differences in damage within the motor speech network," the researchers wrote. "These changes can give rise to specific-sounding accents, including ones like a regional dialect change, rather than a complete foreign accent."

The case study appears in the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.


Beef Recall Expanded to Kroger Stores in 20 States

The voluntary recall of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli has been expanded to Kroger grocery chain stores in more than 20 states, the Cincinnati-based company said Wednesday.

The Kroger Co. also told consumers to check ground beef in their refrigerators and freezers to determine whether it's included in the recall, the Associated Press reported.

The initial June 25 recall involved Kroger stores in Michigan and in central and northern Ohio. The expanded recall includes ground beef sold at Fred Meyer, QFC, Ralphs, Smith's, Baker's, King Soopers, City Markets, Hilander, Owen's, Pay Less and Scott's with overlapping sell-by dates from mid-May through mid-July.

Click here to view recall information on Kroger's Web site.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified the supplier of the beef that may be contaminated with E. coli as Nebraska Beef Ltd., which itself recalled about 532,000 pounds of ground beef produced over the past two months.

The Nebraska Beef meat has been linked to 38 reports of E coli-related illness in Ohio and Michigan, the AP said.

Infection with E. coli O157:H7 can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration, and in severe cases, kidney failure. Children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible.


Work-Based Weight Loss Programs Effective

Work-based weight loss programs are modestly effective for people who participate in them, say University of Cincinnati researchers who reviewed 11 studies published since 1994.

Most the programs, which lasted from two to 18 months, included education and counseling on how to improve diet and increase physical activity. Of the studies included in the review, 46 percent looked at low-intensity programs, 18 percent at moderate-intensity programs, and 36 percent at high-intensity programs, United Press International reported.

Employees in high-intensity programs lost an average of between 2.2 pounds and nearly 14 pounds, compared with a loss of 1.5 pounds to a gain of 1.1 pounds among workers who didn't take part in a weight loss program.

Programs that included face-to-face contact between instructors and participants more than once a month appeared to be more effective than other programs, UPI reported.

The study was published in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.


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