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Health Highlights: July 26, 2002

Contaminated Beef Fed to Prison Inmates Obese Man Sues Fast Food Chains One of Two Boys Infected in Fla. Lakes Dies Experts Tie Diet Aids to Football Heat Deaths Pregnant Women Should Limit Tuna: Panel Ear Implants May Cause Dangerous Infections

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

Contaminated Beef Fed to Prison Inmates

Prison inmates were fed meat that authorities knew had been recalled because of contamination with E. coli, Colorado state officials have confirmed.

Department of Corrections officials say the reason why hundreds of inmates were fed the estimated 2,500 pounds of recalled ConAgra ground beef was because they felt that by properly cooking and serving the meat, it could be safely consumed, reports the Associated Press.

There were no reports of any of the inmates becoming ill after eating the beef. The meat was reportedly served to prisoners and possibly some guards at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex, the Delta Correctional Center and the Rifle Correctional Centers, all state prisons.

Corrections supervisors apparently only learned about the use of the beef when contacted by the Denver Post, which was doing a story about it, and the authorities say they will issue a new policy requiring that no food that has been recalled may be served.

Last week's recall of the beef, sold from ConAgra's Greeley, Colo., facility, was the second largest in U.S. history, including 19 billion pounds of the meat. About 20 people, mainly in Western states, reportedly became ill from the meat.


Obese Man Sues Fast Food Chains

Fast food has been blamed for many a bulging belly, and now a New York man is taking the issue to court, suing several leading fast food chains for allegedly causing his obesity.

In a suit filed July 24 in Bronx Supreme Court, 56-year-old Caesar Barber names McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken as parties that contributed to his various weight and health problems.

The 5-foot-10 maintenance worker weighs 272 and had heart attacks in 1996 and 1999, reports the Associated Press.

In addition, Barber has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He claims that for decades he ate fast food regularly under the belief that it was good for him, and only learned otherwise when his doctor made him aware.

An industry representative called the suit baseless and a blatant attempt to capitalize on recent reports of increasing rates of obesity.


One of Two Boys Infected in Fla. Lakes Dies

One of two boys who had been in critical condition after contracting infections from swimming in separate Florida lakes has died.

Officials with Florida Hospital in Orlando say the 12-year-old, unidentified boy had developed meningeal encephalitis, a combination of meningitis and encephalitis, which causes the brain to swell, reports CNN.

The illness was believed to have come from an amoeba in the Conway chain of lakes near Orlando, where the boy had been swimming.

Amoebas enter the body through the nose and can then travel directly to the brain and into the spinal fluid, which can cause brain swelling and death.

While such incidents are often fatal, they are also very rare. The majority of the 20 or 30 such cases reported in this country have been in Florida, where the hot, humid conditions are ideal for amoebas to thrive.

The second boy, 15, had been swimming in Florida's Lake Talmadge, and reportedly contracted a bacteria called chromobacterium violaceum, which entered his body through a cut in his leg.


Experts Tie Diet Aids to Football Heat Deaths

A group of sports medicine experts claim that two popular diet aids, ephedrine and creatine, may be to blame for an alarming surge in heat-related deaths among football players, reports HealthDay.

The three specialists are linking the two chemicals with a sharp rise in dehydration and heat stroke fatalities on the gridiron since the mid-1990s. Although their evidence is circumstantial, the researchers peg the rise to a 1994 federal law that exempted dietary supplements from strong regulatory oversight.

Since that year, and after a period of decline in such accidents, there have been at least 16 heat-related deaths in organized football, the physicians say. It was almost precisely a year ago that Korey Stringer, the Minnesota Vikings star tackle, collapsed on a sweltering training field and died. Initial reports that Stringer had been taking an ephedrine supplement have never been confirmed.

However, ephedrine and its kin have been linked to more than 100 deaths. They account for more cases of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and other side effects than all other diet aids combined, according to the advocacy group Public Citizen. The group has been petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to pull ephedrine and related products from the market.


Pregnant Women Should Limit Tuna: Panel

Pregnant women who eat too much tuna can expose their fetuses to harmful levels of mercury, a government advisory panel announced yesterday. While the panel said pregnant women didn't have to avoid tuna altogether, the announcement appeared to reverse last year's Food and Drug Administration decision that tuna be left off a list of dangerous fish for pregnant women.

Last year's list included four species that contain high levels of mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefile (white snapper). Critics back then charged that tuna should have been included, too; some alleged that the FDA had bowed to pressure from the seafood industry.

Yesterday's decision after a three-day panel meeting still leaves unanswered questions. Members said they didn't have enough information to say precisely just how much tuna pregnant women could safely eat. A panel member quoted by the Associated Press unofficially recommended no more than two 6-ounce cans per week, assuming it was the pregnant woman's only source of fish. It's still unclear, then, what recommendations the FDA will agree to adopt -- and how quickly.

Pregnant women aren't advised to cut out tuna altogether, since it is an excellent source of high-quality protein, panel members said. On the other hand, if the nation's most popular seafood exposes fetuses to unhealthy levels of mercury, it could lead to permanent learning disabilities, the AP reports.


Ear Implants May Cause Dangerous Infections

People who have cochlear implants to restore hearing could be at greater risk for dangerous infections, the Food and Drug Administration says. At least 13 people with the implants have developed meningitis, including two preschoolers who died, the agency says.

And at least a dozen meningitis cases among implant recipients are being investigated outside the United States, reports the Associated Press.

One of three manufacturers of the implants, Advanced Bionics Corp., is echoing the government's warning, urging its customers to get vaccinated against certain infections caused by pneumococcal bacteria.

The FDA says it has found no evidence that the devices were contaminated before being surgically implanted. FDA medical device chief Dr. David Feigal adds that some deaf patients have inner-ear problems that may already make them prone to meningitis, and that the implants may only add to the risk.

The FDA has alerted doctors to watch for signs of infection among the 22,000 Americans who have had the devices implanted.

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