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Health Highlights: June 27, 2002

U.N. Says AIDS Epidemic Exploding in China Chemical in Food Deemed 'Serious Problem' Unpasteurized Milk Caused Intestinal Illnesses: CDC Blood Banks Facing Critical Shortages Blood Pressure Drug Reduces Stroke Risk in Elderly Tons of Beef Recalled for E. coli

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

U.N. Says AIDS Epidemic Exploding in China

The number of people infected with the AIDS virus in China is growing exponentially and could reach a devastating 10 million people by the year 2010, warns a U.N. report released today.

Health officials say intravenous drug use and poor sanitation in China's blood supply have largely contributed to the spread of the disease and sexual relations among both heterosexuals and homosexuals are rapidly increasing as a means of infection, reports the Associated Press.

The report criticizes the government of China for a lack of commitment to fight AIDS and calls for officials to take a greater role in education and prevention.

According to the report, data from last year showed that 30,736 Chinese people were infected with the HIV virus and 1,594 had full-blown AIDS, but officials estimate that the true number of people carrying the AIDS virus in China was far higher - - between 800,000 and 1.5 million.

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Chemical in Food Deemed 'Serious Problem'

An international panel of health experts today called a potentially cancerous chemical found in some fried and baked foods a "serious problem," but the experts stopped short of advising people to avoid eating these products until more research is available.

HealthDay reports that high concentrations of the substance acrylamide cause cancer in lab animals. However, there's no evidence yet that the same is true for people. Acrylamide, which causes DNA damage, is also present in a wide variety of other foods -- including meats, fruits, and vegetables -- and in substances such as cigarette smoke.

The panel, convened by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, said acrylamide is as potent a tumor promoter as other toxic chemicals generated during cooking, like the aromatic hydrocarbons created by grilling meats at high temperatures. Yet because it crops up in much higher concentrations than those substances, officials said it might pose a much larger health threat.

Although the group avoided warning people off specific foods, it did call for more research into the chemistry of acrylamide. Future studies should look at its mechanism of action in the body and patterns of cancer and consumption of acrylamide-rich products.

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Unpasteurized Milk Caused Intestinal Illnesses: CDC

A batch of unpasteurized milk is being blamed for an outbreak of illness in Wisconsin that caused 75 people to suffer from severe diarrhea, fever and cramps.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an organic dairy farm in Sawyer County, Wisc., has been traced as the source of the December outbreak of campylobacter jejuni.

Since the sale of unpasteurized milk to the public is banned in Wisconsin, the milk was distributed through a cow-leasing program in which customers pay a fee for the milk, reports the Associated Press.

The pasteurization process involves heating milk to more than 150 degrees to kill bacteria. Some feel unpasteurized milk tastes better and believe it is more nutritional, although such benefits have not been shown in studies.

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Blood Banks Facing Critical Shortages

Several regions of the United States are facing critical shortages of blood, a coalition of blood donor groups tells United Press International.

Regions hit hardest include the East Coast, south central states including Texas, and California and Oregon, according to a spokeswoman for the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). While most hospitals prefer to have at least a three-day supply, some have less than a day's worth.

The blood groups attribute the shortages to increasing restrictions on who can donate, and the fact that many Americans travel around the 4th of July and aren't as concerned about donating blood.

If the blood supply dips too low, the AABB spokeswoman said, hospitals would be forced to cancel elective surgeries in order to reserve enough blood for traumas and emergencies.

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Blood Pressure Drug Reduces Elderly Stroke Risk

Treating elderly people whose blood pressure is even slightly elevated can significantly reduce their risk of stroke, reports BBC News Online of the so-called "Scope" study conducted recently by scientists in Sweden.

Researchers from the University of Uppsala monitored 5,000 people over age 70 in 15 countries. Some were given the anti-hypertension drug Atacand, while others received a placebo. Those who took the drug were found to be 28 percent less likely to have a stroke and 11 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack.

Almost as important, the researchers stressed, the study results countered fears that Atacand and its family of drugs called angiotensin II receptor antagonists could affect mental ability and cause dementia in elderly people.

Study results were presented recently at a meeting of the International Society of Hypertension in Prague.

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Tons of Beef Recalled for E. coli

J&B Meats Corp. of Coal Valley, Ill., is recalling 63,000 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says.

Products being recalled are:

  • 10-lb. cases of "J&B J-BURGER SEASONED BEEF PATTIE", with case codes "11372TF," "11373TF," or "11374TF".
  • 10-lb. cases of "J&B BEEF STEAK BURGER", case codes "J1002," "J1003," or "J1004".
  • 20-lb. cases of "J&B GROUND BEEF PATTIES", case codes "JB0704W2" or "JB0705W2".
  • 10-lb. cases of "J&B ULTIMATE BURGER CHOPPED BEEF STEAK", case codes "1012CL," "1013CL," or "1014CL".
  • 10-lb cases of "MARTIN & SONS BEEF STEAK BURGER", case codes "MJ1003" or "MJ1004".
  • 24.5-lb. cases of "J&B GROUND BEEF PATTIE", case code "8218".
  • 16-lb. cases of "J&B GROUND BEEF PATTIE", case code "1126L".
  • 40-lb. cases of "J&B GROUND BEEF", case code "8020VP".

Each case also bears the establishment code "EST. 5712" inside the USDA seal of inspection. The beef was produced May 13 and distributed to hotels, restaurants and institutions nationwide. No illnesses have been reported.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. The very young, seniors and people with compromised immune systems are most susceptible to foodborne illness.

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact James Sommer, vice president of operations, J&B Meats, at 1-800-522-7345.

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