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Health Highlights: Oct. 1, 2007

Group Wants More Money for Breast/Cervical Cancer Screening Alzheimer's Drug May Combat Breast Cancer Recurrence U.S. Meat Supply 'Safest in World,' Says Government Official Children Can Suffer Heart Attacks Frozen Beef Patty Recall Widened to 21 Million Pounds Travelers to Latin American, Caribbean Warned of Dengue Fever

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

Group Wants More Money for Breast/Cervical Cancer Screening

Due to continued inadequate funding, only one in five eligible women receives screening under the U.S. National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program (NBCCEDP).

That's the conclusion of a report released Monday by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

Six months ago, President Bush signed a bill reauthorizing the program and raising the funding to $275 million over five years. But the ACS CAN -- a nonprofit advocacy organization -- wants federal lawmakers to immediately boost funding for the program from its current $202 million to $250 million. That increase would provide screening and any necessary treatment to 130,000 additional women.

The report noted that in many parts of the United States, the program has difficulty maintaining services for the women it currently serves.

"We have scientific evidence that links insurance status to state of cancer diagnosis, with uninsured women twice as likely to have a worse outcome. Women who need this program are delaying critical screenings and treatments because the necessary resources haven't been made available," ACS CAN President Daniel E. Smith said in a prepared statement.

"What if the eligible women who aren't being served by this program included your mother, your sister, your daughter or your friend? Years of insufficient funding for the NBCCEDP not only mean that four out of five eligible women will continue to go unserved, but with rising health care costs, even those served today may not be able to access services in the future. This is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month -- it's time for Congress and the President to provide more funding," Smith said.

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Alzheimer's Drug May Combat Breast Cancer Recurrence

An Alzheimer's disease drug shows promise as a treatment to prevent breast cancer recurrence, according to research presented at the (U.K.) National Cancer Research Institute conference in Birmingham, BBC News reported.

The drug, a gamma secretase inhibitor, attacks the Notch gene that stimulates cancer cells. In about one third of women successfully treated for breast cancer, the disease recurs because some cancer cells survive treatment.

"Our work has revealed the importance of several pathways not previously known to regulate stem cell survival and self-renewal, which is tremendously exciting," said team leader Dr. Robert Clarke of the University of Manchester.

Since the drug has already undergone health and safety checks for its use in Alzheimer's patients, Clarke said it may be possible to speed up a clinical trial designed to assess the drug's effectiveness against breast cancer recurrence, BBC News reported.

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U.S. Meat Supply 'Safest in World,' Says Government Official

In an effort to ease consumers' fears in the wake of a recall of 21.7 million pounds of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official said Monday that the country's meat supply is "the safest in the world," the Associated Press reported.

The recall was announced after more than a dozen people in eight states became ill and it was confirmed that several got E. coli from ground beef processed by Topps Meat Co. in New Jersey. Other cases are still under investigation.

Government officials discovered inadequate E. coli safety measures at the Topps plant but the federal government is on top of the problem, Dr. Richard Raymond, undersecretary of food safety, said in an interview on CBS's The Early Show.

"I think the American meat supply is the safest in the world," Raymond said. "A recall like this does show that we are on the job, we are doing our inspections, our investigation, and we respond when we find problems to make sure that the supply is safe."

He reminded consumers to take proper precautions when handling raw meat at home, the AP reported, such as: washing hands; using a separate cutting board to prepare meat; cooking meat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit; and using a food thermometer to verify the meat's temperature.

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Children Can Suffer Heart Attacks

Heart attacks in children are a rare but under-recognized health issue, say Ohio doctors who documented nine cases of heart attacks in children as young as 12 that occurred between 1995 and 2006.

The doctors found that none of the children (all but one were boys) had common heart attack risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, drug abuse, unhealthy cholesterol levels, or family history, the Associated Press reported.

The most likely cause of their heart attacks was a heart spasm that briefly cut off blood supply, said the study, which appears in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics.

It's not clear what causes these spasm-related heart attacks. The researchers found that the young heart attack patients in this study did have abnormal levels of an enzyme made by injured or dying heart tissue and many had abnormal heart-imaging tests, the AP reported.

None of the patients in the study experienced any long-term problems.

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Frozen Beef Patty Recall Widened to 21 Million Pounds

A New Jersey meat distributor on Saturday widened by millions its recall of frozen beef patties potentially contaminated with e. coli, after U.S. health inspectors found inadequate safety measures at its plant.

The Topps Meat. Co., based in Elizabeth, said it was now recalling 21.7 million pounds of ground beef products, up from 332,000 pounds of ground beef initially recalled on Sept. 25, the Associated Press reported.

The initial recall resulted after at least six people in New York State became ill, and three were hospitalized. Investigators now think 25 people may have been sickened in eight states.

Health officials said cases were found in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And the company said the recalled products had been distributed to retail grocery stores and food service institutions throughout the United States.

The recall represents all Topps products with either a "sell by date" or "best if used by date" between Sept. 25, 2007 and Sept. 25, 2008, which can be found on the back panel of the packages.

In addition, all the recalled products have a USDA establishment number of EST 9748, also located on the back panel of the package and/or in the USDA legend.

The move comes after federal inspectors on Friday said they suspended the grinding of raw products after finding inadequate safety measures at the Topps plant. The USDA has declined to detail the inadequate safety measures, but said New York health officials have found additional Topps products tainted with the bacteria, the AP reported.

Geoffrey Livermore, Topps' operations vice president, said the company was continuing to work with the USDA, state health departments, retailers and distributors and has augmented its procedures with microbiologists and food safety experts.

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Travelers to Latin American, Caribbean Warned of Dengue Fever

U.S. travelers to Latin America and Caribbean countries are being warned about a major outbreak of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that has been spreading at a rapid pace in tropical and subtropical countries in recent months.

According to the Associated Press, dengue fever has killed nearly 200 people in Latin America and the Caribbean this year and has infected hundreds of thousands of human victims.

The outbreak is especially evident in urban slums, the wire service reports, and is expected to get worse as the rainy season approaches. There are no vaccines or cures for the four different types of dengue fever, which causes high fever, joint pain, nausea, rashes, and severe headache.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is warning U.S. visitors to Latin America and the Caribbean to use mosquito repellant and stay inside screened areas whenever possible.

"The danger is that the doctors at home [in the United States] don't recognize the dengue," the wire service quotes Dr. Wellington Sun, the chief of the CDC's dengue branch in San Juan, as saying. "The doctors need to raise their level of suspicion for any traveler who returns with a fever."

During the summer of 2007 an outbreak of dengue fever in Asia erupted in a number of countries. By Aug. 1 in Cambodia, nearly 25,000 people had been diagnosed with dengue fever (about three times the number of cases for all of 2005) and nearly 300 children had died, the AP reported. In Indonesia, more than 100,000 cases of dengue fever and 1,100 deaths had also been reported during the same time period.

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