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Health Highlights: Oct. 6, 2007

Sam's Club Orders Nationwide Recall of Beef PattiesU.S. Meat Company Folds After Massive Recall Former U.S. Track Hero Admits Steroid UseAppendix is More Than an Annoyance, Scientists Say Lead Danger Prompts Recall of Boy Scouts Badges Medicare, Medicaid to Gain $4 Billion From Part D Plans

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

Sam's Club Orders Nationwide Recall of Beef Patties

Just as one meat producer announced that it is closing down because of a massive beef patty recall (see next item), the Wal-Mart chain's Sam's Club stores have announced a nationwide recall of beef patties that are believed to be responsible for four cases of E. coli bacteria poisoning in Minnesota.

The Associated Press reports the ground beef patties were produced by Cargill Inc., whose U.S. offices are based in Wayzata, Minn. Sam's Club identified the suspect meat as having an expiration date of Feb. 12, 2008 and were coded UPC 0002874907056 Item #700141.

Cargill announced a voluntary nationwide recall of more than 840,000 lbs. of the frozen beef patties Saturday. A company spokesman told the wire service that the packages carried the dates Aug. 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17, and that every package had the number "Est.924A" inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The children became sick between Sept. 10 and Sept. 20, the wire service reports. Two were hospitalized, and one remained in the hospital Saturday, the A.P. reports.

The beef patties were frozen and sold under the name American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties in three Minneapolis-area stores, but they may be in other Sam's Club outlets as well, health officials told the wire service.

"We can't be certain that meat from other stores is not involved, since the brand... was likely sold at other Sam's Club locations," Heidi Kassenborg, acting director of the dairy and food inspection division of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, is quoted as saying.

The E. coli bacterium causes diarrhea and abdominal cramping, usually two-to-five days after the tainted food is consumed. Left untreated, it can cause more serious complications, including kidney failure.


U.S. Meat Company Folds After Massive Recall

Topps Meat Co., a leading U.S. supplier of frozen hamburgers, announced Friday that it was going out of business after a massive recall in September of 21.7 million pounds of frozen beef, The New York Times reported.

The recall was linked to beef patties tainted with the E.coli 0157:H7 strain of bacteria. The burgers were made at the company's Elizabeth, N.J. plant, the Times said.

Health officials first reported a case of illness linked to the meat on July 5, when an 18-year-old girl in Pennsylvania was sickened. On July 8, another case surfaced in New Jersey.

"This is a tragedy for all concerned," Topps CEO Anthony D'Urso said in a statement. "In one week we have gone from the largest U.S. manufacturer of frozen hamburgers to a company that cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large."


Former U.S. Track Hero Admits Steroid Use

Former American track star Marion Jones pleaded guilty Friday to lying to U.S. federal agents about her use of performance-enhancing steroids, The New York Times reported.

Jones pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to federal agents about her use of performance-enhancing drugs. She was also to plead guilty to one count of making false statements to federal agents in connection with a separate check fraud case. She appeared Friday afternoon at the U.S. District Court in White Plains.

Jones, 31, won three gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She's been under a cloud of suspicion for years, but had repeatedly denied using banned substances, the Times reported.

An admission to using performance-enhancing drugs would likely result in Jones being stripped of her five Olympic medals.


Appendix is More Than an Annoyance, Scientists Say

Of what possible use can the appendix be?

The small, lower abdominal organ, believed to have been a digestive aid in prehistoric humans, is nothing more than a sometimes-annoying appendage today, and the only time it's addressed in medicine is when it becomes inflamed.

But Duke University scientists say they believe they have found a practical use for the appendix in homo sapiens, the Associated Press reports.

Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, the Duke researchers say the appendix acts as a "rebooting" mechanism to restore the massive amount of bacteria that assist in digestion.

It's needed, they say, because certain diseases, such as amoebic dysentery, can literally wipe out the supply of the intestine's helpful bacteria and cause all sorts of digestive problems.

The appendix "acts as a good safe house for bacteria," Duke professor Bill Parker, a study co-author, told the A.P.. It also is a breeding factory to produce the good germs lost to disease, he added.

Parker told the wire service the appendix needed to be removed if it became inflamed and couldn't be treated medically. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the annual number of deaths in the United States from appendicitis to be between 300 and 400.


Lead Danger Prompts Recall of Boy Scouts Badges

As many as 1.6 million Boy Scouts of America badges are being recalled because they may contain high levels of lead, the Associated Press reported.

Tests on the Chinese-made painted, plastic badges revealed high levels of lead in the paint. The recalled totem badges -- given to Cub Scouts, aged 7 to 8 -- have a yellow and blue border, a picture of a wolf and bear, and read "Progress Toward Ranks."

No illnesses linked to the badges have been reported, Boy Scouts spokesman Gregg Shields told the AP. The problem was discovered during testing of a number of Boy Scout products.

The totem badges are supplied to the Boy Scouts of America by Kahoot Products Inc., based in Roswell, Ga. Under the voluntary recall, the company is advising parents to take the badges away from children. Kahoot supplies about 39 products to the Boy Scouts of America.


Medicare, Medicaid to Gain $4 Billion From Part D Plans

Due to lower-than-expected drug costs in 2006, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expects to collect $4 billion from Part D drug plan sponsors, the agency said Friday.

The collections results from the payment reconciliation that CMS has completed for 2006, the first year of the Part D drug program. The actual drug costs that year for almost all Part D plans were well below expected levels in their 2006 bids.

The CMS said a number of factors contributed to the lower-than-expected costs, including the fact that 2006 was the first time plans were bidding on the new Part D program, and the fact that there was higher-than-anticipated use of generic drugs in the program.

As plans gain further experience with the Part D program, their bid submissions in future years will likely more accurately reflect their actual costs to provide prescription drug coverage, the CMS said. For example, 2007 bid submissions were significantly lower than those submitted in 2006.


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