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Health Highlights: Oct. 17, 2002

Meat Linked to Listeriosis Outbreak Was Sent to Schools Research Finds Clues to Mad Cow Disease Artificial Heart Patient's Family Sues Maker FDA Approves Hepatitis C Treatment Sick of Work? Join the Crowd CDC Suggests Smallpox Vaccinations for About 500,000

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

Meat Linked to Listeriosis Outbreak Was Sent to Schools

U.S. officials say some of the 27 million pounds of chicken and turkey meat that was recalled due to an outbreak of listeriosis that killed seven people in the Northeast had been distributed to schools participating in the federal lunch program.

Nearly 1.8 million pounds of Wampler Foods' turkey meat were purchased for distribution to schools and other agencies, the Associated Press reports.

No illnesses have been reported at any of the participating schools, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Critics are faulting food inspection officials for not checking whether any of the recalled meat was delivered to school cafeterias as soon as they learned of the contamination, the AP says. The germ Listeria can cause serious illness and death, and children are among the most susceptible victims.


Research Finds Clues to Mad Cow Disease

New clues as to how mad cow disease and its human form, Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, wreak havoc in the brain offer hope that someday there will be a way to manage the currently untreatable disease, New Scientist reports.

In people and animals with the diseases, called prion diseases, the prion protein becomes distorted, or "misfolded." But researchers found that enzymes that might naturally destroy the mutated proteins are somehow disabled by the infection.

The researchers say that if drugs can be developed to stimulate those attacking enzymes, called proteasome, they could possibly serve as an effective treatment for prion diseases. Such drugs, called proteasome inhibitors, are already in trials as potential treatment for other diseases, including cancer.

The human form of mad cow disease is being blamed for the deaths of at least 117 people in the United Kingdom.

The researchers report their findings in the new issue of the journal Science.


Artificial Heart Patient's Family Sues Maker

The family of an artificial heart patient who died is suing the device's maker and the hospital where it was implanted, alleging the man wasn't adequately prepared for the psychological and physical strain.

The lawsuit on behalf of James Quinn seeks more than $100,000, reports CBS News. Quinn, 52, died Aug. 26 after suffering a stroke. He survived more than nine months on the plastic/titanium AbioCor heart, which had been implanted in November 2001. Doctors estimated that the man had less than a week to live when the device was implanted.

Quinn's lawyer, Alan Milstein, says Quinn had expressed a desire to file a lawsuit before his death. "No human being should have to go through what I'm going through," he quoted his client as saying. Milstein says he believes Quinn hated the idea of being an "experimental subject."

Spokespeople for Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia and the device's manufacturer, Abiomed Inc., were either unavailable or refused to comment, CBS says.


FDA Approves Hepatitis C Treatment

Pegasys, a long-acting version of the Hepatitis C therapy interferon alpha, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, manufacturer Hoffman-La Roche says.

The drug is approved for people with chronic Hepatitis C that has led to "compensated liver disease" -- a term used to indicate that the organ is still functioning properly with few or no symptoms.

Some 2.7 million Americans suffer from Hepatitis C, which is usually spread by sexual contact or reused needles. The often-fatal illness is among the most common causes of liver disease.

The drugmaker says it will provide a 12-week free sample of the new medication, whose price was not revealed, to the first 15,000 patients to get Pegasys prescriptions before the end of the year. The recommended duration of the injected drug is 48 weeks.

Potential side effects include headache, fatigue, nausea, insomnia, depression and irritability, Hoffman-La Roche says.


Sick of Work?

More Americans are taking sick leave from work for reasons that have nothing to do with being ill, a new study finds.

Among the most common reasons cited are family issues, stress and personal matters, concludes the survey by Illinois-based information publisher CCH Inc. Only one-third of unscheduled days off are because of illness, according to an analysis of the survey by the Associated Press.

Unscheduled absences per employee cost an average of $789 annually, up from $610 two years ago, the survey finds. Employers were not asked to provide reasons for the rising costs, though CCH says escalating health insurance premiums and steadily rising salaries probably are chief factors.


CDC Recommends Smallpox Vaccinations for about 500,000

After intense deliberation over how to respond to the threat of a possible smallpox outbreak caused by terrorists, federal health officials have voted to recommend vaccinating about a half a million hospital workers around the nation for the disease.

The plan proposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices would result in about 100 workers at all of the nation's hospitals being prepared to handle smallpox patients, reports the Associated Press.

Previous plans had included designating regional hospitals to handle smallpox cases and vaccinating all so-called "first responders," which would have amounted to as many as 10 million people.

The plan the CDC settled on is not set in stone -- the White House will make the final decision on the smallpox vaccination plan.

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