Health Highlights: Sept. 8, 2011

1,034 Outbreaks of Foodborne Illnesses in 2008: CDC Report Highlights Flu Dangers in Pregnancy CDC Gauges Timing of RSV to Help Protect Infants Mental Disorders Afflict Many Europeans, Study Finds

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

1,034 Outbreaks of Foodborne Illnesses in 2008: CDC

Contaminated poultry, beef and nuts contributed to 1,034 outbreaks of foodborne disease reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2008, the latest year data is available, according to a new report.

The outbreaks sickened thousands, caused 1,276 hospitalizations and killed 22, according to figures published in the Sept. 9 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Among 479 cases attributed to a single bacteria or virus, norovirus topped the list, causing 49 percent of the outbreaks and 46 percent of illnesses, the agency found. But Salmonella, the second most common pathogen that year, was the most common cause of food-poisoning hospitalizations and was responsible for 13 of the deaths.

Through its Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System, the CDC said it was able to identify the offending food source in 218 outbreaks. Poultry figured in 15 percent of those cases; beef and fish, 14 percent each; fruits and nuts, 24 percent, and vine-stalk vegetables, 23 percent.

Food poisoning sickens an estimated 48 million people in the United States each year, the CDC said.


Report Higlights Flu Dangers in Pregnancy

Pregnant women stricken with severe H1N1 influenza in 2009 were less likely to die when treated promptly with antiviral medications, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds.

The report underscores the need for moms-to-be to get the seasonal flu vaccine and to seek medical care early if flu symptoms arise during pregnancy, researchers said in the Sept. 8 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC.

Studying the effect of severe "swine flu" on pregnant/postpartum women who became ill between April 15, 2009, and Aug. 1, 2009, the researchers found that of 347 women admitted to the intensive care unit, 84 died. Those who died were more likely to have had delayed treatment or have had underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or obesity.

Compared to infants in the general population, babies born during their mom's hospitalization for the pandemic flu were more often preterm and of lower birthweight. Babies delivered later were more likely to be small for their gestational age and also of lower birthweight, the researchers found.

"The potential impact of severe influenza during pregnancy on mother and infant/fetus emphasizes the importance of influenza vaccination of pregnant women, regardless of pregnancy trimester, and the importance of prompt, empiric treatment with appropriate antiviral medications for pregnant women with suspected or confirmed influenza," the researchers said in the report.


CDC Gauges Timing of RSV to Help Protect Infants

U.S. researchers trying to gauge the peak period for catching respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) -- the leading cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis among infants -- say last season the virus mainly circulated from November 2010 to April 2011, although in some regions circulation started and ended slightly later.

Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other experts use this information to guide timing of monthly vaccinations for children with congenital heart or lung disease or other high-risk conditions. It's recommended that these youngsters receive monthly injections of palivizumab, an anti-RSV antibody.

"In the United States, the season generally begins during the fall and continues through the winter and spring months; however, the exact timing of RSV circulation can vary by location and year," the CDC researchers said in the Sept. 8 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the CDC.

To document RSV trends, a network of laboratories known as the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS) tracks the percentage of RSV antigen tests that are positive each week.


Mental Disorders Afflict Many Europeans, Study Finds

More than one-third of the European population has a mental illness or neurological disorder, such as attention deficit disorder, depression or dementia, and many don't get needed treatment, a new study says.

Researchers funded by the non-profit European College of Neuropsychopharmacology determined that 165 million people in the European Union plus Norway, Switzerland and Iceland suffer from one of 90 different psychological or neurological problems explored, the Associated Press reported.

Depression, anxiety disorders, insomnia, alcohol or drug abuse and dementia were most commonly reported, and only one-third of the men, women and children studied receives treatment, according to the study presented in Paris Tuesday and published in European Neuropsychopharmacology. Not all the conditions need treatment, but services are limited and discrimination against the mentally ill persists, experts told the AP.

"Mental health disorders are Europe's largest health-care challenge in the 21st century," Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, a study co-author, told the news service. The study numbers came from a review of previous mental health surveys and other criteria.

Health experts estimate that 26 percent of U.S. residents have a mental condition, although comparisons are difficult to make because definitions vary, the AP said.

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