Health Highlights: Sept. 9, 2011

Federal Court Throws Out Challenges to Health Law Water Contamination Threatens Flood-Ravaged Northeast Patients' Private Data Posted Online for a Year 1,034 Outbreaks of Foodborne Illnesses in 2008: CDC

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

Federal Court Throws Out Challenges to Health Law

Saying that the cases lacked legal standing, a federal appellate court in Richmond, Va., dismissed two lawsuits on Thursday that challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, enacted by the Obama administration in 2010.

Two of the three Democratic judges on the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Court also said they would have upheld the law if they could have ruled on the cases' substance, The New York Times reported. But they threw out the lawsuits on technicalities, saying that the plaintiffs in each case had no legal right to sue.

One of the lower courts overturned the law's requirement that most Americans must purchase health insurance by 2014, a key provision of the law. The other lower court upheld the insurance requirement.

Other cases challenging the landmark health-care reform measure have been heard in states from Georgia to Ohio, the Times said. A final decision will likely rest with the U.S. Supreme Court.


Water Contamination Threatens Flood-Ravaged Northeast

Many areas of the Northeast, ravaged by flooding from tropical storms Irene and Lee, now have to wonder if their water is safe.

"We face a public health emergency because sewage treatment plants are underwater and no longer working," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said after torrential rains from Lee saturated the central and eastern portions of the state, the Associated Press reported.

In Vermont, flooded by Irene nearly two weeks ago, 12 towns were still on boil-water restrictions because sewage and other toxins may have contaminated drinking water. Other states have similar restrictions in place.

Besides the threat of sewage runoff, residents in flooded regions have to fear a toxic cocktail of pesticides, paints and other contaminants carried from basements, garages and driveways to areas downstream.

Vermont health officials were providing residents with private water wells with free kits to test for bacteria. Additional tests would be needed for any wells smelling of gasoline or oil, the AP said.


Patients' Private Data Posted Online for a Year

Information on 20,000 emergency room patients treated at Stanford Hospital, in Palo Alto, Calif., was posted on a business website for nearly a year before the breach of privacy was discovered, according to news reports.

Patients' names and diagnosis codes but not their credit card or Social Security numbers were included in the data that appeared on a homework tutoring site Sept. 9, 2010, Gary Migdol, a hospital spokesman, told The New York Times.

The hospital is investigating how the spreadsheet went from a billing contractor hired by the hospital to the Student of Fortune website and how the slip-up went undetected until reported by a patient last month.

Providing outside contractors access to personal data makes institutions vulnerable to lapses in privacy, security experts told the Times.

During the past two years, personal medical data for more than 11 million U.S. patients have been improperly revealed by facilities around the country. The Stanford incident is noteworthy because the privacy breach went unnoticed for so long, the newspaper said.


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.

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