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Health Highlights: Dec. 27, 2003

China Has 1st Suspected SARS Case Since July Diseased Cow Came From Canada, U.S. Says Salmonella Outbreaks Declining, Feds Say CDC Reports Flu Hitting Across the United States

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

China Has 1st Suspected SARS Case Since July

Chinese health officials said Saturday that a man in the southern city of Guangzhou was being treated with a suspected case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Channel NewsAsia reports.

The patient is 32 years old and works for a local television station in Guangdong. He had not traveled abroad or to neighboring Hong Kong, health officials said.

With 5,327 cases and 349 deaths, China was the country most affected by the SARS epidemic that peaked earlier this year after first emerging in Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong, in late 2002, the news channel reports.

Officials from the World Health Organization had said there was a strong likelihood that SARS would return this winter. If confirmed, the new case would be the first in China since July.

An estimated 8,100 people around the globe -- most of them in Asia -- contracted SARS during the first outbreak, and 774 of them died, according to WHO statistics.

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U.S.: Diseased Cow Came From Canada

U.S. agriculture officials say it appears the Holstein dairy cow found infected with mad cow disease in Washington state was imported from Canada two years ago.

The Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian, Dr. Ron DeHaven, said Canadian officials have supplied records indicating the cow was in a herd of 74 cattle shipped from Alberta, Canada, to Eastport, Idaho, in 2001, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Canada reported its first case of mad cow disease in Alberta earlier this year. The Washington case is the first ever in the United States.

However, the chief veterinary officer of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Dr. Brian Evans, said it's too soon to say for sure the cow came from Canada because Canadian and U.S. records that apparently refer to the same animal don't agree on key details, the Associated Press reported.

According to Canadian records, the diseased cow was 6 1/2-years-old -- older than U.S. officials had thought, said DeHaven. U.S. papers on the cow said she was 4- or 4 1/2-years-old.

The agriculture department said meat linked to the infected cow was sold in four western states -- California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

U.S. officials insist the meat was safe, however. The reason: The parts of the cow that carry mad cow disease -- the brain, spinal cord, and lower part of the intestine -- were removed before the meat was processed. That practice is standard procedure in the United States, said Ken Peterson of the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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Salmonella Outbreaks Declining, Feds Say

A new federal health study finds that outbreaks and deaths from one of the worst strains of salmonella to hit the United States in recent decades are on the decline.

The rise of salmonella enteritidis in the 1980s was one of the most serious food-borne epidemics in recent U.S. history, according to an Associated Press report. The bacteria strain rapidly spread from the Northeast to the rest of the country, and by the early 1990s it had reached Hawaii and other continents.

But since the early 1990s, the case rate has been cut by half, according to the study, which will be published in the January issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 1995, infections from the strain reached a high of 3.9 per 100,000 people; that dropped to 1.98 per 100,000 in 1999, according to the study, now available on the CDC Web site. In addition, deaths from such outbreaks in health facilities dropped from 14 in 1987 to zero in 1999.

The strain causes fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea in most people for up to a week, but can cause death in the elderly, infants and people with impaired immune systems.

Health officials credited the reduction to extensive control efforts, including encouraging the use of pasteurized eggs, refrigerating eggs and teaching people to avoid eating raw or runny eggs.

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CDC Reports Flu Hitting Across the United States

The flu has reached widespread levels in all but five U.S. states, federal health officials said this week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the flu has reached "widespread status," considered the agency's highest outbreak level, in 10 states since last week: Alabama, Alaska, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The Associated Press reports that health departments in the District of Columbia and New York City also reported widespread flu activity. The CDC said influenza-like illnesses are increasing overall, but are decreasing in some areas, including Texas and Colorado, two states that were hit particularly hard by the flu early this season.

CDC officials have characterized this season's outbreak as a epidemic, and are particularly concerned that the outbreak has killed at least 42 children.

Meanwhile, many of the people at highest risk of suffering serious flu complications never got a shot this year, according to a new poll from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Officials urge the vaccination for people 65 and over, those with chronic illnesses, and children 6 to 23 months old. But the Harvard survey found that 47 percent of those with chronic illnesses didn't get a shot, and 78 percent of parents of young children reported that they didn't take their children in for a vaccination -- even though most know they should have.

Seniors were most likely to heed the recommendations. The poll found that 71 percent of people 65 and up received the vaccine.

The poll also found that 54 percent of adults don't plan to get a vaccination because they don't think they'll get a serious case of the flu. Also, 45 percent felt the shot wouldn't be effective, and 42 percent worried about side effects.

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