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Health Highlights: Dec. 28, 2003

China Has 1st Suspected SARS Case Since July New Hampshire Teen Dies From Meningitis George Steinbrenner Recovering in Florida Hospital 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 a man in the southern city of Guangzhou was being treated with a suspected case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Channel NewsAsia reports.

But the World Health Organization says it wants a lab outside of China to verify whether the patient has the sometimes-fatal disease. WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said initial test results on the man had been "confusing -- some are positive, some are negative," according to ABC News.

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.

In Guangdong, orders were issued to disinfect the man's living quarters and track down people he had come in contact with. Monitoring stations were set up at travel points in and out of Guangdong to prevent travelers with fever from moving around the country, according to Channel NewsAsia.

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, which borders Hong Kong, in late 2002, the news channel reports.

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.


New Hampshire Teen Dies From Meningitis

One of five New Hampshire teens hospitalized with signs of bacterial meningitis has died, and another was in critical condition Sunday, the Associated Press reports.

State epidemiologist Jesse Greenblatt said health officials would alert emergency room personnel throughout the state on Monday, to urge them to be on the lookout for additional infections.

Greenblatt said it was unusual to have so many cases in such a short period of time.

Meningitis causes swelling of the brain, and is spread by close contact, such as kissing or sharing utensils. Two of the teens are classmates, but health officials said they had found no connections among the others, according to the AP.


George Steinbrenner Recovering in Florida Hospital

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was in stable condition at a Sarasota, Fla., hospital on Sunday, one day after collapsing at a memorial service for longtime friend and pro football great Otto Graham.

Steinbrenner, a Tampa, Fla., resident, was given fluids intravenously and an electrocardiogram test that tracked his heart rhythm while he was transported to the hospital, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

Officials described him as alert and talkative, and initial tests revealed no health problems.


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.


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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