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Health Highlights: Dec. 29, 2003

Experts Say U.S. Meat Is Safe Report: Hospital Sent N.H. Teen With Meningitis Home China: No Quarantined People Showing Signs of SARS Tests May Confirm if Aspirin Prevents Pre-Cancer Condition Yankees' Owner Leaves Florida Hospital

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

Experts Say U.S. Meat Is Safe

Even though meat linked to one sick cow now has been placed in eight Western states and the territory of Guam, experts maintain the nation's food supply is safe from mad cow disease.

"It really doesn't impact the question of food safety right now," David Lineback, director of the Joint Institute of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the University of Maryland in College Park, told HealthDay. "It doesn't change it."

"The key premise is that the meat itself is a safe commodity because the infective protein does not accumulate in muscle tissue or milk. The fact that the brain and the spinal cord of this particular animal [were] removed before processing are very good safeguards," adds Alfonse Torres, executive director of the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory and associate dean of veterinary public policy at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Even if we assume that there is some degree of material in that meat, the risk is so low that it should not be a concern for the eventual consumer of that beef."

Torres was formerly the deputy administrator for veterinary services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. In that capacity, he would have been making all the decisions regarding mad cow, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The USDA announced last Tuesday that a Holstein cow slaughtered in Washington state on Dec. 9 was the nation's first case of mad cow disease. The slaughterhouse that processed the diseased cow's carcass, along with 19 others, has recalled all 10,410 pounds of raw beef it sent out that day, according to the USDA. Meat from the infected animal went to California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana and Guam, as well as Washington state.

A 2001 risk assessment commissioned by the USDA and conducted by Harvard University concluded that, even in a worst-case scenario, the risk to the U.S. food supply would be minimal. Furthermore, Torres says, some additional safeguards recommended by the study have since been put into place.


Report: Hospital Sent N.H. Teen With Meningitis Home

A New Hampshire teen who later died of meningitis was sent home by an emergency room doctor who misdiagnosed her as having the flu, the patient's mother told the Boston Globe.

Rachael Perry, 18, was taken by her parents to a Peterborough, N.H., hospital on Christmas Eve, the newspaper reports. Earlier that same day, the state had issued a meningitis warning after two high school sophomores had been diagnosed with the infectious disease of the brain and spinal cord. Two other teens have since come down with the disease, making a total of five throughout the state.

Following the ER visit, Perry was sent home with what was called the flu. The next day she was rushed to a different hospital after her father found her unresponsive. She died two days later.

Susan Perry said the doctor at Monadnock Community Hospital gave her daughter a throat culture but never performed a blood test or discussed the possibility of meningitis. The hospital released a statement Sunday saying the younger Perry did not have a "fever or other classic symptoms of meningitis" when she was observed Dec. 24.

Perry was treated at the hospital at 12:20 p.m. that day, but it wasn't immediately clear if the hospital had yet received the state's warning, the newspaper says.

On Monday, the state issued a new warning to doctors, urging them to be "hyper-vigilant" in recognizing symptoms of the bacterial disease. Symptoms can include fever, neck pain, seizures, sleepiness or a rash.


China: No Quarantined People Showing Signs of SARS

Two days after announcing its first suspected case of SARS since July, China's government said Monday that none of the 42 people who may have come in contact with the patient is showing signs of the disease, the Associated Press reports.

The government had quarantined the friends, coworkers and associates of the 32-year-old TV producer who lives in Guangdong, where severe acute respiratory syndrome first emerged in November 2002. The patient had a normal temperature Monday and was reported in stable condition at a Guangzhou hospital.

China said its tests on the man have been inconclusive. The World Health Organization said its experts plan to double-check those tests and try to find the source of the infection. The Beijing government said it has already stepped up health checks at airport and railway stations.

The country's prompt announcement of the possible SARS case was in contrast to the earlier outbreak, when China was criticized for its sluggish response to the world's first-ever cases, the AP reports.

In that initial outbreak, SARS killed 774 people worldwide and made nearly 8,100 people ill before ebbing in June.


Tests May Confirm if Aspirin Prevents Pre-Cancer Condition

British scientists plan a major trial to see if aspirin combined with an anti-ulcer drug can prevent a condition that often leads to cancer of the esophagus, BBC News Online reports.

The condition called Barrett's esophagus is responsible for about half of all cases of cancer of the food pipe, the BBC says. It's caused when stomach acid regularly backs up into the esophagus. The acid damage is thought to cause a change in the cells of the esophageal lining.

The 100-center, 5,000-person trial will explore whether aspirin and the anti-ulcer drug esomeprazole will minimize that acid damage.

For reasons that aren't understood, Britain has levels of Barrett's esophagus that are three to four times those seen in the United States and other parts of Europe, the BBC cites experts as saying.


Yankees' Owner Leaves Florida Hospital

George Steinbrenner was released from a Sarasota, Fla., hospital late Sunday, a day after he fainted at a memorial service for a friend, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

Upon his discharge, his doctor pronounced the New York Yankees' owner, 73, in excellent health, despite the fainting spell the previous day. Dr. Andrew Boyer said Steinbrenner underwent extensive cardiac and neurological workups during his one-day stay at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. All of the tests proved normal, said Boyer, who told the newspaper that the feisty baseball owner had never fainted before.

Steinbrenner had been attending the funeral of football Hall of Famer Otto Graham when he collapsed. Boyer said the stress of attending the memorial service could have been a factor.

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