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Health Highlights: Jan. 31, 2004

USDA Warns on Raw Meat Consumption WHO Asks China Action on Bird Flu; 4th SARS Victim Confirmed Will FluMist Survive Another Flu Season? Vatican: Profiteering from AIDS Crisis 'Genocidal' Bush Administration Nixes Wider Mad Cow Testing

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

USDA Warns on Raw Meat Consumption

An outbreak of salmonella bacteria infection in the Northeast has prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to warn people about consuming raw meat.

At least 37 people from six states have been infected since last fall, and while the source of the infection has not been located, a spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service said the agency believes it is likely that the victims ate ground beef, some of it raw. "You're asking for trouble if you're eating raw ground beef," spokesman Matt Baun told the Boston Globe.

Jennifer Marcone, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the first case occurred early last October with the most recent case reported at the end of December. The CDC notified the USDA this week that three residents of Connecticut, 11 people from Massachusetts, four from New York, three from Vermont, 12 from Maine, and four from New Hampshire had contracted the disease, Marcone said.

Salmonella, which sickens a million people annually, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and fever in healthy adults; and it can be fatal for seniors or people with weak immune systems. Symptoms usually occur within eight to 72 hours of eating infected meat. About 600 people die from salmonella annually, according to the CDC.

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WHO Asks China Action on Bird Flu; 4th SARS Victim Confirmed

World Health Organization officials appealed Saturday for urgent action by China against bird flu, even as Chinese health officials announced one more confirmed case of SARS, the country's fourth this season.

The WHO action also came a day after tests showed the avian virus has been in chickens in the region since at least April, which would appear to ease fears of a potential human pandemic, the Associated Press reports.

Chinese authorities said Friday that the bird flu virus, which has killed at least 10 people in Asia, had been identified in poultry in three provinces, possibly two more and perhaps the city of Shanghai.

The WHO called on China to share more information about the disease, step up monitoring for possible human cases and take precautions so that workers engaged in the mass slaughter of birds aren't accidentally infected.

On the other major health front in China, the Health Ministry said the new SARS patient had already been discharged from a hospital. The official Xinhua News Agency identified the man as a 40-year-old doctor from the southern city of Guangzhou, and gave his family name as Liu.

Health officials have been monitoring 48 people who had contact with him, but none has showed any symptoms, it said. This season's three other patients in China -- a businessman, a waitress and a television producer -- have been released from the hospital in recent weeks. All were from Guangzhou.

The first known case of severe acute respiratory syndrome emerged in Guangdong in November 2002. A subsequent worldwide outbreak killed 774 people last year, including 349 in mainland China, and sickened more than 8,000 before subsiding last July.

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Will FluMist Survive Another Flu Season?

The makers of FluMist, the first nasal vaccine against influenza, are deciding whether to pull it off the market because sales in its debut season were dreadful.

The Sun of Baltimore reports that the co-marketers of FluMist, MedImmune Inc. and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, will decide by March whether to proceed with sales next year.

"Everything is on the table, from us continuing to go forward together ... to perhaps both of us declaring defeat and getting out," MedImmune chief executive officer David Mott is quoted as saying.

The companies had high hopes for FluMist, launching a $25 million campaign in early fall. They gambled that patients would be willing to pay more for the drug -- it costs $46 a dose wholesale, three times as much as a standard shot -- if they could avoid an injection.

However, sales were far below expectations even though the flu season started early and there was a shortage of flu shots. The companies decided to donate doses to public health agencies.

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Vatican: Profiteering from AIDS Crisis 'Genocidal'

The Vatican has condemned pharmaceutical companies for making huge profits from AIDS drugs even though millions of people in Africa are dying of the disease because they can't afford the medications.

Agence France-Presse reports that the Vatican took drug companies to task for what it called a "genocidal action." Although the Holy See has called for action in the past, this is the first direct attack on drugmakers.

Citing what it called "a lack of social conscience," the Vatican said more public pressure is needed to force the companies to lower the price of their antiretroviral drugs so that 25 million Africans with the virus can take them, according to AFP.

"Today, at least 400 people die in Kenya every day because of AIDS. Yet in Europe and North America it is no longer a fatal disease, it is only a chronic disease," said Father Angelo D'Agostino, an American Jesuit priest who runs an AIDS orphanage in Nairobi. "Why the difference? It is the genocidal action of the drug cartels who refuse to make the drugs affordable in Africa even after they reported a $517 billion profit in 2002," AFP quotes him as saying.

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Bush Administration Nixes Wider Mad Cow Testing

The Bush Administration says it has no plans to expand testing of cattle for mad cow disease, citing -- in the words of unnamed administration officials -- the "gargantuan" cost of testing the 35 million cattle slaughtered each year in the United States, the McClatchy newspaper chain reports.

The administration says it will test 40,000 cattle for the disease in fiscal year 2005 -- the same as this past year. But the new budget will include $47 million more to bolster federal meat-inspection programs and fund a national animal identification system, according to the report published in Friday's Sacramento Bee.

Some Democrats and many consumer groups have called for expanded mad cow testing since a lone Holstein was diagnosed last month with the disease in Washington state. That would cost about $50 for each additional animal tested, the report says.

Administration critics say not every animal would need to be tested, just those over 30 months old that are more prone to the disease -- up to 4 million animals annually. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., notes that "in the first seven months of 2003, not a single cow was tested [for mad cow] in Washington state."

U.S. Agriculture Department officials aren't ruling out the possibility of expanding the testing program later if a team of international experts reviewing the current safeguards recommends doing so, the news report says.

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