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Health Highlights: Oct. 3, 2003

Breast Cancer Being Diagnosed Sooner Football Players' Infection Spread by Hot Tub? Salmonella Concerns Prompt Beef Jerky Recall U.S. Life Expectancy Hits Record High Experts Consider Ways to Detect Fake Drugs NYC Helps Solve Smallpox Mystery

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

Breast Cancer Being Diagnosed Sooner

The death rate from breast cancer continues to decline, as more than 90 percent of cases are now being diagnosed in their early stages when the chances for survival are much higher, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reports Friday.

The society's bi-annual breast cancer report offers a mixed bag of news. On the downside, it finds that African-American women are now 30 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. While the reasons aren't fully understood, the society cites socio-economic factors, including white women having more access to diagnostic testing like mammography, and better therapies.

"[White women's] breast cancers, therefore, are diagnosed at an earlier stage and treated more aggressively," ACS vice president Dr. Michael Thun says in a statement.

Breast cancer remains the most frequently diagnosed cancer in American women, with an estimated 211,300 cases expected in 2003. It accounts for nearly one in three cases of all types of cancer among women, the ACS says, and is the second-leading cause of cancer death among women, behind lung cancer.

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Football Players' Infection Spread by Hot Tub?

Miami Dolphins linebacker Junior Seau, return specialist Charlie Rogers and two other members of the NFL team have been treated for a nasty staph infection that may be spreading via the club's hot tub, the Miami Herald reports.

The highly contagious infection can cause boils and swelling. Seau, hospitalized for two days, was infected near the right elbow and required intravenous medication, the Herald reports. Rogers was hospitalized for three days with swelling on his right arm.

The club's hot tub has since been drained, scrubbed and disinfected as a precaution, although doctors have not confirmed the source of the infection, the newspaper reports.

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Salmonella Concerns Prompt Beef Jerky Recall

Chavez/Old Santa Fe Trail, an Albuquerque, N.M., firm, is recalling 22,000 pounds of beef jerky that may be contaminated with salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service says.

The products subject to recall are:

  • "General Store, All Natural Route 66 Beef Jerky" in peppered, green chili, red chili, and regular flavors.

  • "A Taste of New Mexico, Old Santa Fe Trail Beef Jerky, No Preservatives" in green chili, red chili, peppered, and original flavors.

All products were produced between May 1 and Sept. 26, and bear the establishment number "EST. 13343" inside the USDA mark of inspection. They were distributed to retail stores and via mail order nationwide. In addition, consumers may have purchased affected products from a vendor at the New Mexico State Fair.

Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially for infants, the frail or elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.

For more information, contact Angela Postlethwait, company assistant manager, at 505-255-7950.

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U.S. Life Expectancy Reaches Record High

The average person in the United States can expect to live 77.2 years, which is a jump of nearly two years since 1990, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says in new report released Friday on the nation's health.

The life expectancy for women was 79.8 years, while for men it was 74.4 years. Both statistics were compiled from data taken in 2001, and represent a significant jump from 11 years earlier.

However, all the news wasn't good in the annual Health United States report. Between 1997 and 2002, the percentage of Americans diagnosed with diabetes soared by 27 percent, the department says in a statement.

In a special section on diabetes, the report notes that 6.5 percent of American adults were diagnosed with the disease in 2002, compared to 5.1 percent in 1997. For the year 2001, diabetes was the fifth-leading cause of death among women and sixth among men.

Other milestones from the new report include:

  • The gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites was 5.5 years in 2001, down from 7 years in 1990.
  • Infant mortality fell to a record low in 2001 of 6.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Eighty-three percent of mothers received prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy in 2001, up from 76 percent in 1990.
  • Obesity more than doubled to 31 percent in 2000 from 15 percent in 1980.

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Experts Consider Ways to Detect Fake Drugs

The growing threat of counterfeit drugs poses a real danger to the American people, warns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has appointed a panel of experts to recommend solutions.

Significant instances of worthless fakes being passed off as genuine has grown to more than 20 reported cases a year from about five per year in the late 1990s, The New York Times reports.

The counterfeits may contain inactive substances like water, wrong ingredients, incorrect doses or contaminants. The more expensive medications for conditions like AIDS or cancer often make attractive targets. The newspaper cites one case in which aspirin was substituted for a schizophrenia drug.

The panel's preliminary report, released Thursday, recommends the agency consider solutions including special perfumes, embedded microchips, color-shifting inks and irreproducible hologram-like images that can only be seen when the packaging is turned a certain way.

The report notes that the safeguards may have to be changed periodically to keep up with the counterfeiters.

It's not known exactly how much counterfeit medicine has reached the public, since fakes may go undetected unless they make people sick. At a Thursday news conference, FDA Commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan estimated the rate was less than one percent, adding that consumers who buy medicines in legitimate drug stores have little to worry about, the Times reports.

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NYC Helps Solve Smallpox Mystery

Last year, the Bush Administration's campaign to vaccinate more than 500,000 health workers against smallpox was stopped in its tracks when reports surfaced about some recipients suffering heart attacks just after they got their shots.

Though the vaccine had been recognized for a number of well-publicized potential dangers, heart problems weren't one of them.

To help clear up the mystery, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene began a review of more than 80,000 death records stemming from a 1947 outbreak of the killer disease. Now the results are in, and the department says there's no evidence that the smallpox vaccine caused an increase in cardiac-related deaths.

The vaccine administered to quell the 1947 outbreak contained the same viral strain as the vaccine used today, the department says in a statement. During a three-week period from April to May 1947, 6.3 million New Yorkers were vaccinated, resulting in 12 cases of smallpox and two deaths.

As a side note, the department says none of the 342 people vaccinated in New York City in 2002-2003 experienced any serious side effects.

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