The Top 10 Health Scares Of The Decade

The exact effects of the oversight are unknown, but it did shine a spotlight on imported goods.

"It's doing a little more to make sure this stuff doesn't keep slipping in," said Schwartz.


Concern over trans-fats -- found in such crowd-pleasing but doctor-disapproved foods as doughnuts and French fries -- came to a head in 2006, when New York City became the first city to ban trans-fats from restaurants.

"The issue became viral, and a lot of it was related to population studies that came out of Harvard University," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "The problem with them is they tend to raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol."

In response to doctors' concerns, most trans-fats have been removed from food products -- but in many cases they may have been replaced by saturated fat, which can also be harmful in excess.

Ayoob said trans-fats were "an easy whipping post."

Trans-fats may have disappeared because they were easy to replace with other ingredients. And ultimately, the virtual disappearance of trans-fats may be a better testament to the power of economics in responding to consumer demand than that of regulation responding to public complaints.

"It's box office poison now, is what it is. No one really wants to list that on an ingredient list," said Ayoob. "That's one where the food industry responded much more quickly than government ever would have. It just didn't pay to keep it in there."

Bird Flu (H5N1)

This year's swine flu pandemic wasn't the first time Americans were concerned with a strain of flu named for an animal.

At the beginning of the decade, avian influenza was a concern in Southeast Asia because of the devastation it was causing in chicken populations. But concerns soon arose about its spread to humans and the possibility it would mutate into a form that could spread from person to person.

"These new influenza viruses usually are modified viruses that come from birds, and now, we know, swine," said Schaffner. "We know that influenza viruses change on an annual basis... The world's population will be or will virtually be completely susceptible."

But concerns over avian flu did have one positive effect for the flu vaccine industry, which has been maligned for its reliance on old technologies to create the vaccine each year. Because antigens for flu vaccines are grown in chicken eggs, it was hard to develop a vaccine for a virus that was deadly to birds, and so work had to be done to begin developing a means of creating antigen without using eggs.

Although the new manufacturing processes are not available yet, "It was exactly H5N1 bird flu that stimulated a number of new ways to create new vaccine," said Schaffner. "What we see now actually came forward as a consequence of all that concern with H5N1."

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

SARS was the first novel virus to captivate the world's attention this decade after it was identified by the World Health Organization in February 2003.

The respiratory infection was first reported in Asia and then spread to North America, South America and Europe before being contained.

Like influenza, the virus could spread through airborne particles, but it was far more deadly when it infected someone. According to the WHO, 8,096 people were infected worldwide. 774 people died. The virus receded by the end of 2003.

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