Health Highlights: Jan. 8, 2009

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

Racial, Ethnic Disparities Persist in Spina Bifida Births

Public health efforts to decrease the number of babies born with spina bifida should target women at higher risk, including those who are obese, of Hispanic ethnicity, or who carry certain genetic risk factors, according to a new review by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Spina bifida, a developmental birth defect of the neural tube, called an NTD-affected pregnancy, results in an infant's having an incompletely formed spinal cord. In January 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated adding folic acid to all enriched cereal grain products to reduce the risk. Prior to conception, women are now urged to take 400 micrograms of daily folic acid supplementation.

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The new data showed no additional decrease in spina bifida among infants born to non-Hispanic white and Hispanic mothers since mandatory folic acid fortification was implemented, but a 20 percent decrease was registered among infants born to non-Hispanic black mothers, according to the CDC review, which looked at statistics from 1999 to 2005. The findings were published in the Jan. 9 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"Future public health efforts to reduce the prevalence of spina bifida should focus on subgroups of women with known risk factors for an NTD-affected pregnancy, such as obesity, Hispanic ethnicity, and certain genetic factors. Additional study of genetic and environmental risk and protective factors is warranted," the CDC review said. "Future decreases in the prevalence of spina bifida might be attenuated as the percentage of NTDs preventable by consuming folic acid continues to diminish," the report added.

An estimated 50 percent to 70 percent of neural tube disorders can be prevented through daily consumption of 400 micrograms of folic acid, the study said.


Salmonella Cases Still a Mystery

Georgia, Ohio and Minnesota are among the 42 states now affected by the salmonella bacterium that has continued to sicken hundreds of Americans during the past three months with a reported 388 cases, the Associated Press said Thursday.

Georgia officials said they've identified five people who became ill from mid-October to mid-December. No one died, but at least one person was hospitalized. In Ohio, 51 people in 20 counties, where at least a dozen were hospitalized, had the same type of salmonella about the same time as the Georgia cases, health officials said.

A Minnesota health official said Thursday the state has had 30 cases, while in California, 51 cases had been reported as of last week, AP said.

USA Today also reported that officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have become concerned enough about the latest incidences to form a task force to find the cause. The CDC is leading the investigation but has not yet released the full list of states or determined which foods may have caused the illnesses.

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