Health Highlights: Jan. 2, 2010

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

CDC Says Swine Flu Now Widespread in Only 4 States

The H1N1 swine flu outbreak continues to subside in the United States, with just four states now reporting widespread cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

That's a decline from seven states reporting widespread cases last week, and a continuance of a decline in prevalence since H1N1 infections peaked in late October, with 48 states reporting widespread illness at the time.

The four states still reporting high H1N1 activity are Delaware, Maine, New Jersey and Virginia, the CDC said.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • CDC Says Swine Flu Now Widespread in Only 4 States
    • Ammoniated Beef Treatment Questioned
    • FDA to Tighten Standards on Human Trials
    • U.S. Cocaine Laced With Deadly Horse Drug

The agency notes that visits to physicians for flu-like illness did rise slightly over the past week, the first such rise after eight consecutive weeks of decline. Rates of hospitalization for influenza remained unchanged, although the CDC says the number of deaths linked to pneumonia and influenza did rise.

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Ammoniated Beef Treatment Questioned

Despite being linked to repeated incidents involving potentially deadly E. coli and salmonella, a major U.S. meat treatment method continues to be used with government approval, The New York Times reveals.

Beef Products, Inc., which supplies processed meat to McDonald's, Burger King and the U.S. school lunch program, developed a process eight years ago that involves injecting beef with ammonia to banish the gastrointestinal bug E. coli bacteria from burgers. A study by the South Dakota-based company showed the process also killed salmonella, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture endorsed the idea, enabling the company to use fatty trimmings previously limited to pet food and cooking oil for humans.

The ammoniated trimmings are processed into "a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips" and used in a majority of hamburgers nationwide, the story says.

The USDA exempted Beef Products from routine testing of hamburger meat begun in 2007, The Times reported.

But government and industry records obtained by The Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, "E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment," the newspaper said.

Beef Products maintains it tests samples of each batch shipped and that E. coli was detected in only 0.06 percent of the 2009 samples.

While no E. coli outbreak has been tied directly to Beef Products, the incidents point out problems within the USDA, The Times said. Also, salmonella-tainted meat that the school lunch program won't buy can still be sold to the general public, the paper said.

With food-borne illnesses a growing problem in the nation, the USDA told The Times it will look more closely at Beef Products. A recent E. coli outbreak was tied to a New York hamburger maker that used Beef Products and other suppliers, and the USDA included Beef Products in its recall.

"This will continue to be our approach going forward," the department said.

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FDA to Tighten Standards on Human Trials

Makers of medical devices will face tougher approval standards under new guidelines being developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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