Health Highlights: July 27, 2009

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

Swine Flu Death Toll 816: WHO

The worldwide swine flu death toll now stands at 816, according to a bulletin released Monday by the World Health Organization.

Most of the victims (707) have been in the Americas, followed by the Asia-Pacific region (74) and Europe (34). There has been one death in the eastern Mediterranean region, which includes the Middle East and parts of northern Africa, Agence France Presse reported.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Swine Flu Death Toll 816: WHO
    • Chemical In Some IV Bags May Cause Infant Liver Damage: Study
    • Trans Fats Eliminated From Unilever Soft-Spread Margarines

The WHO bulletin also said that several countries and territories have reported their first cases of swine flu since the previous bulletin on July 6.

So far, 134,503 cases of infection with the H1N1 swine flu virus have been reported to the agency, AFP reported. However, countries are no longer required to test and report individual cases, which means that latest figure "understates" the actual number of infections, the WHO said.

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Chemical In Some IV Bags May Cause Infant Liver Damage: Study

The chemical phthalate may increase the risk of liver damage in premature babies, say German researchers who looked at DEHP, a type of phthalate used to make some intravenous feeding bags and tubing.

The study found that liver problems developed in 50 percent of infants fed with tubes containing DEHP, compared with 13 percent of infants fed with tubes that didn't contain the chemical, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers said their findings show that hospitals treating preemies and other newborns should use IV feeding equipment that doesn't contain DEHP. The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

"This is a pretty strong damnation of" the chemical, Deborah Cory-Slechta, an environmental medicine professor at the University of Rochester medical school, told the AP. "It needs to be replicated. But I still think this makes a very strong case for getting rid of these compounds" in intensive care units that treat infants.

Some U.S. hospitals have already taken action.

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Trans Fats Eliminated From Unilever Soft-Spread Margarines

All partially hydrogenated oils will be removed from Unilever's four brands of soft-spread margarine by the second quarter of 2010, says the company, which sells the bulk of soft margarine spread in the United States.

Replacing partially hydrogenated oils with a mixture of palm oil and plant oil means that the spreads will have only 0.05 grams per serving of trans fat, the same amount that occurs naturally in vegetable oils, USA Today reported.

Unilever makes half the soft spreads sold in the United States and could claim the products had "zero grams" of trans fat in the products. That's because the Food and Drug Administration allows foods with fewwer than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to be labeled "0 grams of trans fat."

However, consumer pressure convinced Unilever to further reduce levels of trans fat in its soft spread margarines, USA Today reported.

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