Top 9 Health Stories of 2010

The trends include international disasters and ABC News exclusives.

ByABC News
December 28, 2010, 10:16 AM

Dec. 29, 2010— -- Many people describe the medical field as a tug of war between breakthroughs and setbacks. And medical stories in 2010 were no different.

The following are nine of the most important health stories in 2010, as reported by ABC News' Medical Unit.

The immediate damage to infrastructure and the death toll seemed apparent across the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Although more than a billion aid dollars funnelled in to repair Haiti, many experts braced for a public-health aftershock.

And they were right.

Nearly 10 months after the January earthquake, cholera spread to many rural areas and quickly creeped into the capital city, Port-au-Prince. In just a few months, nearly a thousand Haitians died from the waterborne disease.

"What we are seeing now may be the tip of the iceberg," Dr. Georges Dubuche, adviser to Haiti's Ministry of Health, said in a news conference early October.

Many experts did not know then the extent of the epidemic.

Indeed, Cholera spread faster than many public health experts anticipated. Relief workers continue to ramp up efforts to manage the outbreak amid the more than 2,000 people who have now died from the disease.

Affordable health care for all became the buzz phrase for the Obama Administration. Indeed, with the Affordable Care Act signed into law in March, the Obama Administration may have its way.

The $938 billion health care bill will expand coverage to 32 million Americans, but many of the provisions -- with the exception of prescription drug coverage for older Americans and children who have been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions -- are not expected to go into effect until 2014.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims concluded in March that thimerosal -- a preservative found in some vaccines -- does not cause autism. The courts reviewed previous scientific studies and found no correlation between vaccination rates, mercury levels and the incidence of autism in children.

This so-called landmark decision followed many rulings in previous years that cited no association between vaccines and autism. Previous rulings by the court also dismissed the autism-vaccine connection. Still, it's likely there may be more cases because many parents of children with autism are unconvinced.

Indeed, the 2008 settlement for Hannah Polling became the staple case for many families of children with autism. The Polling family received compensation for Hannah's "vaccine injury" when the court settled, because, according to settlement documents, the vaccinations she received, "significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder [...] and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of autism spectrum disorder."

Many people say that regardless of the 2010 omnibus rulings, there will be more cases such as Polling's to come.

An estimated 87 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food, and 5,700 die from food-related disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But supporters of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which has already passed in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, hope greater food industry oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will change that.

Among the provisions of the bill, the FDA would have authority to order mandatory recall of tainted foods and set safety standards for raw produce, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. The agency would also increase inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities.

But many food industry companies are particularly concerned with the Tester Amendment, a part of the bill that would exempt smaller food producers and those that distribute locally.