Sunday, August 09, 2009

Health Headlines - August 9

U.S. Birth Rate Declined in 2008

Economic turmoil may be one reason why the number of births in the United States decreased by nearly two percent in 2008, the first annual decline since the start of the decade, the Associated Press reported.

There were 4,247,000 births last year, down about 68,000 from 2007, according to the report by the National Center for Health Statistics. In contrast, more babies were born in 2007 than in any other year in the nation's history.

Births in 2008 were lower in all but 10 states, the AP reported. Most of the states that had increases were in the northwest, including Idaho, North Dakota, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.

California saw a decline of 15,000 births while births in Florida were down by 8,000 in 2008.


Collins Confirmed As NIH Director

Dr. Francis Collins was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the new director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Friday.

"Dr. Collins is one of our generation's great scientific leaders. A physician and geneticist, Dr. Collins served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, where he led the Human Genome Project to completion," Sebelius said in a news release. "Dr. Collins will be an outstanding leader. Today is an exciting day for NIH and for science in this country."

Collins is known for his landmark discovery of disease genes and was director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH from 1993-2008.


FDA Head Promises Stronger Enforcement Of Food/Drug Safety

Food and drug companies that commit safety violations will face faster and more aggressive action, the new commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

"The agency must show industry and consumers that we are on the job," Margaret Hamburg told an audience of food and drug industry lawyers, the Associated Press reported. "Companies must have a realistic expectation that if they are crossing the line, they will be caught."

Hamburg said the FDA's efforts in recent years "have been hampered by unreasonable delays" that left many safety violations unpunished.

Since Hamburg was confirmed as commissioner in May, the agency has launched a number of enforcement actions against companies selling fake or dangerous products, the AP reported. This type of enforcement will become routine in the future, Hamburg said.


Scientists Identify Itch-Transmitting Cells

A group of cells in the spine that transmit itch messages to the brain have been identified by U.S. researchers, who said the findings may lead to better treatments for chronic itching.

When this group of cells was turned off in mice, it lessened their itchiness without reducing their ability to sense pain, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are the first to identify itch-transmitting cells in the spinal cord. The study appears in this week's issue of Science.

The results are "exciting" and "opens the field," itch specialist Dr. Gil Yosipovitch, of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, told the AP. He wasn't involved in the study.

Serious, chronic itching can be caused by conditions such as cancer, chronic kidney failure and the use of certain types of narcotic painkillers.


Ground Beef Recalled Over Salmonella Concerns

A California-based beef packing plant has recalled 825,769 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with an antibiotic-resistant form of salmonella and may be linked to an outbreak of illness in Colorado, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday.

The ground beef recalled by Fresno-based Beef Packers Inc., was sent to Colorado, Arizona and Utah, and sold in California, Dow Jones News reported.

The USDA said the Newport strain of salmonella that may be in the ground beef "is resistant to many commonly prescribed drugs, which can increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals."

The agency also noted that the "most common manifestations of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours," Dow Jones reported.

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