Health Highlights: Oct. 11, 2013

HealthDay SHARE
  • Poultry Plants Linked to Salmonella Outbreak Allowed to Stay Open: USDA
  • NIH Clinical Trials Affected by Government Shutdown
  • Shutdown Threatens Food Safety
  • Ban Fighting in Hockey: Concussion Experts
  • New Calif. Law Permits Midwives to Perform Early Abortions

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

Poultry Plants Linked to Salmonella Outbreak Allowed to Stay Open: USDA

Three California poultry processing plants linked to a salmonella outbreak in raw chicken that's sickened 278 people in 17 states can remain open, the U.S. Agriculture Department says.

The three plants are owned by Foster Farms, which has made "immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations," according to the department, the Associated Press reported.

The company said it is cooperating with the investigation into the outbreak and implemented new food safety controls after learning about the illnesses. Inspectors will monitor the changes at the plants and sample the company's meat for the next three months, officials said.

The outbreak began in March and some new illnesses began as recently as two weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Most of the illnesses have been in California, the AP reported.

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NIH Clinical Trials Affected by Government Shutdown

Critically ill people are still being enrolled in U.S. National Institutes of Health clinical trials during the federal government shutdown, but the pace of enrollment is much slower than normal.

That means that many sick people who otherwise would be accepted into the clinical trials must wait to receive treatment.

The NIH runs more than 1,400 clinical trials at any given time. About 12 patients were enrolled between Oct. 1, the first day of the shutdown, and Oct. 8. Most of those people were cancer patients, NIH spokeswoman Renate Myles told The New York Times.

That's a much lower number than in a typical week, when about 200 new patients would be enrolled in NIH trials. About 30 of those patients would be children, a third of whom would have cancer.

Only patients at high risk of dying are being accepted in the trials during the shutdown. They still have to meet the criteria for the trial and investigators have to believe that the treatment would provide a benefit for patients, The Times reported.

No new studies are being started during the shutdown, and at least seven new clinical trials had been delayed as of Wednesday.

The government shutdown has led to significant staff reductions at the NIH with about three-quarters of its employees -- more than 13,000 people - furloughed.

The shutdown threatens public health in other ways. More than two-thirds of employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are furloughed. There are no staff members to conduct important monitoring tasks, such as tracking the flu virus or conducting genetic testing on it. That means that researchers have no data on how it is spreading or where it is most severe.

"Last flu season was early and severe," CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds told The Times. "This flu season, we are not going to know."

At the Food and Drug Administration, nearly 1,000 of its approximately 1,600 investigators who keep on eye on everything from food facilities to drug makers are on furlough.

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Shutdown Threatens Food Safety

Food safety is one of the casualties of the U.S. government shutdown, experts warn.

The doors are locked at federal agencies in charge of making sure that fruit, vegetables, dairy products and a wide range of other U.S.-made food items are safe to consume.

"This is a self-inflicted wound that is putting people's health at risk," Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, told The New York Times.

Because the shutdown comes on top of earlier budget cuts to the agencies, there is "the potential for a real public health crisis," the longtime food safety advocate said.

The Food and Drug Administration, which inspects most of the food that Americans eat, has gone from a target of inspecting about 200 food plants per week to none, and has also cut back on inspections of imported food, The Times reported.