Thursday, 16 February 2012 09:52

Health Highlights: Feb. 16, 2012

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

Include Cancer in WTC Compensation Program: Advisory Panel

An assistance program for people sickened by dust from the World Trade Center should include at least some people with cancer, a federal advisory panel says.

Billions of dollars have been earmarked to compensate and treat people with illnesses potentially linked to the twin towers collapse on 9/11. However, the program doesn't include people with cancer because it hasn't been conclusively linked to the dust and smoke released by the destruction of the WTC, the Associated Press reported.

While the members of the advisory panel agreed Thursday that some cancer patients should be covered by the program, they weren't sure if it should include all or just certain types of cancer.

The committee's recommendation, due by March 2, can either be accepted or rejected by the assistance program's administrator, the AP reported.


No More King-Sized Bars, Mars Inc. Announces

Mars Inc. says it will stop selling chocolate products that have more than 250 calories per portion, a decision that will see the end of king-sized candy bars.

The company -- which makes brands such as Snickers, Mars, Milky Way, M&Ms, Twix, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way, Dove and Galaxy -- says the move is part of a health and nutrition effort, the Chicago Tribune reported.

A king-size Snickers bar has 510 calories, while a regular-size Snickers currently has 280 calories.

By 2015, Mars plans to reduce sodium levels in all its food products by 25 percent from 2007 levels. In 2007, the company promised to no longer market chocolate products directly to children under 12. Other efforts include placing calorie counts on the front of packages, reducing saturated fat, and eliminating trans fat, the Tribune reported.


Experts Discuss Safety of Releasing Bird Flu Research Details

Experts are holding a two-day meeting to discuss whether research on mutant forms of the H5N1 bird flu virus could pose a threat to public safety if it's made public.

Last year, scientists in the United States and the Netherlands found ways to engineer the virus so that it could be transmitted between mammals, including humans, Agence France-Presse reported.

The journals Science and Nature were asked to withhold publication of the controversial research due to fears the information could be used by terrorists to create a flu pandemic that could kill millions.

In early January, the scientists conducting the research agreed to stop their studies for 60 days to allow time for international experts to consider the matter, AFP reported.

Any decision made at the World Health Organization meeting in Geneva is expected to be reported late Friday.


White House's Move on Coverage for Birth Control Hits New Snag

A new issue has developed in the controversy over the new U.S. health care act's requirement that all employers, including hospitals and universities with religious affiliations, must offer coverage for birth control to women free of charge.

After complaints from religiously affiliated institutions, the Obama administration said it would make insurers cover the costs, rather than the organizations themselves.

But the problem with that compromise is that many religiously affiliated organizations insure themselves rather than hire an outside company, The New York Times reported.

That means that these organizations now have to determine how, or if, they can reconcile their religion-based objections to offering birth control with their role as insurers.

Details about how self-insured institutions will be treated under the new law will be worked out in upcoming meetings with religious leaders.

"This policy will be developed collaboratively so that the ultimate outcome works for religious employers, their workers and the public," an administration official explained, The Times reported.


Raw Sprouts at Jimmy John's Linked to E. Coli Outbreak

For the fourth time since 2008, raw sprouts from the sandwich chain Jimmy John's have been linked to a foodborne illness outbreak in the United States.

Twelve cases of E. coli poisoning in five states (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Wisconsin) have been linked to raw clover sprouts eaten at Jimmy John's restaurants, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Associated Press reported.

The illnesses occurred between Dec. 25 and Jan. 15. Two of the victims were hospitalized.

A year ago, raw alfalfa sprouts from one of the Illinois-based restaurant chain's suppliers were linked to 140 salmonella illnesses. Sprouts eaten at Jimmy John's were linked to a 2009 salmonella outbreak in several Midwestern states and suspected in an E. coli outbreak in Boulder, Colo. in 2008, the AP reported.

The company declined to comment on the latest outbreak.