Review Category : Health

Wrongful Death Suit Filed in Caramel Apple Listeria Outbreak

Shelly Greer/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The family of a woman who died after eating a caramel apple allegedly tainted with listeria is suing those it says are responsible, including the grocery store her family says sold the apple to her.

Shirlee Jean Frey, 81, bought a prepackaged caramel apple at the Safeway grocery store in Felton, California, shortly before Halloween, according to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by food safety lawyer Bill Marler and his colleagues. Frey ate it that week, and began to feel sick, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that because of Frey’s illness, she fell and hit her head on Nov. 6, prompting a visit to the local emergency room and a flight to Stanford Hospital, where she had surgery on what doctors suspected was a brain bleed, according to a statement from Marler’s firm. She was discharged for rehabilitation on Nov. 14, and her health appeared to be improving, according to the lawsuit.

Then, on Thanksgiving, Frey would not wake up, the suit noted.

At Stanford Hospital, doctors told Frey’s family on Dec. 2 that she had listeria infection, and she died later that day, according to the wrongful death complaint.

“Listeria is a brutal illness, but it is completely preventable,” Marler said in a statement. “It is sickening and shocking when outbreaks like this one occur as it means the most basic precautions were not taken.”

Health officials told the family later that month that Frey was a victim of the multi-state listeria outbreak tied to prepackaged caramel apples, according to a statement from Marler’s firm.

“Since this is a pending lawsuit, we are not in a position to comment about the case,” said Safeway spokesman Brian Dowling. “The product was supplied to us by a third party, and we are looking into this matter further. We were previously unaware of any issue as it relates to the specific sale of this product at our stores. We have removed the product from sale.”

As of Dec. 22, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 29 hospitalizations as a result of listeria linked to caramel apples in 10 states. Five people died, according to the CDC, including Frey, Marler said.

The people infected in this outbreak ranged from age 7 to 92, according to the CDC. Nine cases occurred in pregnant women, and three cases caused meningitis — or the dangerous inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

Listeria infection, called listeriosis, is caused by ingesting the bacteria listeria monocytogenes. It is especially dangerous to elderly people, pregnant women and people who have compromised immune systems. Its symptoms include gastrointestinal distress, fever and muscle aches.

Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC warned all consumers this month to avoid eating prepackaged caramel apples while they investigate the outbreak alongside the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state health organizations.

Although the CDC has not named a caramel apple brand and is still investigating, it said 87 percent of the victims it interviewed reported having eaten a prepackaged caramel apple before falling ill. And no listeria cases have been identified in people who have eaten caramel alone or apples without caramel coating.

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FDA Recommends Ending Ban on Blood Donations from Gay Men

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In a major shift, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday that it will recommend changing the controversial policy that bans gay men from donating blood.

A statement released from FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency would recommend allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they have abstained from sex with men for at least one year.

Currently, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 are banned from ever donating blood in the U.S. The ban dates back to 1983 and was started after doctors realized the AIDS virus could be transmitted through blood transfusions.

The FDA decided to advise changing the policy after a number of epidemiologic studies showed no adverse effects on blood supply with a one-year deferral, according to Dr. Peter Marks, the deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Marks estimated that half of the men who currently can’t donate blood due to the policy would become eligible to be blood donors.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the changed policy does not do enough to address discrimination.

“The FDA’s proposal must be seen as part of an ongoing process and not an end point,” ACLU Legislative Representative Ian Thompson said in a statement. “The reality for most gay and bisexual men — including those in committed, monogamous relationships — is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions.”

In recent weeks, health organizations have increasingly pressured the FDA to recommend changing the policy.

Last month, the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and AABB, a non-profit representing institutions and individuals in transfusion medicine field, have supported ending the ban calling it “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”

In November, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability voted 16 to 2 to recommend allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they have abstained from sex with men for at least one year.

In an interview last month after Department of Health and Human Service’s announcement, Ryan Yezak, the founder of the National Gay Blood Drive, which has fought the ban with annual protests since 2013, said he was heartened by the changes but said there was more work to do.

“I think…voting in favor of a one year deferral instead of lifetime ban is a huge step in the right direction,” Yezak told ABC in an earlier interview. “Our whole goal is eliminating sexual orientation from the blood donation process altogether.”

The policy will not change immediately, instead the FDA will issue the first draft guidance on the policy and then they will face a comment period before the policy change can be official. According to the American Red Cross, the risk of HIV in a unit of donated blood is 1 in 1.5 million donated units.

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Santa Makes Special Visit to Children’s Hospital Burn Unit

Akron Children’s Hospital(AKRON, Ohio) — Jim Hipp is the perfect Santa Claus for the annual holiday party at the burn unit held at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, and it isn’t because he has the white beard and the red suit. It’s because he is a burn survivor.

Fifteen years ago, Hipp was working as an industrial electrician in Georgia when a fire ignited, causing nearly 14,000 volts of electricity to surge through his body. With 52 percent of his body badly burned, he was placed in a medically induced coma and eventually flown to Akron to complete treatment.

In 2004, at the urging of two fire fighter friends, he decided to give back to the hospital that helped him heal by playing Santa at their annual Holiday party.

The children have embraced him with open arms, he said. “They say, ‘Oh look, he’s hurt too’ and they will touch my face,” Hipp added.

Hipp, who has undergone more than 90 surgeries to correct some of his disfigurement, said he believes working with the children at Akron Children’s Hospital is the greatest thing he’s ever done in his life.

“I see their faces when I come out as Santa and they don’t care that you’re burned,” he said. “They just care that you’re Santa.”

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Santa Makes Special Visit to Children’s Hospital Burn Unit

Akron Children’s Hospital(AKRON, Ohio) — Jim Hipp is the perfect Santa Claus for the annual holiday party at the burn unit held at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, and it isn’t because he has the white beard and the red suit. It’s because he is a burn survivor.

Fifteen years ago, Hipp was working as an industrial electrician in Georgia when a fire ignited, causing nearly 14,000 volts of electricity to surge through his body. With 52 percent of his body badly burned, he was placed in a medically induced coma and eventually flown to Akron to complete treatment.

In 2004, at the urging of two fire fighter friends, he decided to give back to the hospital that helped him heal by playing Santa at their annual Holiday party.

The children have embraced him with open arms, he said. “They say, ‘Oh look, he’s hurt too’ and they will touch my face,” Hipp added.

Hipp, who has undergone more than 90 surgeries to correct some of his disfigurement, said he believes working with the children at Akron Children’s Hospital is the greatest thing he’s ever done in his life.

“I see their faces when I come out as Santa and they don’t care that you’re burned,” he said. “They just care that you’re Santa.”

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Mom of Two, Man with Muscular Dystrophy Lose More than Half Their Body Weight

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Patty Pena has struggled with her weight since she was in elementary school.

The 40-year-old administrator at Chicago Bulls College Prep, an inner-city charter school in Chicago, said when she was a child, her mother would have to buy her clothes in the women’s section of department stores.

She gained even more weight in college, and ended up weighing 252 pounds.

A member of what she calls “the clean plate club,” the mother of two would often eat more than her own dinner.

“If my kids had food leftover…I’d say, ‘Well, why am I going to throw that out? It’s perfectly fine,’” she said.

Pena told ABC News’ Good Morning America she knew she had to take charge when her school introduced a fitness initiative to help students get healthy.

“I said I can’t have them…need some support from me and me not be able to give that to them, because I myself was so overweight so I said, I have to do it,” she said.

Her story, and the stories of others who’ve also shed a lot of weight, is detailed in People magazine’s annual “Half their Size” edition, which is out on newsstands Tuesday.

Pena worked out, starting off slowly and realistically and finding activities that she liked. Before she started losing the weight, her mobility was limited, so she would walk in place, do squats and run in place all while watching her favorite TV shows. She joined Weight Watchers to modify her diet.

Pena also joined a gym, but said she found the environment there so judgmental that after one class she cried in her car.

That’s when she decided to work out with the students at her school during their physical education classes.

Pena lost 132 pounds, and now tips the scale at 120.

For Carlos Romero of Seattle, food was a source of comfort. His weight ballooned to 437 pounds.

“I was always overeating,” the 31-year-old told GMA.

It wasn’t until Romero, an operations analyst, was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy — a disease that causes progressive skeletal muscle weakness — that he decided to turn his life around.

“I saw it as an opportunity to inspire people that were struggling with obesity…and muscular dystrophy,” he said of the diagnosis he received two years ago.

Romero has since become a para-athlete. He does cardio and resistance training three times per week, and goes climbing up to six times per week.

Romero lost 225 pounds, and now weighs 212. He has also become active in two organizations — FSH Society and The Friends of FSH Research — working to find a treatment for facioscapulohumeral, or FSH.

“We’re actually making progress towards the first treatments,” Romero said.

During their appearance on GMA Tuesday, Romero and Pena talked about how they maintained their commitment to their new lifestyles during the holidays, when they’re surrounded by family and lot of food.

Romero recommended that people hit the gym before a big holiday meal, rather than afterward.

“I think it’s really easy for people to promise themselves that they’re going to work off those calories afterwards but it usually doesn’t happen, so I believe in getting the work done first, before you reward yourself,” Romero said.

Romero suggested that families have a fun Zumba or class or dance party after a big holiday dinner.

“We get moving in our house,” Romero said. “We put on some music and we have a Zumba party or we just get out of our chairs and we just walk around.”

“We enjoy each other’s company a lot more,” she said.

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Doctors Reveal Views on Ethical Decisions

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It’s no exaggeration to say that many doctors are regularly faced with life-and-death situations.

In Medscape’s annual ethics report of over 21,000 American and European physicians, 19 percent admitted that they would continue giving life-sustaining therapy to a patient who is likely beyond saving. However, 46 percent said their decision to do so would be entirely based on an individual’s situation.

Interestingly, one in two doctors would consider treating someone if there was some chance of them pulling through even if family members were opposed to it. About 22 percent said they would definitely make that choice.

Asked about other ethical dilemmas, twenty percent of the survey respondents would go out of their way to present a terminal diagnosis in the best possible light if it meant giving their patient some hope of survival.

As for the dicey subject of life support, 86 percent don’t think patients are kept alive longer than they should be.

Meanwhile, for the first time, just over half of physicians now support doctor-assisted suicide.

The Medscape survey also asked questions about abortion with 44 percent admitting they would terminate a pregnancy even if it went against their personal beliefs while one in seven said an individual’s situation would guide their decision.

In addition, one in four doctors support the legality of abortions after 20 weeks while a third said their decision would be contingent on the circumstances.

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It’s Hard Thinking Fast on Fast Foods

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Americans’ taste for fast food may be having the unintended consequence of slowing down their thinking processes.

According to Ohio State University researcher Dr. Kelly Purtell, a steady diet of fast food by kids has been linked to poorer academic outcomes based on a three-year study of 8,500 school children, starting at age ten.

When their scores in math, science and reading were measured at age 13, students who had meals at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and KFC anywhere from a couple of times a week to every day of the week tested lower than youngsters who never ate fast food.

Scientists believe that young brains may be slowed from a lack of iron associated with the consumption of fast food. Previous research has also shown that learning processes are affected by foods loaded in sugar and fat.

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FDA Approves Melanoma Drug

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted accelerated approval for a new treatment for patients with melanoma that is either advanced or non-operable.

According to an FDA press release, melanoma is the fifth-most common form of cancer in the U.S. The National Cancer Institute estimates that melanoma, which forms in the skin’s pigment, will kill 9,710 Americans this year, and 76,100 will be diagnosed with the disease.

Opdivo is the seventh melanoma drug approved by the FDA in the last three years.

The new drug works by inhibiting a protein on cancer cells that blocks the immune system from attacking the tumors. The FDA says the safety of Opdivo was tested among 268 participants in a trial study. The most common side effects were rash, itching, cough, upper respiratory tract infection and fluid retention.

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CDC Director Sees ‘Real Momentum and Real Progress’ in Ebola Fight in West Africa

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that there has been “real momentum and real progress” in the fight against the spread of Ebola in West Africa, but that more work still needs to be done.

“There’s a world of difference between what it was like when I was there in August and September, and what it’s like now,” Frieden said. Still, while he called the international response “inspiring,” he noted that the challenge remains “sobering.”

“Until they get to zero, we in the U.S. will not be safe from other potential imported cases,” Frieden acknowledged.

Of the three most heavily impacted countries in West Africa — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — Frieden said that as of Monday, “Liberia has the upper hand against the virus.”

Still, Frieden declined to provide a projection regarding the timeframe in which the outbreaks of Ebola in Western Africa could be ended.

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New Tick-Borne ‘Bourbon Virus’ Blamed for Kansas Man’s Death

iStock/Thinkstock(KANSAS CITY, Kan.) — A new tick-borne virus has been discovered in Kansas and dubbed the “Bourbon virus.”

The never-before-seen virus was named for Bourbon County, Kansas, where its only known victim lived. The man got sick over the summer and died, and it’s taken six months for doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital as well as state and national epidemiologists to solve the mystery of his death.

“Its genome is similar to viruses that have been found in eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, but no virus like that has ever been identified in the western hemisphere,” University of Kansas Hospital infectious disease expert Dr. Dana Hawkinson said in a video prepared last week by the hospital.

Hawkinson said even similar viruses found elsewhere rarely cause illness to humans and animals.

The illness is similar to another tick-borne illness called the heartland virus, which is also passed via tick and mosquito bites, in that they both cause fever and malaise. But unlike heartland, Bourbon virus also boasts anorexia as a symptom.

“They just feel bad, and they don’t really feel like eating,” Hawkinson said.

Muscle aches, elevated liver enzymes and damaged blood platelets are other symptoms, he said.

Hawkinson said finding the cause of the patient’s death has been “frustrating.”

“We just couldn’t answer questions for the family and ourselves as to why this was happening to this gentleman,” he said.

Hawkinson and his colleagues worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to solve the mystery after the patient died.

Ticks cause more than a dozen different illnesses in the United States, but many of them — including Lyme disease — are bacterial, according to the CDC. But because this disease is viral, the standard antibiotic treatment doesn’t work, Hawkinson said.

Tips to avoid tick-borne illnesses include avoiding tall grass, using insect repellent containing DEET outdoors, conducting full-body “tick checks” and avoiding sleeping next to dogs, according to a state health department statement.

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