Health Highlights: Jan. 4, 2010

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

U.S. Lifts Entry Ban on People With HIV/AIDS

On Monday, the United States lifted a 22-year ban that prevented people with HIV/AIDS from entering the country.

The ban wasn't compatible with U.S. plans to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS, said President Barack Obama, BBC News reported.

When he announced the policy change in October, Obama said the entry ban had been "rooted in fear rather than fact."

The United States plans to host a bi-annual global HIV-AIDS summit for the first time in 2012.

"The 2012 World Aids Conference, due to be held in the United States, was in jeopardy as a result of the restrictions. It's now likely to go ahead as planned," Rachel Tiven, head of the group Immigration Equality, told BBC News.

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No Evidence Supports Special Diets for Autistic Children: Experts

No evidence shows that children with autism have more digestive problems than other children or that special diets help them, says an expert panel report released Monday.

The panel said medical treatment is recommended for children with autism who experience painful digestive problems that can cause behavior problems, the Associated Press reported.

The consensus report was written by more than 25 experts who reviewed medical research. The effort was funded by the Autism Society and other autism groups.

The experts called for more rigorous research into the prevalence of digestive problems among children with autism and whether special diets might prove beneficial in some cases, the AP reported.

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CDC Says Swine Flu Now Widespread in Only 4 States

The H1N1 swine flu outbreak continues to subside in the United States, with just four states now reporting widespread cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

That's a decline from seven states reporting widespread cases last week, and a continuance of a decline in prevalence since H1N1 infections peaked in late October, with 48 states reporting widespread illness at the time.

The four states still reporting high H1N1 activity are Delaware, Maine, New Jersey and Virginia, the CDC said.

The agency notes that visits to physicians for flu-like illness did rise slightly over the past week, the first such rise after eight consecutive weeks of decline. Rates of hospitalization for influenza remained unchanged, although the CDC says the number of deaths linked to pneumonia and influenza did rise.

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Ammoniated Beef Treatment Questioned

Despite being linked to repeated incidents involving potentially deadly E. coli and salmonella, a major U.S. meat treatment method continues to be used with government approval, The New York Times reveals.

Beef Products, Inc., which supplies processed meat to McDonald's, Burger King and the U.S. school lunch program, developed a process eight years ago that involves injecting beef with ammonia to banish the gastrointestinal bug E. coli bacteria from burgers. A study by the South Dakota-based company showed the process also killed salmonella, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture endorsed the idea, enabling the company to use fatty trimmings previously limited to pet food and cooking oil for humans.

The ammoniated trimmings are processed into "a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips" and used in a majority of hamburgers nationwide, the story says.

The USDA exempted Beef Products from routine testing of hamburger meat begun in 2007, The Times reported.

But government and industry records obtained by The Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, "E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment," the newspaper said.

Beef Products maintains it tests samples of each batch shipped and that E. coli was detected in only 0.06% of the 2009 samples.

While no E. coli outbreak has been tied directly to Beef Products, the incidents point out problems within the USDA, The Times said. Also, salmonella-tainted meat that the school lunch program won't buy can still be sold to the general public, the paper said.

With food-borne illnesses a growing problem in the nation, the USDA told The Times it will look more closely at Beef Products. A recent E. coli outbreak was tied to a New York hamburger maker that used Beef Products and other suppliers, and the USDA included Beef Products in its recall.

"This will continue to be our approach going forward," the department said.

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