Top health stories of 2007

This year in review: a look at some of the most notable stories in health and wellness.

From deadly vegetables to contaminated pet food, from recalled toys to drug-safety concerns, the health news in 2007 continued to be pretty scary. On the other hand, advances in stem cell research and other medical successes gave reasons for hope.

Here are a just of few of this year’s headlines in health and wellness.

Contaminated products from China. All across North America, dogs and cats started dying because of melamine-tainted pet food from China. Soon after Canadian and American consumers were warned to avoid Chinese-made toothpaste when it was found to contain dithylene glycol (an ingredient found in antifreeze.)

And the recalls didn’t stop there. Millions of toys made in China were recalled over concerns about lead levels. (According to news reports, China has since cracked down on product safety regulations.)

Food scares. Contaminated food, a major concern in 2006, continued into 2007. Organic spinach – usually considered one of the more healthy food options – killed three people in the United States and infected hundreds of others when it became contaminated with E.coli, a bacteria usually associated with meat.

Another major food scare came with a warning that certain jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter might contain salmonella, a major bacterial cause of food poisoning.

Canadian consumers were also warned about the possible risks of botulism in canned green beans and salmonella poisoning in Hershey chocolates. In response to safety concerns, Health Canada recently launched a new website that enables Canadians to search for recalled food and children’s products.

Bad bugs. Antibiotic resistant superbugs are an increasing problem, not only in hospitals but also in our communities. In fact, researchers estimate that there are two million cases of antibiotic-resistant infection in hospitals that kill approximately 70,000 people annually in North America. Hospital-based methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) alone causes an estimated 100,000 difficult-to-treat infections annually. (Read the full article.)

Tuberculosis was also in the news this summer thanks to the case of Andrew Speaker, an Atlanta lawyer infected with a particularly drug-resistant strain of the disease. Despite warnings from his doctors, Speaker embarked on a trans-Atlantic flight, sparking fears that fellow air travellers may have been infected. Fortunately, no one caught the infection – and while Speaker ended up being diagnosed with a somewhat less dangerous TB bug than previously thought, he required lung surgery to remove damaged tissues. According to media reports, the surgery went well, but he will need to stay on TB drugs for several years. (Read more about TB.)

Obesity a growing problem. Another year and the global obesity epidemic continues to get worse. An estimated 11 million Canadians are overweight, and about half a million of them are morbidly obese and in need of treatment, including surgery, according to the Canadian Obesity Network.

And a recent French survey suggested that 36 per cent of Canadian men and women who saw their family doctors are obese. Researchers have said that obesity is a major health concern and threatens to wipe out gains made in treating heart disease and diabetes.