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Thursday Briefing

U.S. deaths from gastroenteritis, or “stomach flu,” more than double between 1999 and 2007. New federal figures show that the death toll from the illness climbed from roughly 2,700 to 14,500 per year. The main cause was an increase in fatal Clostridium difficile infections, which often occur among patients treated at hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. Experts say the bacteria have become more virulent and resistant to treatment. A second culprit was the highly contagious norovirus, which is spread via contaminated food, water, surfaces and person-to-person contact, and has become especially notorious because of outbreaks on cruise ships. MyHealthNewsDaily, HealthDay

Study provides more evidence linking cadmium in food to breast cancer. The new study, published by the American Association for Cancer Research, found that among 55,987 post-menopausal women, the one-third with the highest cadmium intakes in their diets were 21% more likely to develop breast cancer than the one-third with the lowest intakes. Cadmium, a heavy metal, leaches into crops from fertilizers and when rainfall or sewage sludge deposit it onto farmland. Whole grains, potatoes, other vegetables and shellfish are key dietary sources of cadmium. Experts noted that the study, while showing a correlation between cadmium and breast cancer, doesn’t prove cause and effect. Los Angeles Times

Disease outbreaks from imported foods rise. New federal figures show that, from 2005 through 2010, there were 39 outbreaks in which 2,348 people suffered illnesses linked to imported food. Those cases represented only 0.7% of all reported outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S., but almost half, 17, happened in 2009 and 2010. In addition, the number of outbreaks is likely underestimated because authorities don’t always know where tainted food comes from. The apparent recent rise in imported-food outbreaks, mostly from fish and spices, highlights gaps in the food-safety system that a law signed by President Obama last year is intended to address. USA Today, The Wall Street Journal

U.S. launching $54 million advertising campaign to attack cigarette smoking. The 12-week ad blitz, called “Tips From Former Smokers,” will depict the health risks of smoking in gruesome detail. But it will be a tiny campaign compared to the estimated $10.5 billion a year spent by tobacco companies to promote cigarettes in the U.S. Some 8 million Americans have smoking-related illnesses, and as many as 443,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related causes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its campaign was planned long before the tobacco industry’s recent court victory that at least temporarily blocks regulations to put graphic warning labels on cigarette packs. Reuters

Federal judge expresses outrage over “minuscule” penalty of $500,000 in deaths of nine Utah miners. Still, after expressing his reservations, Judge David Sam accepted the plea deal worked out between the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City and a Murray Energy Corp. subsidiary. Prosecutors said that two misdemeanor counts of violating mine safety laws were the most serious charges that could be brought against the company, given the way the law is written. No company managers or executives will be charged in connection with the two deadly cave-ins at the Crandall Canyon mine in August 2007.  The Salt Lake TribuneThe Associated Press

Workplace safety regulators propose $178,000 in penalties against upstate New York yogurt company. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration accused the New Berlin, N.Y., operation of Agro Farma Inc., the maker of Chobani Greek Yogurt, of 33 serious violations and one lesser record-keeping violation. “Our inspections identified a wide range of mechanical, chemical, electrical and health hazards that, left uncorrected, expose the plant’s employees to being caught in moving machine parts or unexpectedly energized machinery, electrocution, falls, being overcome in toxic or oxygen-deficient atmospheres, and hearing loss,” an OSHA official said. OSHAThe Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.)

Recalls: 2009-2012 Subaru Forester SUVs, Kawasaki utility vehicles

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein