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Health Headlines - April 18

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:22pm

Good Use of Rotavirus Vaccine in U.S.: Report

Since the new rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq was recommended in February 2006 by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), it has been widely used, and health providers have adhered to age recommendations, says a report in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ACIP said that routine rotavirus vaccination of U.S. infants should follow a three-dose schedule and be administered at two, four and six months of age.

CDC researchers examined vaccination coverage among infants from February 2006 until May 2007 and found that, by May 15, 2007, almost half of three-month-old infants had received one dose of rotavirus vaccine. The researchers also found most of the doses were administered according to ACIP recommendations.

Rotavirus vaccination is believed to be the most effective way to protect children against rotavirus, the CDC researchers said. Worldwide, rotavirus is the leading cause of severe gastroenteritis in children younger than age five. Each year, rotavirus causes more than 200,000 emergency room visits and 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations in the United States alone.

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States Get Grants to Improve Medicaid Primary Care

Twenty states will receive grants totaling $50 million to improve access to primary medical care so that Medicaid beneficiaries can avoid improper use of costly hospital emergency rooms, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Thursday.

"These grants provide new programs and services to help people get the non-emergency care they need in the most appropriate setting," CMS Acting Administrator Kerry Weems said in a prepared statement.

The first $37.5 million in grants is now available to fund 29 programs in the 20 states. The remaining $12.5 million will be made available in 2009. The grant money will be used to establish new community health centers; extend the hours of operation at existing clinics; educate Medicaid beneficiaries about new services; and provide for electronic health information exchange between facilities for better coordination of care.

The states receiving the grant funds are: Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.

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U.S. Troops Suffer Mental Health Problems, Brain Injuries: Study

About 18.5 percent (300,000) of American troops who've served in the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan are suffering from major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and about 19 percent (320,000) may have suffered brain injuries, says a RAND Corporation study released Thursday. Many of them haven't received treatment.

The study, completed in January, included a survey of 1,965 active and former members from all branches of the armed forces, the Associated Press reported.

Among the other findings:

  • Only 43 percent of those who suffered head injuries reported ever being evaluated by a doctor for those injuries.
  • Only 53 percent of those with depression or PTSD sought help over the past year. Worries about medication side effects, the belief that family and friends could help, and the fear that seeking care may damage their careers were among the reasons given for not seeking help.
  • Women and reservists had the highest rates of PTSD and major depression.

"There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan," Terri Tanielian, the project's co-leader and a researcher at the nonprofit RAND Corporation, told the AP. "Unless they receive effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term associated consequences for them and for the nation."

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Judge Upholds NYC Restaurant Calorie Menu Law

A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday upheld a New York City regulation requiring some chain restaurants to post calories on menus. The judge rejected the New York State Restaurant Association's argument that the law violates the First Amendment by forcing restaurants to "convey the government's message regarding the importance of calories."

"It seems reasonable to expect that some consumers will use the information disclosed ... to select lower calorie meals ... and these choices will lead to a lower incidence of obesity," said U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell, the Associated Press reported.

The new regulation, which applies to restaurants that are part of chains with at least 15 outlets nationwide, goes into effect Monday. The city's health department said it would wait until June 3 before it starts fining restaurants that violate the law.

The American Diabetes Association applauded the judge's decision.

"If individuals are expected to make informed, healthy food choices, we must give them the nutritional tools they need to do so," Dr. John Buse, ADA president of medicine and science, said in a prepared statement.

"We know that frequent eating at restaurants is linked with obesity, and obesity is a significant contributor to the development of type 2 diabetes -- the greatest public health epidemic of the 21st century. By requiring chain restaurants to provide calorie information, New York City is supporting residents in making changes in their diet, and in turn lowering their risk of type 2 diabetes," Buse said.

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More Pork Plant Workers Ill

More workes who processed pig brains at pork plants in Minnesota, Indiana and Nebraska are developing a mysterious neurological illness, researchers said Wednesday. There are now as many as 24 cases, the Associated Press reported.

Details about the ongoing investigation into the cases were presented at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. Symptoms experienced by the workers include pain, weakness, fatigue and numbness.

A unique pattern of antibodies has been found in all the patients. All the affected employees used compressed air to blow pig brains out of the skulls, said Dr. Daniel Lachance, a Mayo Clinic neurologist. All the pork plants have discontinued the practice, the AP reported. Lachance told journalists that the some of the pigs' brain tissue may have been turned into a fine mist by the compressed air. Workers exposed to this mist may have developed an autoimmune response that caused nerve damage, he said.

"The precise mechanism by which that is occurring, we do not yet understand," Lachance said.

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Flu Shot Aids COPD Patients: Study

Annual flu vaccines may help prevent chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from worsening, according to researchers in India who studied 87 COPD patients, average age of about 65, who'd never previously had a flu shot.

The patients were followed for a year before and after they received the vaccine. The flu vaccine reduced overall breathing problems by 67 percent, the study found. Among patients with severe COPD, there was a 75 percent reduction in the incidence of additional respiratory problems, United Press International reported. The study findings were published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice.

"Our study was undertaken in a population where uptake of the vaccine is traditionally low and it had marked effect on the men who received it," study lead author Dr. Balakrishnan Menon, of the University of Delhi, said in a statement, UPI reported. "This could explain why our 67 percent reduction was higher than the 32 percent to 45 percent falls reported by previous studies carried out in populations where the vaccine is more common," Menon said.

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