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Health Headlines - August 21

Posted Aug 20 2009 10:21pm

U.S. Officials Back Cervical Cancer Vaccine

In a joint statement issued Thursday, officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the benefits of the cervical-cancer vaccine Gardasil continue to outweigh its risks, according to published reports.

The statement followed by two days the publication of a study by both agencies in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found the vaccine to be safe, despite side effects that include fainting and blood clots. For every 100,000 doses of Gardasil distributed, the study found 8.2 episodes of fainting and 0.2 episodes involving blood clotting.

"Based on the review of available information by FDA and CDC, Gardasil continues to be safe and effective, and its benefits continue to outweigh its risks," the agencies said in the statement posted on the FDA Web site.

In June 2006, Gardasil was licensed for use in girls older than 9 years to prevent infection from four types of a virus called HPV. HPV is a virus known to cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Two types of HPV covered by the vaccine, HPV-16 and HPV-18, cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers. The vaccine is given in three doses.

In clinical trials conducted before licensing, researchers found that the rates of adverse events were similar in girls and young women who received the vaccine compared with those who received a placebo injection.

Merck & Co., the maker of Gardasil, has insisted the vaccine is safe and effective.

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Mercury Common in U.S. Fish: Study

Mercury was found in every fish caught in 291 U.S. streams and rivers by U.S. Geological Survey scientists, and 25 percent of the fish had levels of mercury considered unsafe for people who consume average amounts of fish.

The USGS study found that some of the highest levels of mercury were in fish taken from "blackwater" streams in the Southeast, Bloomberg news reported. High levels of mercury were also found in fish in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, and in waterways in the West that flow near gold and mercury mines.

Coal-fired power plants produce most the mercury found in streams, rivers and fish, the USGS said.

"This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release, Bloomberg reported.

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'Functional Foods' Popular in U.S., Report Says

Americans are hungry for so-called functional foods, products that are enhanced with nutrients and perceived as offering health benefits.

A report released Thursday by the research firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers found that even in the current weak economy, consumers are willing to pay more for functional foods, also called nutraceuticals, the Associated Press reported.

These foods range from heart-friendly margarines and calcium-spiked juices to ice cream with probiotics.

Critics aren't impressed. These foods are "calorie distractors," said Marion Nestle, a food scientist at New York University.

"Functional foods are about marketing, not health," she told the AP. "They delude people into thinking that these things are healthy," and they often eat more than they should.

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Georgia Teen Drinkers Prefer Liquor: Study

Liquor is the most popular alcoholic beverage among high school students in Georgia, particularly among binge drinkers, says a study published Thursday. It also found that most of the students who drink do so in another person's home and have someone else provide them with their alcoholic beverages.

The researchers analyzed data from 2,465 Georgia high school students who took part in the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Among the 38 percent of students who were current drinkers (they'd consumed alcohol within the past 30 days), 44 percent drank liquor (bourbon, rum, scotch, vodka or whisky), 58 percent drank in someone else's home, and 62 percent got their alcohol from someone who gave it to them (37) or bought it for them (25 percent). Binge drinkers had the highest rate of liquor consumption (54 percent).

The study appears in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers called for wide implementation of community-based strategies to prevent underage and binge drinking, such as maintaining and enforcing the age 21 minimum legal drinking age, increasing alcohol excise taxes, limiting the number of stores that sell alcohol, and reducing youth exposure to alcohol marketing.

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Lead Dust on Child Safety Seats Poses Risk

Dust in cars and on child safety seats can cause lead poisoning in children, a new study reports.

Mandatory routine screening in Maine identified six children under the age of 6 years whose elevated blood lead levels were linked to lead dust in the family vehicles and on their child safety seats. These are the first known cases of this kind.

Prevention recommendations offered by the study authors include proper washing of work clothing, thorough vacuuming and wet cleaning of vehicle interiors, and replacement of any child safety seat that tests positive for lead dust.

The study appears in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Meningitis Vaccine Given Accelerated Approval by FDA

Accelerated approval for Hiberix, a Haemophilus b Conjugate Vaccine, has been granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline said Wednesday.

Hiberix was approved as a booster dose for use in children ages 15 months to 4 years old in order to protect them from invasive disease caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), RTTNews reported.

Hib disease is an often serious and potentially deadly bacterial infection that can cause meningitis.

The FDA's accelerated approval is meant to help deal with a shortage in the United States of a vaccine to protect infants from Hib. GlaxoSmithKline said the vaccine should be available within several weeks, RTTNews reported.

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Resiliency Testing Introduced for U.S. Soldiers

Regular assessments of soldiers' resiliency will be introduced by the U.S. Army this fall in a program that was created partly as a response to rising numbers of soldier suicides.

As of Oct. 1, all active duty and reserve soldiers will be required to complete an online, 170-question assessment designed to assess how they're feeling emotionally, spiritually, and physically. The test will be repeated every two years, the Associated Press reported.

Soldiers' scores on the test won't be revealed to their commanders. However, commanders will be told if soldiers have taken the test and participated in follow-up training. All soldiers will receive some training regardless of their scores.

"It's not looking for disease," said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, chief of comprehensive solider fitness, the AP reported. "We only know if (progress) is sufficient if in two years the solder scores better and is better in the interim."

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