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Health Headlines - August 9

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Avian Flu Vaccine Set for U.S. Production

Mass production of a new vaccine that scientists believe can protect against an avian flu outbreak could begin as early as mid-September, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Sunday.

Russian bird flu may be spreading

A bird flu outbreak in Russia's Siberian regions may be spreading, but no humans have been infected so far, officials and Russian media said on Monday.

Second Pig-Borne Disease Case in China

Authorities confirmed a second case of a pig-borne illness in southern China's Guangdong province on Monday, while four officials were reportedly fired for mistakes in containing the spread of the infection in another area, where it claimed 39 lives.

Compound Can Hasten Harvest of Stem Cells

New insight into how blood-regenerating stem cells travel from bone marrow to the bloodstream is outlined in a study by scientists at the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

This discovery has led to the development of a new chemical compound that accelerates this process -- called stem cell mobilization -- in mice. This research may eventually result in more efficient ways to harvest stem cells for use in humans.

The findings appear in the Aug. 6 issue of Nature Medicine.

The researchers studied the migration of mouse stem cells to gain a better idea of how adult stem cells move into bone marrow during stem cell transplants, and how the stem cells can be guided into the bloodstream so they can be more easily collected for use in transplants.

The scientists discovered that a group of proteins called the RAC GTPase family play a major role in regulating the location and movement of stem cells in bone marrow.

"Our findings demonstrate that RAC GTPase proteins are essential for injected stem cells to migrate into the correct location in the bone marrow," senior study author Dr. David Williams, head of experimental hematology at Cincinnati Children's, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues also found that a drug called NSC23766, developed at Cincinnati Children's, inhibited RAC GTPase activity and let the researchers encourage stem cells to move from bone marrow into the bloodstream, where they're more easily harvested.

New Meningitis Vaccine Offers Greater Protection

Lynn Bozof's son Evan was a healthy junior at Georgia Southwestern University who pitched for his college baseball team.

When he called home one March morning in 1998 complaining of a migraine, his mother advised him to go to the emergency room. Hours later came the startling diagnosis: He had meningococcal disease, a potentially deadly infection that frequently occurs among people who live in close quarters, such as college dorms.

Less than a month later, Evan was dead.

Since then, a lot has happened in the fight to save others from the disease, said Lynn Bozof, executive director of the National Meningitis Association, a nonprofit organization founded by parents of children who have died or suffered long-term effects of the disease.

Perhaps the biggest development was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval earlier this year of a new meningococcal disease vaccine that's believed to last longer than the older vaccine.

And in May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened and broadened the guidelines for those who should get the shot.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that strikes up to 3,000 Americans each year and leads to death in about 300 of these cases. Teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all cases in the United States. A recent study revealed that one in four infected teens will die. Of those who survive, up to 20 percent will suffer a permanent disability, such as limb amputation, hearing loss, even brain damage, according to the National Meningitis Association.

Infections can strike the blood -- called meningococcemia -- or the fluid of the spinal cord or the brain, a condition called meningitis, the CDC notes.

The disease most often hits preteens, teens and young adults, and the symptoms can be confused with less-threatening illnesses. Those symptoms can include a sudden high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting and exhaustion. Sometimes a rash develops. If these symptoms occur, immediate medical attention is crucial, including antibiotics.

Certain lifestyle factors, including crowded living conditions, a move to a new residence, and attendance at a new school with students from geographically diverse areas, are thought to heighten the risk for the disease.

In the past, the CDC has recommended that college freshmen, especially those who plan to live in dormitories, be informed about the vaccine.

Under the guidelines released in May, the CDC now recommends routine vaccination of children 11 or 12 years old. If that's not done, they should be vaccinated when entering high school. The agency also recommends that college freshmen living in dorms be vaccinated. Within three years, as more of the new vaccine becomes available, the CDC hopes to recommend routine vaccination beginning at age 11.

The vaccine, marketed as Menactra, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January for use in people aged 11 to 55 years. It is injected intramuscularly in one dose.

The new CDC guidelines have been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which issued a policy statement agreeing with the guidelines.

"These recommendations do improve our ability to prevent meningococcal disease in adolescents and older children," said Dr. Joseph Bocchini, a Shreveport, La., pediatrician and member of the academy's Committee on Infectious Diseases.

Parents will be made aware of the new guidelines through their children's pediatricians, among other avenues, he said.

"At the present time, no booster is thought to be needed," he said. As more experience is gathered with the new vaccine, experts will decide if a booster shot is needed later, he said.

The older vaccine, called Menomune, was thought to be effective for three to five years.

Parents should discuss the new vaccine with their children's pediatrician when a child turns 11, Bocchini said. For certain kids, the earlier the better for the vaccine. These children include those with certain immune deficiencies and kids born without a spleen, he said.

But the new vaccine, while offering longer-term immunity than the older vaccine, still isn't perfect, Bozof said.

"No vaccine is 100 percent effective," she said. "It's important for parents and their children to be aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease, and also to know there are things they can do to reduce their risk. The main thing is not sharing water bottles, lipsticks, lip balms, utensils and beverages," she added.

Food Fact:
Raspberry preserve.

Fresh raspberries are delicious -- but fragile. Here's how to treat them right. Because all fresh berries are highly perishable, they should be refrigerated (unwashed) as soon as possible after they're picked. Before refrigerating, spread the juicy, fragile berries in a single layer on a large tray or baking sheet. Wash berries gently but thoroughly before you eat them or use them in a recipe. Juicy and sweet, raspberries are jam-packed with vitamin C, folate and potassium; one cup has more than a third of your daily requirement of fiber. Raspberries are particularly powerful antioxidants. When researchers at Tufts University in Boston measured levels of antioxidants in various fruits and vegetables, berries consistently cropped up at the top of the list.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Pregnant pause?

Exercise does moms-to-be a lot of good; here's how to keep it safe. Focus on low-impact aerobic exercises. The most commonly recommended exercises for moms-to-be, especially in the second and third trimester, are walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike and yoga.

FAQ of the day:
How many calories do I need each day?

Fifteen calories per pound per day is a good rule of thumb for maintaining your weight. But remember, this is a rough estimate for the average, moderately active person; the actual number you need will depend on your relative amounts of lean and fat body tissue, and your fitness level. If you're very lean and active, you may burn as many as 17 calories per pound per day. Here's a rough guide to the number of calories a 125-lb. woman burns during different activities: About 1 calorie a minute sleeping or sitting quietly, 3 calories a minute doing light housework, and 14 calories a minute walking up stairs.
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