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Health Headlines - February 2

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Low Flu-Shot Rates for Young Children in 2003-04

Flu vaccination rates for U.S. children aged 6 to 23 months were low during the 2003-04 flu season, especially among children who hadn't been previously vaccinated and needed two does to achieve the maximum benefit, according to the new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the 2003-04 flu season, 17.5 percent of children 6 to 23 months received at least one flu shot and only 8.4 percent were fully vaccinated against flu, the report said.

There was large variability between urban areas and states in terms of flu vaccination coverage for this age group, ranging from 5.7 percent to 47.6 percent of children who received at least one flu shot, the report said.

Beginning in 2003-04, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices encouraged, when possible, that all children aged 6 to 23 months, as well as other people in the household and out-of-home caregivers for children younger than 2 years old, get a flu shot each season.

While these recommendations may have resulted in increased flu-shot rates in subsequent seasons, the findings from the 2003-04 flu season "underscore the need to increase coverage with the required number of influenza vaccine doses to reduce the number of influenza-related hospitalizations among young children," the report said.

Dangerous Intestinal Bacteria Infections Reported in 16 States

Overuse of antibiotics is causing an increase in the United States of potentially deadly intestinal bacterial infections caused by Clostridium difficile.

So far, this type of infection has been reported in 16 states, including New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It most often strikes older hospital patients who have taken antibiotics.

Health officials say that overuse of antibiotics to treat other health problems kills off "good" bacteria that control the growth of C. difficile, the Associated Press reported.

In New Jersey, the germ has killed 400 people since 1997 and has sickened 10,000 people a year. In 2004, there were 25 known outbreaks in New Jersey hospitals.

"The major factor that contributed to the rise (in C. difficile) throughout the country as well as New Jersey is the increasing use of antibiotics," Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, epidemiologist and deputy health commissioner for New Jersey, told the AP.

"That basically changes the normal flora of the bowel and allows for the overgrowth," of the bacterium, Bresnitz said.

Infected Chicken Smuggled Into Hong Kong From Mainland China

A chicken in Hong Kong that died of bird flu was smuggled there from mainland China and the case raises concerns about whether Chinese provincial officials are trying to conceal the true extent of bird-flu outbreaks in their regions, The New York Times reported.

A villager in Hong Kong received the chicken from a relative who lives in mainland China's Guangdong Province. Officials in that province say there is no bird flu there. The chicken died Tuesday and tests showed it had the H5N1 bird flu virus.

Three people who came into contact with the dead chicken tested negative for bird flu.

While it is possible the chicken was infected after it crossed the border, Hong Kong officials noted there has been no sign of bird flu in their domestic poultry, the Times reported.

Nearly a dozen Chinese provinces have reported bird flu cases so far this winter. At a news conference in mid-November, the governor of Guangdong province dismissed rumors that any birds or people in that province had been infected with bird flu.

Lawsuit Seeks to Force Wal-Mart to Carry Morning-After Pills

Three Massachusetts women have launched a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, charging that the company violated state policy by failing to stock emergency morning-after contraception pills in its pharmacies.

The legal action, backed by abortion-rights groups, was filed in state court on Wednesday. The lawsuit seeks to force the retail giant to carry the morning-after pill in its 44 Wal-Mart and Sam Club stores in Massachusetts, the Associated Press reported.

The lawsuit argues that a state regulation requires pharmacies to provide all "commonly prescribed medicines." In a letter to the lawyer for the plaintiffs, a Wal-Mart attorney wrote that the company doesn't regard morning-after pills to be "commonly prescribed" drugs.

Currently, only Wal-Mart stores in Illinois carry the emergency contraception pills because it's required under state law, the AP reported.

Last week, four Illinois pharmacists launched a lawsuit against Walgreen Drug Stores. The pharmacists said they were fired illegally after they refused to sign a pledge promising to dispense morning-after pills.

Emergency Drug Coverage Extended to 60 Days

In response to ongoing problems with its new Medicare drug plan, the Bush administration has told private insurers that offer prescription-drug coverage through Medicare to give senior citizens an additional 60-day supply of drugs for emergency situations.

This extension of emergency coverage is meant to give Medicare beneficiaries more time to secure alternative treatments when their plan won't cover a prescription or more time to file an appeal, the Associated Press reported.

In making this move, the Bush administration was heeding warnings from pharmacists that the previous 30-day limit could be a major problem for disabled patients and poor senior citizens.

About 42 million seniors and disabled people are eligible to enroll in the new Medicare drug benefit program. Many politicians have been deluged with complaints about how confusing the program is and how difficult it is for some people to get the medicines they need, the AP reported.

Dozens of states have been forced to pay for drugs that seniors and disabled people haven't been able to get through the new Medicare program.

Combined Drug Treatment May Help Asthma Patients

A treatment that combines two drugs could restore normal breathing in people with asthma and chronic bronchitis, says a study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis.

Their research in mice suggests that the combination of the two drugs inhibits cells in the airway that cause overproduction of mucus, which harms airway function, the Associated Press reported.

Both drugs impede the activity of proteins linked to an excess buildup of these airway cells that cause production of too much mucus. Halting this process can "restore the normal architecture of the airway lining," said researcher Dr. Michael Holtzman.

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Currently, there are no therapies to treat excess mucus buildup in people with breathing problems, Dr. Kenneth Adler, a cell biology professor at North Carolina State University, told the AP.

If these findings hold true in further research, they could prove to be an important advance in treating humans, Adler said.

Food Fact:
No freezer burn!

Some frozen veggies may actually be a better bet than fresh. Produce headed for the freezer case usually goes directly from the field or orchard to the processing plant. It doesn't languish in railroad cars or tractor trailer trucks, waiting to be shipped cross-country to end up at your supermarket a week later. The nutrient levels in frozen fruits and vegetables are nearly as high as fresh-picked and are often better than in produce that has undergone temperature changes, exposure to light and other rigors of travel. Some favorites include baby peas, edamame, collard greens, mango pieces and blackberries.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Make it a "cardio commute."

We've got an easy tip for giving yourself an energy boost in the morning. Walk or ride your bike to the train station or bus stop. Or, try hopping off the bus a few blocks from your normal stop and walk the rest of the way. You'll arrive awake, alert and ready for work.

FAQ of the day:
Which oil should I use?

Each has advantages. Olive oil is highest in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (about 84%); canola oil has less (about 60%), but it contains omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat than olive oil. All fats contain varying amounts of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids; they are usually referred to according to the type of fatty acid that predominates. Omega-3s are a special type of polyunsaturated fat that's been shown to support a healthy heart.
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