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Health Headlines - March 9

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm

Too Few Children With Asthma Get Flu Shots: Report

Only 29 percent of American children aged 2 to 17 with asthma received a flu shot during the 2004-05 flu season, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children with asthma older than 6 months receive a flu shot each season.

The finding, published in Friday's edition of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, noted that children with asthma are at increased risk for complications from influenza. Flu shots safely and effectively reduce rates of influenza in children with asthma. In 2005, about 8.9 percent (6.5 million) of U.S. children under age 18 had asthma.

"We were surprised at how low the number was," study lead author Susan Brim told the Associated Press.

The study offers the first national estimates on flu vaccination rates for American children with asthma.

When the study authors looked at different age groups of children with asthma, it found that flu-shot rates were 32.9 percent those ages 2 to 4, and 28 percent for those ages 5 to 12 and ages 13 to 17.

The finding indicates the need to identify and remove barriers that may prevent children with asthma from getting a flu shot, the study said.

The study, which looked at about 5,100 children (including 557 with asthma), also found that the overall flu vaccination rate for children without asthma was 10.3 percent, with a wide variation according to age: 20.7 percent for ages 2 to 4; 9.2 percent for ages 5 to 12; and 6.4 percent for ages 13 to 17.

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HIV Major Health Threat to Black Americans

HIV remains a persistent threat to the health and well-being of black Americans, says a study published the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study looked at 2002-05 data from 33 states and found that while blacks represented 13 percent of the population in those states, they accounted for 51 percent of new HIV diagnoses during that time.

Black men are especially hard hit by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In 2005, the diagnosis rate for black men was 127.6 per 100,000 population, which is seven times higher than that of white men (18.5 per 100,000). The majority (52 percent) of new HIV cases in black men are among those who have sex with men.

The rate of new HIV diagnoses for black women was 61.4 per 100,000, compared with 3 per 100,000 for white women.

Racial disparities were particularly evident in young people (ages 13 to 24), with blacks accounting for 61 percent of new HIV diagnoses.

In response to the HIV threat to black Americans, the CDC and its partners have called for urgent, focused efforts in four main areas: expanding the reach of HIV prevention services; increasing opportunities for diagnoses and treatment; developing new, effective interventions; and mobilizing broader community action.

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Software Problem Prompts Recall of 42,000 Defibrillators

Tens of thousands of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) sold worldwide are being recalled due to a serious software glitch that may result in failure to notify users about low battery levels, which could mean the units may not have enough shock power to restart a person's heart.

The recall affects 42,000 Lifeline AED and ReviveR AED models made by Defibtech LLC of Guilford, Conn., the Associated Press reported. The recall affects AEDs with software versions 2.002 and earlier.

The company sent letters on Feb. 22 to alert distributors and customers about the recall, which was prompted by three reports of instances in which the AEDs failed to work. The units, meant to save heart-attack victims, are used by hotels, schools, fire stations and health clubs around the world.

Defibtech said it will provide a free software upgrade for the recalled units within 10 weeks. The upgrade can be installed by customers without having to return the devices, the company said.

Until the software upgrade is available, Defibtech is mailing customers instructions on how to determine if the AEDs are working properly, the AP reported. The instructions are posted on the company's Web site (http://www.defibtech.com/fa2007). Customers can also call Defibtech at (877) 453-4507 or (203) 453-4507.

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Arsenic Found in Jermuk Brand Mineral Water: FDA

Consumers are being warned not to drink Jermuk brand mineral water imported from Armenia because the product may contain dangerous levels of arsenic, a toxin that's known to cause cancer in humans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

The FDA detected 500 to 600 micrograms of arsenic per liter in 500 milliliter (mL) green glass bottles of Jermuk mineral water. The FDA permits no more than 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter of bottled water. The FDA is investigating whether other sizes or packaging of Jermuk mineral water also have elevated arsenic levels.

No illnesses have been reported so far. People who've consumed Jermuk mineral water and have concerns should contact their doctor, the FDA said. A number of California companies are recalling Jermuk mineral water products.

Symptoms of acute arsenic exposure, which usually occur within several hours of consumption, include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Over a period of a few days to weeks, the kidneys, liver, skin, and cardiovascular and nervous system could be affected. Extended exposure to arsenic can lead to cancer and death, the FDA said.

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Mercury a Worldwide Health Threat: Report

High levels of mercury have been found in people worldwide and now pose a public health issue in most parts of the globe, says an international report released Thursday in the journal Ambio, published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Madison Declaration on Mercury Pollution, which outlines the latest scientific knowledge about mercury, noted that about three times more mercury is falling from the sky now than 200 years ago, before the start of the Industrial Revolution, CBC News reported.

Mercury can affect the brain, heart and immune system and harm the development of fetuses and children. The report also said that new evidence suggests that it may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, particularly in men.

Due to the health risks associated with mercury contamination, children and women of child-bearing age should limit how much and what kinds of fish they eat, the report recommended.

It said people should try to eat fish with lower levels of mercury. That means avoiding larger predatory fish such as albacore tuna that tend to accumulate higher levels of mercury than other fish, such a perch, which are lower down the food chain, CBC News reported.

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FDA Approves Lipitor for 5 New Indications

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) for five new indications in patients with heart disease, drug maker Pfizer said Wednesday.

The FDA approved Lipitor to reduce the risk of nonfatal heart attacks, fatal and non-fatal strokes, certain types of heart surgery, hospitalization for heart failure, and chest pain in patients with heart disease.

Previously, the drug was approved to reduce cardiovascular events in patients without heart disease.

The FDA approval was based on a five-year study of 10,000 heart disease patients who also had elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. The study found that patients taking Lipitor 80 mg had a 22 percent reduced risk of major cardiovascular events, compared to those taking Lipitor 10 mg. Patients treated with Lipitor 80 mg also had a 26 percent reduced risk of hospitalization for heart failure.

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