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Health Headlines - May 1

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Spray Flu Vaccine Protects Younger Children Better Than Shots

A spray flu vaccine protected babies and preschool-aged children better than an injection, according to a study presented Monday at a child-health meeting.

The study of nearly 8,000 children, ages 6 months to 5 years, in 16 countries found that the nasal spray FluMist was 55 percent more effective than flu shots, the Associated Press reported.

The study was funded by FluMist maker MedImmune Inc., which plans to seek government approval to sell the vaccine to children 5 and younger. It's currently approved for use in older children.

Flu shots don't work as well in very young children as they do in older children or adults. The spray flu vaccine may help improve the control of flu in younger children, who are prime spreaders of the flu virus.

"Our current thinking is that to control influenza, we really have to vaccinate all children," study leader Dr. Robert Belshe, a vaccine specialist at St. Louis University, told the AP.

Smuggled Poultry and Wildlife Pose Bird Flu Threat to U.S.

U.S. officials are growing increasingly concerned about the possibility of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus entering the country through smuggled birds and wildlife.

The United States has established a bird-flu monitoring plan for migratory birds. But the virus could also make it into the country through other sources, including smuggled poultry and black-market trade in exotic birds, the Associated Press reported.

While the federal government has imposed a ban on all live birds, as well as bird parts and bird products from any country or region where bird flu is believed to exist, experts warn that border vigilance is essential.

"The borders are where the increased emphasis needs to be," Simon Habel, director of the trade-monitoring network TRAFFIC North America, told the AP.

The group, a joint program of the World Wildlife Fund and the IUCN-The World Conservation Union, works closely with the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Schizophrenia Treatment Study Yields Mixed Results

The first long-term trial of early drug treatment for young people at risk for schizophrenia -- but who did not have the full-blown disorder -- produced mixed results.

The study found that daily doses of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa blunted symptoms in many patients and reduced their risk of having a psychotic episode in the first year of treatment, The New York Times reported.

However, the drug produced significant weight gain. In addition, so many study participants dropped out of the study that no firm conclusions could be drawn about the drug's benefits, if any.

"The positive result was only marginally significant, and the negative result was clear," study lead author Dr. Thomas McGlashan, professor of psychiatry at Yale University, told the Times.

The study was funded by Zyprexa maker Eli Lilly and the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. The findings were published Monday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Woman Has Full Feeling in Transplanted Face

The French recipient of the world's first partial face transplant said she now has full sensation in her face and has begun speaking more clearly, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

"The scars have considerably healed. The doctors are confident," Isabelle Dinoire, 38, told the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

The woman, who lost much of her face when her pet Labrador mauled her as she was passed out from sedating drugs, underwent the pioneer surgery Nov. 27. She last spoke to reporters in February.

Dinoire said she still has difficulty with pronouncing sounds such as "b" or "p" which rely heavily on the lips, and said she remains shocked at the difference between her old and new face. "I still have a little problem of [facial] mobility, symmetry as the doctors say," she said.

The mother of two continues to take anti-rejection medications, although her total regimen has now dropped from 20 pills per day to 10.

Dinoire said she remains grateful to the family of the deceased donor. "Each day that passes, I think, above all, of the donor and her family whom I cannot thank enough," she told the paper.

Fewer Companies Now Dominate U.S. Health Insurance Industry

Small businesses in the U.S. are increasingly being forced to choose between only a handful of companies when choosing coverage for their employees, federal investigators report. The trend is worrying legislators and consumer advocates concerned about shrinking competition and higher costs, the New York Times reported Sunday.

In a typical state, the largest insurer now controls 43 percent of the market for small group coverage, up from 33 percent in 2002, according to data collected by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In nine states one carrier, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, controls more than half the market.

Doctors and small businesses are increasingly noting the decline in competition, and within two weeks the U.S. Senate is taking up legislation that would encourage small businesses to group together to help bargain with insurers to make coverage more affordable.

"Small businesses have extremely limited choices when seeking health insurance for employees," Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), who is also the chairwoman of the Committee on Small Business, told the Times. In her state, Blue Cross and Blue Shield now control 63 percent of the small group insurance market.

But industry representatives say the concentration of the market among fewer companies is not a threat to consumers. "There certainly have been some large insurance company mergers in the last few years," Karen M. Ignagni, president of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, told the Times. But she said that, "The data do not show a link between concentration of insurance markets and rising health care costs."

The U.S. Census Bureau now estimates that 45.8 million Americans are without health insurance, with more than half either self-employed or working for companies with 50 or fewer employees.
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