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Health Headlines - May 5

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
U.S. Women's Contraceptive Use Declines: Study

There's been a decline in the use of contraceptives by women in the United States, especially among poor women, which puts them at greater risk for unintentional pregnancies and abortions, says a Guttmacher Institute report released Thursday.

From 1994 to 2001, the percentage of sexually active women who were not trying to get pregnant and did not use contraceptives increased from 7 percent to 11 percent, The New York Times reported.

The increase was even greater among women living below the poverty line -- from 8 percent to 14 percent. Among women who earned more than twice the poverty rate, there was an increase from 7 percent to 10 percent.

The number of black women not using contraception increased from 10 percent to 15 percent; among Hispanic women, from 9 percent to 12 percent; and among white women, from 7 percent to 9 percent, the Times reported.

This decline in contraceptive use seems to have slowed the reduction in the U.S. national abortion rate that began in the early 1980s, the report said.

Poor Response to Iowa Mumps Immunization Clinics

Free mumps immunization clinics for young adults in Iowa attracted a low turnout, as the number of confirmed, probable and suspected cases of the disease in the state reached 1,552 as of Wednesday.

The outbreak began earlier this year and mumps have been reported in 74 counties in Iowa, the Associated Press reported.

In an effort to halt the spread of the disease, state health officials last week distributed 25,000 doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine for free to immunization clinics in 35 counties with colleges and universities, to target people ages18 to 22.

The goal is to immunize young adults who may not have received the recommended two doses of MMR. However, there was a poor response to the clinics.

"You have a population that may, very honestly, not be taking this mumps situation very seriously," Kevin Teale, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Health, told the AP. "We need to do our best to convince them how serious this is and get them out to get the shots."

The state plans an expanded series of clinics this week, for people ages 18 to 25 in all 99 counties.

Waterproofing Boot Sprays Linked to Illnesses

Since early last year, nearly 200 people and dozens of pets in the Midwest have been sickened by waterproofing boot sprays, according to a report in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were no human deaths, but three housecats died after they were exposed to the aerosol products, the Associated Press reported. Coughing and breathing problems were reported among people exposed to the sprays, and 80 went to hospitals. One man was put on a ventilator and hospitalized for 19 days.

Two Canadian-made products -- Jobsite Heavy Duty Bootmate and Rocky Boot Weather and Stain Protector -- have been linked to most of the cases, the AP reported.

"We're absolutely sure it's the products that caused these illnesses," said article lead author Susan Smolinske, of the regional poison-control center at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the matter and health officials are conducting tests on the boot sprays to determine what chemical is responsible for the health problems, the AP reported.

The sprays were pulled from U.S. stores in January but people may still have them in their homes, Smolinske noted.

Expert Calls H5N1 Bird-Flu Virus 'Worst' He's Seen

Speaking at a bird-flu conference in Singapore, a U.S. infectious-disease expert said the H5N1 avian-flu virus is the worst flu virus he's ever encountered, and added that a pandemic may prove difficult to control because of deficiencies in knowledge and planning.

"I've worked with flu all my life, and this is the worst influenza virus that I have ever seen," Robert G. Webster, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. told the Associated Press.

When the H5N1 virus infects poultry, it moves into the brain and destroys the respiratory tract -- making the virus a vicious killer, he said.

"If that happens in humans, God help us," Webster said.

Since 2003, there have been about 206 reported human cases of bird flu. Most of those were caused by direct contact with infected birds. But experts worry that the H5N1 virus may mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans.

It would take at least 10 more mutations before the H5N1 virus could reach that point, but there's no way to know when, or if, it will happen, Webster told the AP.

He called for more influenza vaccine to be stockpiled and criticized current efforts to build those stockpiles as "miserable."

In related news, the U.S. government announced Thursday that it has awarded $1 billion to five companies to develop and produce cell culture based-influenza vaccines within the country.

Cell culture-based vaccines would provide a quicker way of producing vaccines than the current egg-based technique, which would not be able to meet U.S. demand in the event of a pandemic. Cell culture-based vaccine manufacturing is used in many other modern vaccines.

Tamiflu Prevents Death in Mammals With Bird Flu

The antiviral drug Tamiflu prevented mammals infected with the dangerous H5N1 bird flu virus from dying, says a U.S. study presented this week at a conference in Singapore.

The findings may offer clues about the drug's optimum dosage and the duration of treatment needed to protect humans in the event of a pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

Researcher Elena Govorkova of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., told the conference that ferrets were given Tamifu after being infected with the H5N1 virus circulating in Vietnam. All of the animals survived.

Ferrets that were infected with H5N1 but did not receive Tamiflu died.

An abstract of the study said the results show the benefits of early treatment with the drug, and are in line with the limited research that's been published about the use of Tamiflu to fight bird flu in humans, the AP reported.
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