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Health Headlines - November 19

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm
Potency of U.S. Avian Flu Vaccine Supply is Deteriorating

Not that there is all that much vaccine to protect against a major outbreak of avian flu, but the U.S. supply of about 3.75 million doses is losing its potency.

Bloomberg News reports U.S. government officials saying the original batch of 3.75 million doses against H5N1 avian influenza has started to deteriorate. The revelation came after the vaccine's maker, Sanofi-Aventis SA, discovered the reduction in strength after routine testing.

There are now fewer than 3 million full strength doses, Bloomberg News quotes Bill Hall, an HHS spokesman, as saying. Nevertheless, if a major outbreak of avian flu were to occur in the U.S., the wire service quotes Hall as saying, it "would still most likely be used if we needed it tomorrow or next week. We would use the full- potency vaccine first."

While concern about an worldwide human pandemic of bird flu -- which has infected tens of millions of fowl -- has eased somewhat, World Health Organization statistics show that H5N1 has killed 153 people and infected a total of 258. So far, there have been no confirmed cases of avian flu being transmitted from human to human.

M.D. Affiliated With Anti-Contraception Group Named to Head U.S. Family Planning Agency

A Massachusetts doctor who is the medical director of an organization that opposes abortion, contraception and most family planning methods is President Bush's choice to head the federal department that finances most of the programs the doctor's organization opposes.

The appointment of Dr. Eric Keroack to head the U.S. Office of Population Affairs, whose annual $283 million budget is used to fund family planning programs, met with Congressional criticism and angered one of the nation's largest family planning groups. Keroack is affiliated with A Woman's Concern, a Marblehead, Mass. Organization that the Associated Press quotes from its statement of faith as designed "help women escape the temptation and violence of abortion." The organization also opposes contraception, according to the wire service.

The Office of Family Planning, one of the Office of Population Affairs' divisions, "is designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them," according to its statement of purpose.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, (D-Mass.) and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America have called for the President to withdraw Keroack's appointment, which does not need Congressional approval.

Dioxin May Affect Male Reproductive System

Exposure to TCDD, the most toxic dioxin in the herbicide Agent Orange, may disrupt the male reproductive system in a number of ways, says a study of 2,000 U.S. Air Force veterans who served in the Vietnam War.

Researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found evidence that TCDD may lower testosterone levels and limit the growth of the prostate gland. The study appears in the November issue of the journal Environmental Health.

"Until now, we did not have very good evidence whether or not dioxins affect the human reproductive system," urologist and lead author Dr. Amit Gupta said in a statement. "Now we know that there is a link between dioxins and the human prostate leading us to speculate that dioxins might be decreasing growth of the prostate in humans like they do in animals."

The study found that veterans exposed to TCDD had lower rates of an enlarged prostate disorder called benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH).

"It may be construed that a decrease in the risk of BPH is not a harmful effect, but the larger picture is that dioxins are affecting the normal growth and development of the reproductive system. Moreover, several effective treatments are available for BPH and thus reduction of BPH by a toxic compound is not a desirable effect," Gupta said.

Chocolate Milk May Boost Exercise Stamina

Chocolate milk may boost athletic endurance, suggests an Indiana University study that was partly funded by the Dairy and Nutrition Council.

Researchers had a small group of fit athletes do hard workouts on a stationary bike, then drink either low-fat chocolate milk, a fluid replacement drink (Gatorade), or a carbohydrate replacement drink (Endurox R4). A few hours later, the athletes were told to ride the bike again until they were exhausted, the Associated Press reported.

The test was repeated three times, once with each type of beverage. The study found participants exercised up to 54 percent longer after drinking chocolate milk than when they drank the carbohydrate drink. There was no significant difference between the milk and the fluid-replacement drink.

The findings that chocolate milk may help boost endurance are not conclusive, but do suggest that it's worth doing a larger study, dietician Mary Lee Chin (who does public relations work for the Western Dairy Council) told the AP.

U.K. Bans Junk Food Ads on Kids' TV Shows

In an effort to fight childhood obesity, officials in the United Kingdom have announced a ban on all junk food advertising on children's television programs.

The Ofcom broadcasting regulator said Friday that no ads for foods and beverages with high fat, salt, or sugar content will be shown during shows aimed at children younger than 16, Agence France Presse reported.

Some health and consumer groups said the measures didn't go far enough. Junk food ads should be prohibited from all television shows before 9 p.m., whether the programs are for children or adults, the groups said, noting that many children watch adult programs.

FDA Expands Use of Herceptin for Breast Cancer

The approved use of the cancer drug Herceptin has been expanded to include treatment of early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer along with chemotherapy after a woman has a lumpectomy or mastectomy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday.

Herceptin was first approved by the FDA in 1998 to treat metastatic breast cancer (cancer that's spread to other areas of the body). This latest approval means it can also be used to treat women with cancer that was detected only in the breast or lymph nodes and was surgically removed. The drug should only be given to women with HER2-positive breast cancer, the FDA said.

This expanded use is based on the findings of two studies sponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. The studies, which included nearly 4,000 women, found that 87 percent of women who received the drug and chemotherapy after surgery were cancer-free after three years, compared to 75 percent of those who received chemotherapy alone.

It's too early to determine whether Herceptin combined with chemotherapy will increase the cure rate or lower the risk of death from breast cancer, the FDA said.
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