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Health Headlines - October 4

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Preschooler Flu Cases Seem to Predict Adult Onset

Preschoolers who acquire the flu in waves appear to signal when their elders will acquire the illness within a month, new research finds.

Thirty days after 3- and 4-year-olds start showing up en masse at doctors' offices, waves of flu-stricken adults seem to follow, epidemiologists at Children's Hospital of Boston found.

The results don't mean that children necessarily cause the pending illnesses among adults, just that they can predict when adult waves will follow, the researchers wrote in the current American Journal of Epidemiology.

The discovery is sure to prompt more calls to vaccinate greater numbers of healthy children against flu, the Associated Press said.

The researchers used a system that quickly tracks illness patterns in the Boston area. The study also found that a spike in respiratory illness among children under 5 predicts that flu deaths among the elderly will peak about five weeks later, the AP reported.

Study co-author John Brownstein told the wire service that the preschool setting typically includes close quarters in which children don't cover their sneezes, making the sites "hotbeds of infection."

U.S. Makes Initial Deal to Acquire Anthrax Vaccine

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has struck a deal with a Maryland biotech firm to study an anthrax vaccine that could ultimately include an order for 100,000 doses of the drug, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The drug produced by Rockville-based Human Genome Sciences uses antibodies to block the effects of the toxin produced by anthrax spores when they enter the body. The $1.8 million agreement gives the agency rights to study the drug, with the option of later buying 100,000 doses, the wire service said.

Anthrax can be lethal if inhaled and left untreated. In the fall of 2001, terrorists who have yet to be identified mailed samples of the deadly organism to prominent journalists and federal legislators, causing a nationwide scare.

The federal government has since undertaken the $5.6 billion Project Bioshield initiative to stockpile drugs and vaccines in the event of a widespread biological or chemical attack, the AP said.

ADHD Drug Safe After Two Years: Study

The extended-release attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug Concerta (methylphenidate) is safe and effective for up to two years without significant side effects, according to a new study sponsored by the drug's maker, McNeil Pharmaceuticals.

Results appear in the October issue of the Journal of the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

"Although ADHD is recognized as a chronic disease, we've known very little about the effects of chronic treatment," said the report's lead author, Dr. Timothy Wilens of Massachusetts General Hospital.

According to a prepared statement, the researchers studied 229 children ages 6 to 13 for two years, evaluating whether they built up a tolerance, and whether the drug had any adverse effects on their growth or cardiovascular health. All the children grew at rates normal for their age, and there were no clinically significant effects on blood pressure, heart rate or other cardiac measures, the scientists said.

Some participants did have to undergo a slight dosage increase, Wilens said. But he added, "any tolerance that developed seemed to be slight and limited to the first year."

Minnesota E. coli Outbreak Prompts Salad Health Alert

A nationwide health alert on Dole pre-packaged salads associated with an outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 in Minnesota has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

E.coli 0157:H7 infection often causes severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps and can cause serious liver damage and death in elderly people and children younger than five years old.

So far, 11 cases of E. coli 0157:H7 related to the Dole pre-packaged salads have been reported in Minnesota, the FDA said in a prepared statement. Of the 11 people affected, two have been hospitalized.

The affected products include three brand names and all have a production code beginning with "B250". They are: Classic Romaine -- best-if-used by (BIUB) date of Sept. 23, 2005; American Blend -- BIUB date of Sept. 23, 2005; and Greener Selection - BIUB date of Sept. 22, 2005.

The BIUB date can be located in the upper right hand corner of the front of the bag.

Consumers who have any of these products should dispose of them immediately, the FDA said.

Australians Win Nobel Prize for Peptic Ulcer Bacteria Research

Two Australians have won the 2005 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their research that proved that painful stomach and intestinal ulcers were caused by bacterial infection, not stress.

Because of the 1982 discovery by Robin Warren and Barry J. Marshall, it's now accepted that the bacterium Heliobacter pylori is the most common cause of peptic ulcers, the Associated Press reported.

"This was very much against prevailing knowledge and dogma because it was thought that peptic ulcer disease was the result of stress and lifestyle," Staffan Normark, a member of the Nobel Assembly, said at a news conference announcing the winners.

The Nobel Prize committee said the finding by the two Australians meant that peptic ulcer disease went from a chronic, frequently disabling health problem to a condition that can be cured by antibiotics and other medicines, the AP reported.

Their discovery has also prompted researchers to examine microbes as the cause of other chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, atherosclerosis and Crohn's disease.

Movies Distort Sex and Drug Use, Review Says

Popular movies offer irresponsible portrayals of sex and drug use, says a study that reviewed the top 200 films of the last 20 years.

The study, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, found that of 53 depictions of sex in the reviewed movies, only one made mention of condoms. That movie was "Pretty Woman," BBC News reported.

That means that 98 percent of sexual episodes in the movies did not mention or show use of any form of birth control. The movies also had no depictions of the consequences of unprotected sex, such as unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, or HIV infection.

All depictions of marijuana use in the movies were in a "good" or "neutral" light, the study said.

Overall, only one in four movies depicted such negative health behaviors, like smoking, alcohol intoxication, unprotected sex between new partners, non-injected drug use and alcohol intoxication.

"The movie industry influences the perception of billions of people around the world," said study leader Dr. Hasantha Gunasekera of the University of Sydney.

"Obviously, we understand that the movie industry is there to entertain and make money, and is not an instrument of public health advice. But we feel it is surprising that there's no attempt to reflect safe sex practices or the consequences of drug use," he told BBC News.

Health Tip: Recognizing Signs of Stroke

Stroke kills 150,000 people annually, making it the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Texas Medical Center.

If you recognize the warning signs, you may catch a stroke in its early stages:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the arm, face or leg on one side of the body.
Sudden loss of sight, especially in one eye.
Near or complete loss of speaking or understanding conversation.
Severe headaches without cause.
Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or falls.
If you or a loved one show any of these symptoms, get medical help immediately.

Health Tip: Fighting Bad Breath

If you're plagued by halitosis, sweeten your breath with these tips from the Naval Hospital in Camp Pendleton, Calif.:

Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day.
Avoid dry mouth by sipping water or sucking on a mint.
Don't smoke.
Have your teeth cleaned regularly; plaque buildup can cause bad breath.
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