Thursday, September 7, 2006

75 Million Flu Shots Available Next Month

About 75 million doses of flu vaccine will be in most doctor's offices and clinics by the end of October -- a near record amount that should prevent flu shot rationing this year, health officials said yesterday.

Overall, more than 100 million doses should be available over the next several months. In 2002, 95 million were manufactured.

The best time to get flu shots is October or November, before flu season typically begins, officials said.

In 2004, production problems at one manufacturer caused severe shortages and hours-long lines for shots. Last September, tight supplies prompted doctors to limit shots at first to people at risk of severe complications.

"This year, we're not asking people to step aside or hold off. We think people who want to be vaccinated can be vaccinated right away," said Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Methane Gas Escapes Faster in Thawing Soil

Global warming gases trapped in the soil are bubbling out of thawing permafrost in amounts far higher than previously thought and may trigger what researchers warn is a climate time bomb.

Methane -- which traps heat in the atmosphere 23 times more powerfully than carbon dioxide -- is being released from the permafrost at a rate five times faster than thought, according to a study being published in the journal Nature. The findings are based on new, more accurate measuring techniques.

"The effects can be huge," said lead author Katey Walter of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

Scientists worry about a vicious cycle that was not part of their already gloomy climate forecast: Warming already underway thaws permafrost soil that has been continuously frozen for thousands of years. Thawed permafrost releases methane and carbon dioxide. Those gases reach the atmosphere and help trap heat on Earth in the greenhouse effect. The trapped heat thaws more permafrost, and so on.

U.S. Adults Deficient In Health Literacy

Most adults can determine at what age their children should get vaccinated or discern from a label when to take medications, but they still need help understanding many basic health instructions.

A new report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that most adults have intermediate health literacy. But intermediate is far from good, because so many health instructions are written in a way that is foreign to how people talk and think, said Rima Rudd of the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Intermediate skills means that a majority of U.S. adults will have some difficulty using health-related materials with accuracy and consistency," Rudd said.

The series of tests had a total of 500 points for a perfect score. Women averaged 248 points. Men averaged 242 points. The study showed that fewer than one in six people are proficient when it comes to health literacy.

The data analyzed come from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, and they allow researchers to examine the relationship between demographic characteristics and literacy. Besides comparing sex, officials also reviewed the race, age and educational levels of the 19,000 people who took the test.

-- From News Services

© 2006 The Washington Post Company