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Health Highlights: Jan.4, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009 12:00 AM

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Avian Flu Returns, This Time in Hong Kong Poultry

Avian flu is back, not that it had ever been entirely eradicated.

New cases of of the H5N1 flu virus -- the type that caused the destruction of entire flocks of fowl in previous years -- has resurfaced in Hong Kong poultry, the Los Angeles Times reports, adding to reported human cases at the end of 2008 in Indonesia, Egypt and Cambodia.

Two human deaths also were reported -- a 16-year-old Egyptian girl and a 2-year-old Cambodian girl, the newspaper reports, and other human cases of H5N1were cited in Indonesia, long a hotbed of avian flu. However, as with all other cases involving humans, there was no indication of the virus being spread from person-to-person, a circumstance scientists have long feared could create a worldwide pandemic.

This particular strain of influenza virus had declined in the past two years, the L.A. Times reports, but Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told the newspaper that he is concerned that the public isn't paying attention as closely as it once did. "What alarms me is that we have developed a sense of pandemic-preparedness fatigue," Osterholm is quoted as saying.

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'Fire-Safe' Cigarettes Required in 14 States By End of 2009

While just about every expert agrees there is no such thing as a "safe" cigarette, at least 14 states this year will require that all cigarettes sold within their borders be "fire-safe," USA Today reports.

These self-extinguishing cigarettes go out on their own if they are left unattended or are dropped, the newspaper reports, and this feature could -prevent more than 1,000 fires annually.

Mandatory production of fire-safe cigarettes has long been opposed by the tobacco companies, USA Today reports, and Congress had not been able to pass legislation. So, individual states began adopting their own laws.

The first states to make fire-safe cigarettes mandatory are Texas, Delaware, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. Later this year, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Washington and Wisconsin will adopt similar laws.

So, far, the tobacco industry appears to be more cooperative than combative with the new legislation, the newspaper reports. Phillip Morris USA company spokesman David Sutton is quoted as saying his company would "continue to work with the states," but would not convert all if its manufacturing to making fire-safe cigarettes.

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Blood Clot Drug Causes Higher Death Rate in Elderly Patients, Maker Says

A drug used to treat blood clots formed primarily from deep vein thrombosis or in kidney failure increases the death rate among elderly patients, its maker has warned physicians.

According to the Associated Press, the biotech company Celgene Corp. has alerted doctors in a letter also posted on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site, stating that clinical trials using the drug Innohep showed a death increase incidence in patients over age 70 of 13 percent, compared to a death rate of 5 percent when another anti-clotting drug, Heparin, was used.

Celgene had warned doctors in a July 2008 letter that the incidence of death among patients over age 90 was higher when Innohep was used, but the latest letter expanded the warning to "all elderly patients," the A.P. reported.

The study involved 350 patients with deep vein thrombosis who were getting Innohep, and it was stopped in February, 2008, after the mortality results were analyzed. The Innohep group died of various causes, the wire service reported, so no single cause of death stood out.

The FDA stated that it had asked Celgen to revise the information on the Innophep package "to better describe the overall study results which suggest that, when compared to (heparin), Innohep increases the risk of death for elderly patients" with failing kidneys, the A.P. said.

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Family History Doesn't Impact Prostate Cancer Treatment

The outcomes of prostate cancer patients treated with brachytherapy (seed implants) were not affected by patients' family history, a new study finds.

Researchers from the Departments of Radiation Oncology and Urology at New York City's Mount Sinai School of Medicine tracked 1,738 prostate cancer patients, of which 187 had a family history of the disease. The scientists found that among all risk groups, family history had no significance on outcome among prostate cancer patients treated with brachytherapy.

Study results were reported in the Jan. 1 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology *Biology* Physics.

Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in men, next to skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 186,320 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2008, and some 28,660 men died of the disease.

While family history does increase a man's risk of developing prostate cancer, "there is conflicting data on how family history impacts treatment outcomes," the researchers wrote in a news release.

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One Way to Thwart Disease: Make Mosquitoes Die Earlier

Since older mosquitoes are more likely to harbor diseases that can be passed to people, Australian researchers say they may have found a way to stem the process: make the mosquitoes die younger.

Dengue fever and malaria are examples of mosquito-borne diseases that have stricken millions of people worldwide. It takes about two weeks for mosquitoes to acquire and incubate the pathogens that cause these diseases and then spread them to people, the Associated Press reported.

So scientists at the University of Queensland tried introducing mosquitoes to a bacterial parasite that wound up cutting the insects' lifespan by about half, to an average of 21 days from 50 days, the wire service reported.

Writing in the journal Science, lead researcher Scott O'Neill said the discovery could prove to be a safer alternative to the widespread use of insecticides.

If the parasite could spread among enough disease-carrying mosquitoes, the method "may provide an inexpensive approach in dengue control," he wrote.

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New Immunization Recommendations for Children Unveiled

Updated immunization recommendations for flu shots for children have been unveiled by three leading U.S. health groups.

The revised 2009 schedule calls for routine annual flu shots forchildren aged 6 months through 18 years. The previous recommendation applied to children from 6 months to 59 months of age. The new recommendation increases the number of eligible children by approximately 30 million.

"Vaccination is the best protection against influenza," Dr. AnneSchuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, said in a news release issued Wednesday. "This important update to the childhood immunization schedule helps us extend protection from influenza and its complications to all children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years, not just those at highest risk of complications from influenza."

The other health groups announcing the new vaccination schedule were the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Recommendations for inoculation against rotavirus -- a disease that causes diarrhea in young children -- include changes for the maximum ages for vaccination. The first dose should be given by 15 weeks of age. The latest age any dose may be given is 15 months. If the vaccine Rotarixis administered at ages 2 and 4 months, a dose at 6 months is notneeded, the news release said.

The revised schedule also clarifies vaccination against human papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. Routinedosing intervals should be used for series catch-up -- i.e., the secondand third doses should be administered two and six months after the firstdose. The third dose should be given at least 24 weeks after the firstdose, the release said.

You can read the full immunization schedule at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

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