Mortality and Monthly Aid Checks

The number of deaths in the United States rises at the start of every month and drops at the end, and addicts spending their first-of-the-month government checks on drugs and alcohol probably account for most of the difference, researchers say.

David P. Phillips, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego, and colleagues reached that conclusion after analyzing nearly 32 million electronic death certificates over 15 years. The study was published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers suggested that addicts get aid that can be used only for food, clothes and shelter.

Phillips found that during an average year, there were 4,320 more deaths in the first week of every month than in the last week of the preceding month, about a 1 percent difference. But the gap widened when they looked at killings, suicides or accidents in which drugs or alcohol were involved. For every 100 such deaths at the end of a month, there were 106 or 107 at the start. The difference doubled, to about 14, when the death certificates listed drugs and alcohol as a cause.

There were 106.5 homicides at the start of the month for every 100 at the end.

Alzheimer's Vaccine Tested

Raising hopes of someday preventing Alzheimer's, scientists have developed a vaccine that in mice appears to ward off and even reduce the brain-clogging deposits that are characteristic of the disease. It is uncertain whether the treatment will work in humans, but the San Francisco pharmaceutical company behind the research wants to test it on people soon.

Deposits in the brain of a sticky protein called amyloid are a characteristic of Alzheimer's. The vaccine appears to prevent the formation of these so-called plaques in mice that were genetically engineered to overproduce amyloid.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer's, which is believed to affect more than 4 million Americans. The patients, most of them older than 60, progress from forgetfulness to dementia and usually die five to 10 years after diagnosis.

In the study, published in today's issue of the journal Nature, a team of researchers led by Dale Schenk at Elan Corp. tried to trick the mice's immune system to attack amyloid as a foreign substance.

The researchers injected nine 6-week-old mice with amyloid combined with substances that excite the immune system. Seventeen other mice of the same age did not receive the vaccine. When the mouse brains were dissected after a year, the researchers were surprised to find no plaques or very small ones in the injected mice, while the unvaccinated mice had extensive deposits.

The researchers then injected the vaccine into 24 year-old mice that already had plaques. Twenty-four similar mice did not get the vaccine. "We saw that it completely stopped the further progression of the disease," Schenk said. "It looks like it might have actually diminished the plaques."

Elan wants to start trials with people later this year.