Flu Shots May Benefit Children

Two large studies show the flu is a common and often dangerous infection in children, and researchers say flu shots should be considered for youngsters.

The studies, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, found few deaths but lots of hospital stays, doctor visits and unnecessary treatment with antibiotics. This was true both for healthy children under 2 and older, "high-risk" children with asthma, diabetes or other chronic conditions.

While urging that the flu vaccine be considered for the young, the researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Vanderbilt University stopped short of a flat recommendation. Already, health agencies recommend as many as 16 vaccinations by age 2. Giving millions of children annual flu shots raises questions of logistics, safety and cost-effectiveness.

Gene Linked to Nerve Cell Regrowth

Scientists have identified a gene that prevents the brain and spinal cord from rewiring themselves after an injury, pointing the way to new treatments that might someday help paralyzed people.

Dubbed "Nogo" because of its inhibiting effect, the gene produces a protein that prevents nerve cell connections in the central nervous system from regenerating after they are cut. Experiments in rats showed that when the protein is blocked, the spinal cord can repair itself.

A team led by Martin Schwab of the Brain Research Institute at the University of Zurich in Switzerland has been working on Nogo for 15 years, and created an antibody that blocks the Nogo-created protein.

In experiments reported in today's issue of the journal Nature, nerves dissected from rats were exposed to the antibody. The nerves regrew several hundred nerve connections known as axons.

In other experiments, the researchers partially cut the spinal cords of rats, paralyzing the animals, then gave them the antibody for two weeks. The nerves regrew, and the rats resumed activities such as grabbing food pellets.

Neurologists called the work an important step, but cautioned that other factors may also inhibit nerve regrowth.

Tuberculosis Spread by Corpse

Researchers have identified the first known case of an embalmer getting tuberculosis from a corpse.

The finding, reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine, led the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researchers to recommend that funeral home workers take the same precautions as medical workers to prevent transmission of the sometimes fatal disease.

The dead man had AIDS as well as an active infection of tuberculosis, which is transmitted by tiny particles of respiratory secretions. DNA fingerprinting established that the embalmer's TB came from the dead man.

During embalming, secretions sometimes become airborne when fluids gurgle through the corpse's mouth and nose or when embalming fluids are dumped.

The embalmer was treated with antibiotics for six months and is now tuberculosis-free.