Flu Season Peaking: CDC

This winter's flu season has begun to peak, but 43 states are still reporting flu outbreaks and every state in the country has at least some flu cases, federal health experts said yesterday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said flu activity began to increase nationwide in mid-December, which was almost two months earlier than last winter and about a month earlier than in the 1997-98 season.

A decline in visits for flu-like illnesses in a sampling of 260 physicians and a decline in respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza virus in the laboratory suggest that flu activity has peaked nationally, the CDC said.

Aspirin Alternative No Better

A drug many hoped would be an alternative to aspirin for preventing heart attacks turns out to be no better than the old standby. In the first head-to-head published comparison, the experimental clot-blocking drug sirafiban was about the same as aspirin at preventing severe chest pain, a second heart attack or death, according to a report in this week's issue of The Lancet medical journal. Aspirin is standard treatment for heart patients because it helps stop the formation of blood clots, which can trigger heart attacks. It cuts the risk of further heart problems by about 25 percent.

Drug Firm Hits AIDS Target

Scientists at Merck & Co. have opened a long-awaited target in the hunt for new ways to attack the AIDS virus. It will take years of additional work to create a usable medication from the finding, experts cautioned. But Merck's research with an enzyme called integrase gives scientists a long-awaited new place to aim against HIV.

Integrase melds HIV's genetic material with the patient's own DNA inside their cells, allowing HIV to begin reproducing swiftly. In today's edition of the journal Science, Merck researchers report uncovering the exact spot in integrase's action that must be blocked for a drug to work, and the discovery of two chemicals that--in lab tests--seemed to fight the virus.