Controversial Effort

To Stretch Flu Vaccine

New research suggests that giving flu vaccine in a novel way can stretch the supply and protect more people, but the technique did not work as well in those older than 60 and is too experimental to be used to ease this year's shortage, experts say.

Scientists tested giving smaller doses into the skin instead of the traditional full shots injected into a muscle. Young people had comparable immune system responses, but older people, who are most at risk of dying from flu, did not.

Just measuring response alone does not prove effectiveness or justify changing recommendations for this flu season, said Myron Levin of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who is chairman of the government's vaccine advisory panel and had no role in the two pilot studies.

Results were published online yesterday and will appear in the New England Journal of Medicine's Nov. 25 edition.

The skin method is not licensed for giving flu or any other vaccine.

Drug Shows Promise

Against Blinding Disease

British researchers working in an East African village say a single dose of an antibiotic appears to stop infections that cause trachoma, the world's leading preventable cause of blindness.

After treating most of the village with azithromycin, the "prevalence and intensity of infection fell dramatically," said Anthony Soloman, the study's lead author.

The village remained virtually disease-free for two years, he said, suggesting that the method might work like a vaccine to break the infection cycle.

Details of the study appear in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Worldwide, trachoma infects 84 million people in 55 nations, blinding 7.6 million. Most are children and the women who care for them.

The disease has been eradicated in industrialized nations but persists in hot, dusty regions of Africa, southern Asia, Brazil, Mexico and aboriginal communities in Australia.

Trachoma is caused by the microorganism Chlamydia trachomatis. It is spread through contact with eye discharge -- by the fingers, handkerchiefs or even by flies.

In the field trial, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine provided a single oral dose of azithromycin to 916 villagers 12 and older. Within two months, the researchers reported, the infection rate in the village had dropped from 9.5 percent to 2.1 percent. By the end of two years it was 0.1 percent.

Ice Melt Threatens Krill,

Antarctic Food Web

The loss of sea ice in Antarctica brought on by global warming may be causing a decline in numbers of krill, a crustacean, posing a risk to other marine wildlife that feed on it, scientists said yesterday in the journal Nature.

The amount of krill in the southwest Atlantic has fallen by about 80 percent since 1979, correlating with a drop of at least 30 days in the duration of sea ice in the crustacean's main breeding ground in the region, said the lead author, Angus Atkinson of the British Antarctic Survey.

"Open water is bad for krill, because there is less food," Atkinson said in a telephone interview from Cambridge, England, referring to algae upon which the crustacean feeds. "The food is on the sea ice, so there's less time for the krill to feed" with the ice melting earlier.

Other studies have shown that a decline in krill has "clearly adverse" effects on species that feed on them, such as fur seals, black-browed albatrosses, and some penguins, Atkinson said.

The scientists studied an area of the southwest Atlantic Ocean between the latitudes of 30 and 70 degrees west, a region where as much as 71 percent of the Southern Ocean's krill are found. The temperature of the Western Antarctic Peninsula, adjoining the study area, has risen by about 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit over 50 years, Atkinson said.

-- From News Services