Health Officials Press

For Airline Passenger Data

Federal officials need better access to airline passenger lists so they can quickly locate those who may have been exposed to infectious diseases during a flight, a major gap in the nation's border defenses, says a new report.

It can take days of painstaking work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track down people exposed to exotic diseases, such as a New Jersey man who returned last year from Sierra Leone with a fatal case of Lassa fever.

The CDC has been pushing for several years to improve access to airline manifests and other data, such as international travelers' Customs Bureau cards, which can show passengers' itineraries and contact information. But questions about passenger privacy and how to make airline and government computer systems compatible, among other issues, have stalled the efforts.

A report from the Institute of Medicine backed the CDC's requests for electronic access to airlines' information. That lack is a significant gap in the nation's quarantine system, designed to intercept disease threats at the borders, said the report by the IOM, an independent group chartered by Congress to advise the government on health matters.

CDC Urges Early Flu Shots

For Priority Groups Only

Hoping to avoid last year's flu vaccine shortage, the government urged doctors and other health officials yesterday to give the first batch of flu shots to people at risk of severe complications.

Officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they hope the expected supplies will prevent the kind of shortages seen last year.

But as a precaution, the CDC outlined priority groups that should be vaccinated first. After Oct. 24, shots may be given to everyone who wants them as long as supplies last.

The priority groups include people 65 and older who have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for flu complications, people ages 2 to 64 with such underlying conditions, pregnant women, children ages 6 months to 23 months, health care personnel who give direct patient care and residents of long-term care facilities.

Anti-Epilepsy Drug Helps

Reduce Hot Flashes

Gabapentin, an anti-epilepsy drug, can reduce by 46 percent the hot flashes in women having treatment for breast cancer, according to a study in the journal the Lancet.

Women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer often experience hot flashes. Kishan Pandya of the University of Rochester Cancer Center in New York found that the drug made by Pfizer Inc. under the name Neurontin helped relieve the symptom.

The scientists studied the drug in 420 women with breast cancer who suffered two or more hot flashes a day. The women were randomly selected to receive 300 mg or 900 mg of gabapentin a day or a placebo.

After eight weeks, the researchers said, there had been a 31 percent fall in hot flashes among the 300 mg group and a 15 percent drop among those given a placebo.

-- From News Services