In Study, Flu Hits Preschoolers First

Preschoolers may signal the arrival of flu season: 30 days after hacking 3- and 4-year-olds start showing up in doctors' offices and emergency rooms, flu-ridden adults follow.

The discovery is sure to bolster calls to vaccinate more children against influenza -- to help keep the misery from spreading. Moreover, researchers found that a spike in respiratory illness among children younger than 5 predicts that about five weeks later, influenza-related deaths among the elderly will peak.

The study does not prove preschoolers drive each winter's flu epidemic, just that they are harbingers for waves of illness.

"What we think is most likely is that 3- and 4-year-olds are early spreaders of influenza because of the preschool setting," said John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Children's Hospital Boston and co-author of the new study.

Brownstein calls the close quarters of preschools and day care centers, full of kids who do not yet cover their sneezes and are apt to pick their noses, "hotbeds of infection."

Brownstein and Kenneth Mandl, a pediatric emergency physician, used health monitoring systems developed to detect bioterrorism to track Boston area emergency rooms and a large HMO network over four flu seasons.

Preschoolers were the first to show up with flulike illnesses, sometimes as early as the end of September, the researchers report in this month's American Journal of Epidemiology.

U.S. Tourist Arrives at Space Station

American millionaire space traveler Gregory Olsen floated into the international space station yesterday, welcomed by the two-man crew with the traditional Russian greeting of bread and salt.

Two days after blasting off from Kazakhstan, a Soyuz capsule carrying the New Jersey scientist, as well as astronaut William S. McArthur Jr. and cosmonaut Valery Tokarev, hooked up with the station 250 miles above Earth at 1:27 a.m. Eastern time, about five minutes ahead of schedule.

With the arrival, Olsen became the third private citizen to visit, having paid $20 million for the privilege.

The docking was conducted automatically. Technical problems have forced some previous capsule pilots to dock manually, a tense procedure.

Exercise May Deter Alzheimer's

Exercising in middle age not only keeps the weight down and the heart healthy but also could cut the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, particularly in high-risk people, Swedish researchers said yesterday.

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute found that people in midlife who exercised at least twice a week had about a 60 percent lower risk of suffering from dementia than more sedentary people.

"This is the first study to show this long-term relation between physical activity and dementia later in life," said Miia Kivipelto of the Aging Research Center.

The biggest impact was in people who had a genetic susceptibility to dementia, reported the study in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Kivipelto and her team studied nearly 1,500 people ages 65 to 79 whose leisure activities had been monitored every five years from 1972 to 1987.

-- From News Services