Health Highlights: April 16, 2006

National Flu Pandemic Response Plan Readied Iowa Mumps Epidemic Spreads to Eight States Retailers Start Pulling Contact Lens Solution From Store Shelves Volunteers to Try HIV Vaccine World's Second Face Transplant Done at Chinese Hospital FDA Approves Injectable Drug to Treat Alcoholism

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

National Flu Pandemic Response Plan Readied

A national plan for responding to an avian flu pandemic is almost ready for President Bush's approval, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

A document outlining the plan identifies more than 300 tasks for various federal agencies, the newspaper said. Those details include which frontline workers should be vaccinated first, expanding Internet capacity to handle the flood of workers who would work from home, drive-through medical exams operated by the Department of Veterans that would spot suspected cases, agreements with other nations should the United States be unable to print currency at U.S. mints, and a stockpiling of latex gloves by the military.

The 240-page plan is designed to help the country function during what could be an 18-month crisis that could kill 1.9 million people. Bush saw a draft of the document on March 17, and is expected to sign the still-evolving plan within the week. The plan shows that some agencies are well-prepared for a pandemic while others are still struggling with basic questions on response, the newspaper said.


Iowa Mumps Epidemic Spreads to Eight States

Iowa's mumps epidemic continued to spread this week, reaching eight states, CNN reported.

Iowa, which has reported more than 600 suspected cases since December, has received about 50 reports of new infections a day for at least the last week. Other states reporting cases include Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin, federal health officials said Friday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not released the name of the eighth state, according to CNN.

The CDC has begun a multi-state investigation since it suspects that air travel is causing the disease to spread throughout the Midwest. The agency is asking state health departments to notify any passengers who were possibly exposed to two mumps-infected travelers who took nine flights on two air carriers. The CDC had identified five Northwest Airlines flights taken between March 26-29 with stops in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Washington, and four American Airlines flights on April 2 with stops in Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Idaho. So far, no mumps cases on those flights have been reported.

This mumps outbreak is the biggest to hit the United States in 20 years, the CDC said.


Retailers Start Pulling Contact Lens Solution From Shelves

Retailers began pulling ReNu with MoistureLoc contact lens solution from their store shelves Friday, after the product's maker, Bausch & Lomb, made the request on Thursday.

The cleaning solution is being investigated as a possible cause of 109 reported fungal eye infections since last June, according to the Associated Press.

Bausch & Lomb is recommending that consumers use another contact lens solution while U.S. health officials conduct their investigation.

"We find ourselves in a position where the safety of one of our products, ReNu with MoistureLoc manufactured at our United States plant, is in question," company chairman and chief executive Ronald L. Zarella said in a statement.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors have spent weeks at Bausch & Lomb's plant in Greenville, S.C., but have not been able to detect any source of contamination, the New York Times reported.


Volunteers to Try HIV Vaccine

People began signing up this week to take an experimental HIV vaccine that was developed at Emory University, the Associated Press reported Friday.

At the start of the trial, 12 people at four universities will be given the shots, which are licensed by Geovax Inc., an Atlanta-based biotechnology firm. This is a Phase I trial, where low doses are given to test for safety and immune response, Geovax Chief Executive Officer Don Hildebrand told the AP. A second, higher dose will be given in a few months if all goes well. After that, future trials would be conducted to see whether the vaccine actually stops HIV from causing AIDS.

This vaccine is one of more than 30 AIDS vaccines that are in the early stages of human trials in almost two dozen countries, according to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. A Merck & Co. vaccine is already being used in a Phase II trial involving 3,000 people.

The Geovax vaccine, which was developed by a research team from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory, is to be administered in four doses spread over the course of two months.


World's Second Face Transplant Done at Chinese Hospital

A Chinese military hospital says it's conducted the world's second face transplant on a man who was disfigured during a bear attack two years ago.

In a 14-hour operation, the 30-year-old hunter received a new cheek, upper lip and nose from a single donor. The man, identified as Li Guoxing from the southwestern province of Yunnan, was reported to be in good condition, BBC News reported.

Last November, a 38-year-old French woman became the first person in the world to receive a face transplant. Isabelle Dinoire received new lips, chin and nose. Her face was disfigured when she was mauled by her dog.


FDA Approves Injectable Drug to Treat Alcoholism

Monthly injections of the drug Vivitrol (naltrexone) to treat alcoholism received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval Thursday. The drug was previously only sold in daily pill form.

The injectable form of the drug will be made by Alkermes Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., and will be marketed and sold by Cephalon Inc. of Frazer, Pa., the Associated Press reported.

Vivitrol blocks neurotransmitters in the brain believed to be associated with alcohol dependence.

The companies hope the once-monthly injections, done at a doctor's office, will make it easier than the daily pill for alcoholics to stick with their treatment program.

The price of the injectable drug won't be decided until it's launched in the United States in late June, the AP reported. The drug will carry a black-box warning cautioning patients that it can cause liver damage. The pill form carries a similar warning.

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