Health Highlights: April 19, 2007

132 Million Flu Vaccine Doses for U.S. Next Season Flu Can Increase Heart Attack Risk: StudyMany Playgrounds, Athletic Facilities Locked on Weekends: Study CDC Improves Its Web Site U.S. Senate Blocks Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Proposal 4 Million More Magnetix Building Sets Recalled

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

132 Million Flu Vaccine Doses for U.S. Next Season

A record 132 million doses of flu vaccine are expected to be ready for the 2007-08 flu season in the United States, according to estimates announced Wednesday at a meeting in Atlanta of flu vaccine makers, public health officials, and health professionals.

Sanofi Pasteur Inc. said it will have 50 million doses ready, Novartis Vaccines plans to have 40 million doses, and GlaxoSmithKline expects to have 30 million to 35 million doses. All those doses are in the form of flu shots, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, MedImmune Vaccines says it will produce about seven million doses of FluMist. This nasal spray product, which contains a live flu virus and therefore carries a slight risk of causing flu symptoms, is recommended only for healthy people ages 5 to 49.

But even this large number of flu doses falls short of U.S. guidelines that call for 218 million Americans to get flu vaccinations, noted Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.

The number of flu doses available for the next flu season may increase if another company, CSL Biotherapies, receives federal approval to sell its vaccine in the United States this fall, the AP reported. The company has asked for expedited FDA approval.

Nearly 121 million flu vaccine doses -- the most ever -- were produced for the United States during the 2006-07 flu season, but more than 18 million doses weren't used and are to be destroyed after their June 30 expiration date.

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Flu Can Increase Heart Attack Risk: Study

Having the flu can increase the risk of heart attack, and doctors need to make sure that people at high risk of heart disease get annual flu shots, says a study by U.S. researchers who examined 1993-2000 autopsy reports from St. Petersburg, Russia.

The researchers found that people 50 and older were one-third more likely to die of a heart attack during peak flu season than in non-flu weeks, CBC News reported.

Few people in St. Petersburg receive flu shots or take anti-cholesterol drugs, the study authors noted. Their findings appear in this week's online issue of the European Heart Journal.

"My public health message is that flu is an important killer in cardiac patients," study leader Mohammad Madjid, a professor at the University of Texas, said in a prepared statement. "If people can recognize that the flu vaccine has specific cardio-protective effects, then high-risk people will be more likely to make sure they receive the influenza vaccine every year."

The researchers noted that flu-related inflammation in the body can destabilize arterial plaque, which can then block arteries in the heart and cause a heart attack, CBC News reported.

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Many Playgrounds, Athletic Facilities Locked on Weekends: Study

School playgrounds and athletic facilities could play a major role in reducing U.S. childhood obesity rates, but many of them are locked and inaccessible to children on weekends, says a RAND Corporation study released Thursday.

In 2003, researchers looked at schools and parks within a half mile of the homes of 1,556 sixth-grade girls in six communities: Washington D.C./Baltimore; Columbia, S.C.; Minneapolis; New Orleans; Tucson, Ariz.; and San Diego.

The 407 schools in the girls' neighborhoods represented 44 percent of potential nearby sites for physical activity. On average, 66 percent of the schools were unlocked on weekends. But the study also found that only 57 percent of schools were both unlocked on weekends and had accessible facilities such as playgrounds, athletic fields, basketball courts and paved playing surfaces.

The percentage of unlocked schools with accessible facilities were: Minneapolis, 93 percent; Columbia, 77 percent; San Diego, 74 percent; Washington/Baltimore, 54 percent; Tucson, 50 percent; New Orleans, 23 percent.

"Girls who lived near locked schools tended to be heavier, and neighborhoods with locked schools were disproportionately poor and had larger minority populations," lead author Molly M. Scott, a RAND research analyst, said in a prepared statement.

"These neighborhoods, where risk of obesity is high and public parks and playgrounds are often lacking, could benefit from convenient and safe places for physical activity. And making schools accessible doesn't require construction. It's a policy change," Scott said.

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CDC Improves Its Web Site

Improvements to its home page and major topic Web pages were unveiled Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC officials said the changes to the site, which include improved layout and a more powerful search engine, are meant to make it easier for users to more quickly find health information and resources.

The Web site (www.cdc.gov) averages nine million visits a month. About 37 million pages on the site are viewed monthly.

Among the new features on the home page:

  • Health and safety information is now grouped in broad, easy-to-browse topic areas.
  • There is improved access to data and statistics, recent news, tools and resources, and new publications.
  • An interactive features area at the top of the home page uses photos or videos to highlight current issues, events and health topics.
  • A "Top 20 at CDC.gov" section provides users with a list of the most popular health topics, along with direct access to those topics from the home page.

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U.S. Senate Blocks Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Proposal

Democrats failed Wednesday to get the 60 U.S. Senate votes they needed to proceed with a bill to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices for millions of older Americans, The New York Times reported.

A Democratic motion to limit debate and proceed to consideration of the bill received 55 votes in favor and 42 votes against.

Current law forbids Medicare from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

The bill, a priority for the new Democratic majority in Congress, faced strong opposition from Republicans, who said private insurers and their agents already negotiate significant discounts for Medicare beneficiaries, the Times reported.

The push to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices fell short due to the "power of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry," which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing the measure, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

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4 Million More Magnetix Building Sets Recalled

Four million more Magnetix magnetic building sets are being recalled due to the threat that children will swallow tiny magnets in the sets and suffer serious injury, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said Thursday.

In March 2006, 3.8 million Magnetix magnetic building sets were recalled by Montreal-based maker Mega Brands after one child died and four others were seriously injured after they swallowed tiny magnets in the toys, the Associated Press reported.

If a child swallows more than one magnet, the magnets can attach to one another and cause intestinal perforation, infection or blockage.

Overall, the company and the CPSC say they know of one death, one aspiration and 27 intestinal injuries among children who swallowed the magnets. In all but one of the cases, the children required emergency surgery. The CPSC said it has received reports of at least 1,500 incidents in which small magnets separated from the toy.

The expanded recall covers all Magnetix sets except those sold since March 31, 2006, the AP reported. These newer sets have a caution label and material and design changes that make it less likely that magnets will become loose, the AP reported.

For more information, contact Mega Brands at 800-779-7122.

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