Health Highlights: Aug. 27, 2009

Pregnant Women, New Parents Urged to Get Swine Flu Vaccine U.S. Issues New Guidelines for Treating Children With HIV Spending on Health Care for Seniors Still Rising: Report Extreme Obesity Takes Years Off Life: Report

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

Pregnant Women, New Parents Urged to Get Swine Flu Vaccine

Women who are pregnant and new parents should get the swine flu vaccine when it becomes available this fall, to protect themselves and their children, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

Speaking during a telebriefing, Dr. Anne Schuchat, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said women at any stage of pregnancy should get the shot, the Associated Press reported.

"There's no benefit to waiting until you're out of the first trimester," added Dr. Laura Riley, of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The H1N1 swine flu first appeared in Mexico and the United States in mid-April, and then spread to the southern hemisphere, where winter and the flu season are drawing to a close. The swine flu is expected to return to North America in the fall.

The swine flu, which typically produces mild symptoms and a quick recovery, has shown no signs of mutating into a more dangerous disease.

Vaccines for the regular seasonal flu are already available in many parts of the United States, and testing continues for a swine flu vaccine. The experts urged people Thursday to get both seasonal and swine flu vaccinations, and not wait to get them together, the AP reported.

Asked if there will be swine flu vaccines available without the controversial preservative Thimerosal, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there would be. He said there's no evidence that Thimerosal poses any health threat, but because some people are concerned about it, a form of the vaccine without it will be available, the news service said.


U.S. Issues New Guidelines for Treating Children With HIV

Experts at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have revised their guidelines on the prevention and treatment of dangerous infections in children with HIV.

The new guidelines -- which update 2004 recommendations -- stress the importance of using powerful antiretroviral drugs to suppress the virus that causes AIDS, and offer guidance on when medicines might be discontinued once a child's immune system recovers.

"The guidelines will help health-care workers and public health officials who work with children to save lives that might otherwise be lost," Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a joint NIH/CDC news release. "The infections that can accompany HIV are often the major cause of illness and death of HIV-infected children."

Children with HIV have depleted immune systems and are therefore vulnerable to so-called "opportunistic" infections, including tuberculosis and pneumonia. These types of infections remain the leading cause of death for HIV-infected children, the news release stated.

The new guidelines, to be published in the Sept. 4 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Report, include:

  • a renewed emphasis on the use of antiretroviral drugs to keep HIV at bay,
  • advice on managing "immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome," a potentially dangerous over-activity of the immune system which can occur as formerly impaired immune responses rebound under treatment,
  • information on drug interactions for children on HIV medications,
  • new advice on the use of antibiotics to fight off a form of pneumonia that often threatens newborns suspected of being HIV-positive,
  • updated advice on immunizing HIV-positive children against pathogens such as hepatitis and HPV,
  • new recommendations that might allow some well-treated, HIV-infected children with newly robust immune systems to discontinue medicines aimed at preventing opportunistic infections. Formerly, experts advised that people stay on these medicines for life.


Spending on Health Care for Seniors Still Rising: Report

Spending to treat the health problems of Americans 65 and older increased by about $2,000 for every senior who used health services between 1996 and 2006, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Reporting in its News and Numbers publication, the agency said that average spending, adjusted for inflation, for seniors rose from $6,989 in 1996 to $9,080 in 2006. The review covered all Americans 65 and older, except for those living in nursing homes and other institutions.

The agency found significant increases in average spending for seniors for the following types of health care:

  • Prescription drug purchase -- from $105 to $174 (66 percent).
  • Physician office visit -- from $114 to $180 per visit (58 percent).
  • Dental visit -- from $187 to $254 per visit (36 percent).
  • Daily hospital stay -- from $2,271 to $2,714 per day (20 percent).


Extreme Obesity Takes Years Off Life: Report

People who are extremely obese -- 80 pounds or more heavier than a normal weight -- die three to 12 years sooner than normal-weight individuals. But people who are just overweight or moderately obese tend to live a normal life span, a new study found, according to USA Today.

The finding mirrors earlier research that found that being slightly overweight may have no impact on life expectancy, but being severely overweight can shorten life spans dramatically, the newspaper said.

According to U.S. health officials, an estimated 66 percent of adult Americans are either overweight or obese. About one-third are obese, meaning they have a body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) or 30 or more. About 6 percent of people are extremely obese, with a BMI of 40 or greater.

The study, done by economists at RTI International, a non-profit research organization in Research Triangle Park, N.C., analyzed national data on 366,000 people.

Study lead author Eric Finkelstein said being moderately overweight may not shorten life spans because there are many effective treatments to manage the health problems often brought on by excess weight, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, the newspaper reported.

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