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Health Highlights: Dec. 16, 2006

Plenty of Flu Vaccine Available, But Not Many Takers Anti-Cyanide Poison Drug Approved by the F.D.A. 300 Reported Sick After Eating at Indianapolis Olive Garden FDA Warns of More Counterfeit Glucose Test Strips World's First Cloned Cat Has Kittens Americans Fattest People on Earth: U.S. Census

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

Plenty of Flu Vaccine Available, But Not Many Takers

There has been more than enough flu vaccine available this year, but that doesn't mean that everyone who needs a shot has been able to get one.

The New York Times reports that distribution delays in the late summer and early fall actually have caused a glut of influenza vaccine in some parts of the United States. The problem began in 2004, the Times reports, when only two companies produced flu vaccine, and there were production problems that caused a shortage. This resulted in long lines at health clinics and other facilities.

This year four companies are producing around 110 million doses, but the distribution delay prevented their availability in many places during September, October and early November, the months when most people get inoculated against the flu.

Now that the vaccine is available, the newspaper reports, there are few takers. One reason is that so far, this has been a mild flu season. Another reasson may be that the holiday season has distracted people from getting a flu shot. "There's so many people out there that need it, and we know didn't get it yet," the Times quotes Dr. Henry H. Bernstein, a pediatrician and member of the infectious diseases committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as saying.

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Anti-Cyanide Poison Drug Approved by the F.D.A.

It's hoped that it will never have to be used on a massive basis, but a drug called Cyanokit has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat cyanide poisoning.

Cyanokit, which is packaged with another drug, a spike and intravenous tubing, was effectively tested on animals and approved in conjunction with a special U.S. government provision that certain drugs can be approved without human trials in order to protect the nation in national emergencies.

In this case, "Cyanide is a potent poison and one of the substances that could be used in a chemical attack," Dr. Steven Galson, Director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a news release Friday. "Today's approval is yet another measure to counter the threat of terrorism, which is a critical component of FDA's public health mission," he added.

Cyanokit was tested in adult dogs to see if it diluted the amount of cyanide in their bodies, and it did dilute the poison by about 55 percent. The drug was then tested on adult humans to see how well they eliminated it in their urine. It was found to be well-tolerated.

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300 Reported Sick After Eating at Indianapolis Olive Garden

Three people have been hospitalized and more than 300 people claimed they became ill after eating at an Indiana Olive Garden restaurant last weekend on Indianapolis' north side, a health official said Friday.

Health officials said they have so far found no link to E. coli bacteria, which sickened patrons at East Coast Taco Bell restaurants recently, Marion County Health Department spokesman John Althardt told the Associated Press.

Patrons reported symptoms including nausea, vomiting, fever and diarrhea. Six restaurant workers also reported on Monday that they were feeling ill.

Health officials were collecting leftover food and stool samples from those stricken to try to pinpoint the source of the illness, Althardt said. A news release from the restaurant chain, based in Orlando, Fla., said the company is working with health officials to find the cause, according to AP.

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FDA Warns of More Counterfeit Glucose Test Strips

A updated warning about additional counterfeit blood glucose test strips being sold for use with the One Touch brand blood glucose monitors was issued Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The strips are used by people with diabetes to measure their blood glucose levels. An incorrect reading could result in a patient taking too much or too little insulin, potentially resulting in serious harm or death.

In October, the FDA issued an alert about several lots of counterfeit strips being sold in the United States. This additional counterfeit lot has the number 227078A on the outer carton, which is labeled as 50-count, and is being sold as One Touch, Basic, and Profile test strips.

Along with this newly identified counterfeit lot, the others are:

  • One Touch, Basic, Profile (lot numbers 272894A, 2619932, 2606340, 2615211)
  • One Touch, Ultra (lot numbers 2691191 and 2691261).

Consumers with counterfeit test strips should stop using them, replace them, and contact their doctor, the FDA said in a prepared statement. For more information about how to identify the counterfeit strips, the FDA said consumers should check the Web site of LifeScan, Inc. (www.lifescan.com), which makes the One Touch blood glucose monitors.

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World's First Cloned Cat Has Kittens

Copy Cat, the world's first cloned cat, had three kittens in September and did it the natural way. Mother (also known as CC) and kittens are doing well.

"They're cute, and we thought people ought to know about the birth. But we're hoping it doesn't cause the same frenzy CC did," Duane Kraemer, a veterinary medicine professor at Texas A&M University who helped clone CC in 2001, told the Associated Press.

Kraemer has been taking care of CC since she was cloned, a research first that received worldwide attention.

The father of CC's kittens is a natural born tabby named Smokey. One of the kittens has a gray coat like its father, while the other two take after their mother, the AP reported.

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Americans Fattest People on Earth: U.S. Census

Americans are the fattest people on the planet and spend more time than ever -- about eight-and-a-half hours a day -- on sedentary activities such as watching television, using computers, reading, listening to the radio, or going to the movies, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The information also reveals that Americans drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water per person in 2004 (about 10 times as much as in 1980), and consumed more than twice as much high fructose corn syrup per person as in 1980, The New York Times reported.

The snapshot of American life is contained in the 1,376 tables in the Census Bureau's 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, which was released Friday by the federal government.

Not only are Americans getting fatter, they're getting taller. The Census Bureau figures show that more than 24 percent of Americans in their 70s are shorter than 5 feet, 6 inches, compared with 10 percent of those in their 20s, the Times reported.

Bicycles are involved in more accidents than any other consumer product and more Americans are injured by wheelchairs than lawnmowers, according to the abstract.

As health-care costs continue to increase, more Americans pray for their health than invest in all forms of alternative medicine or therapy combined, the Times reported.

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