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Health Highlights: Dec. 21, 2006

Slow Start to Flu Season in U.S. Young Cyclists at Risk for Head and Neck Injuries: Report Indiana Girl Source of 2005 Measles Outbreak in U.S Newborn Cooling Cap Approved by FDA 'Magic Mushrooms' May Ease Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Woman With 2 Wombs Has Triplets

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

Slow Start to Flu Season in U.S.

There has been a slow start to the flu season in the United States this year, according to health officials.

In a report released Thursday for the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR, statistics showed that influenza activity remained low in the country overall between Oct. 1 and Dec. 9, but did increase in the southeastern states.

So far this season, influenza A (H1) viruses have been the most common, and most of those viruses are well matched by this year's influenza vaccine, the report said

Patient visits for influenza-like illness and influenza and pneumonia death rates have not exceeded national baseline levels, the report said. No influenza-associated hospitalizations from the Emerging Infections Program or New Vaccine Surveillance Network systems or influenza-related children's deaths have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which publishes the MMWR.


Young Cyclists at Risk for Head and Neck Injuries: Report

During 2002-04, head and neck injuries accounted for almost two-thirds of 1,035 visits to emergency departments in Wisconsin for treatment of bicycle- and tricycle-related injuries to children younger than age 6, says a report in the current Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Most of the injuries, which included riders and passengers, did not involve motor vehicles. The emergency room charges associated with these injuries were more than $650,000. Boys were injured more often than girls, and most of these kinds of injuries occurred between April through September.

Previous studies have shown that helmets reduce the risk of cycling-related head injuries. Parents who buy bicycles or tricycles for their children should also buy a helmet for their youngsters, the report authors said.

MMWR is published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Indiana Girl Source of 2005 U.S. Measles Outbreak

A 17-year-old girl who didn't get vaccinated before she traveled to Romania was the source of last year's measles outbreak in Indiana and Illinois that affected 34 people. It was the largest measles outbreak in the Unites States in a decade.

Three people were hospitalized as a result of the outbreak, but there were no deaths, the Associated Press reported. The outbreak accounted for more than half of the 66 measles cases in the United States in 2005.

The girl, a resident of Indiana, unknowingly brought the measles back home after her trip to Romania, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"The outbreak occurred because measles was imported into a population of children whose parents had chosen not to vaccinate their children because of safety concerns, despite evidence that measles-containing vaccine is safe and effective," the CDC said.

The agency said most of the other 32 measles cases in 2005 originated in other countries, the AP reported. Of those 32 cases, 16 involved U.S. residents who were infected by measles while traveling abroad, and seven cases involved foreign visitors who were infected before they came to the United States.


Newborn Cooling Cap Approved by FDA

A head-cooling device designed to prevent or reduce brain damage in babies starved of oxygen at birth was approved Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Cool-Cap, made by Olympic Medical Corp. of Seattle, maintains a constant flow of chilled water around a newborn's head. Research has shown that cooling can reduce the brain's need for oxygen and slow a chain reaction that continues to destroy brain cells once blood flow resumes, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA approval is based on a study of 234 infants deprived of oxygen at birth. At 18 months, babies treated with the Cool-Cap had lower rates of death and severe disability than infants who received standard supportive care.

According to the FDA, the Cool-Cap could reduce the incidence of death and disability among the 5,000 to 9,000 infants who are starved of oxygen at birth each year in the United States. Currently, as many as 20 percent of such infants die and 25 percent suffer permanent brain damage, the AP reported.


'Magic Mushrooms' May Ease Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms appears to relieve symptoms of severe obsessive compulsive disorder, says a preliminary study by a University of Arizona psychiatrist.

The study of nine patients found that psilocybin reduced symptoms of the disorder for an average of four to 24 hours, but some patients remained symptom-free for days, the Associated Press reported.

"What we saw acutely was a drastic decrease in symptoms. The obsessions would really dissolve or reduce drastically for a period of time," said Dr. Francisco A. Moreno.

The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Moreno said the purpose of the study was to test the safety of psilocybin. He said a larger controlled study needs to be done to determine psilocybin's actual effectiveness in treating obsessive compulsive disorder, the AP reported.


Woman With 2 Wombs Has Triplets

In what's believed to be a world-first, a British women gave birth to twins and a single baby at the same time from two separate wombs, BBC News reported.

Hannah Kersey, 23, had identical twins Ruby and Tilly and singleton Gracie in September. The babies were seven weeks' premature and were delivered by Cesarean section. The infants spent nine weeks in a hospital but are now at home in Devon in southwest England.

Kersey was born with a condition called uterus didelphys, which resulted in her developing two wombs. Doctors had told her it was unlikely she could get pregnant in both wombs, BBC News reported.

Only 70 women in the world are known to have become pregnant in two wombs. This is the first reported case of triplets, according to doctors.

"This is so rare you cannot put odds on it," Ellis Downes, consultant obstetrician at Chase Farm Hospital in London, told BBC News.

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