Health Highlights: Dec. 22, 2011

HPV Vaccination Efforts Should Focus on Girls: Study U.S. Population Growth Slowest Since Before Baby Boomers ShoulderFlex Massager Poses Strangulation Risk: FDA HIV Vaccine Receives FDA Approval for Human Safety Tests French Officials Consider Recommending Breast Implant Removal U.S. Government Asks Scientists to Withhold Data on New 'Bird Flu' Strain

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

HPV Vaccination Efforts Should Focus on Girls: Study

Girls should be the focus of vaccinations to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), a new study says.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer in females, anal and penile cancer in males, and oropharyngeal cancers in both sexes. In the U.S., HPV vaccination is recommended for adolescent girls and for boys ages 11 and 12.

But researchers in the Netherlands say that concentrating vaccination efforts on girls is the best way to reduce heterosexual transmission of HPV, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Females have the highest prevalence of HPV and immunizing them would achieve the largest population-wide reduction of infection, according to the researchers.

The study appears online in the journal PLoS Medicine.


U.S. Population Growth Slowest Since Before Baby Boomers

Population growth in the United States is the slowest its been since the 1940s, according to new Census estimates.

The population grew 0.7 percent to 311.6 million in the year that ended July 1. That's even slower than the 0.9 percent rate recorded at the height of the recent recession, USA Today reported.

But even though the recession is officially over, it is still having an effect on population growth.

"The pain is being felt, and it's actually expanding to more parts," William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, told USA Today. "The latest Census numbers tell us more of the same."


ShoulderFlex Massager Poses Strangulation Risk: FDA

Reports of one death and one near death associated with the use of a personal massage device called the ShoulderFlex Massager have prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to warn consumers not to use the product.

Hair, clothing or jewelry can become entangled in the device and result in strangulation, the FDA said.

"The ShoulderFlex Massager poses serious risks. Consumers should stop using this device, health care providers should not recommend it to their patients and businesses should stop distributing and selling the device," Steve Silverman, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a news release.

The device was imported by King International and sold in retail stores, catalogs and over the Internet. A recall was announced on Aug. 31, 2011 but King International has since gone out of business and many companies that sell the device and consumers don't know about the recall, the FDA said.


HIV Vaccine Receives FDA Approval for Human Safety Tests

Canadian scientists who created an experimental HIV vaccine that triggers a strong immune response in lab animals have received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to begin clinical trials to test the safety of the vaccine in humans.

The Phase I trial will begin in January and will include 40 volunteers who already have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. If the initial trial is successful, it will be followed by further clinical trials to determine whether the SAV001 vaccine is effective against HIV, CTV News reported.

Previous attempts to create HIV vaccines have used certain genes or proteins from the virus. But this new vaccine uses the whole HIV virus, which has been genetically engineered to prevent it from infecting recipients.

The researchers at the University of Western Ontario in London said the vaccine is designed to prime the body's T-cells to destroy any cells that might become infected with HIV, CTV News reported.


French Officials Consider Recommending Breast Implant Removal

Doctors' warnings about possible rupture and cancer risks associated with a certain type of breast implant have pushed health officials in France to consider whether to recommend that an estimated 30,000 women in the country have their implants removed.

Experts from the French Health Ministry were to meet Friday to decide what to recommend for women with the pre-filled silicone gel implants made by French company Poly Implant Prothese, the Associated Press reported.

More than 1,000 of the implants have ruptured and eight women with the implants have developed cancer, according to French officials. Sales of the implants were halted last year after it was learned that the manufacturer misreported what type of silicone was in the implants.

The decision by French officials could have an effect outside of France because tens of thousands of women in Britain and other countries also have the implants, the AP reported.


U.S. Government Asks Scientists to Withhold Data on New 'Bird Flu' Strain

U.S. officials on Tuesday asked scientists behind a new laboratory-grown strain of "bird flu" to not disclose details of its composition, due to security concerns.

According to the Associated Press, the virus seems to spread more easily among mammals, and government officials worry that publication of its makeup might help terrorists create a biological weapon.

However, experts at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which funded the research, say publication in scientific journals of the virus' blueprint is important because it suggests the H5N1 strain may mutate more easily than was previously believed.

"It's very important research," NIH science policy director Dr. Amy Patterson told the AP. "As this virus evolves in nature, we want to be able to rapidly detect . . . mutations that may indicate that the virus is getting closer to a form that could cross species lines more readily."

Avian flu strains have, in rare cases, been transmitted from birds to humans. The fear is that a strain of H5N1 might mutate to spread easily person-to-person, sparking a worldwide epidemic. The newly engineered strain appears to do so between ferrets, which have immune system responses to flu that are similar to those seen in people, the AP said.

Based on that result, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which advises the U.S. government, looked over the research as it was being submitted to the journals Science and Nature. The board's recommendation prompted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to request that the virus' full genetic blueprint not be published, the AP said.

According to Patterson, the government will allow scientists in the field to be given access to unpublished detail on the genetic makeup of the virus.

The editors-in-chief of Science and Nature have each voiced concerns over the move. "It is essential for public health that the full details of any scientific analysis of flu viruses be available to researchers," Nature editor-in-chief Dr. Philip Campbell said in a statement, adding that the journal is mulling how "appropriate access to the scientific methods and data could be enabled."


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