Health Highlights: Feb. 1, 2011

Seeking Health Information Among Leading Uses of Internet FDA Rejects New Diet Pill Swine Flu Vaccine Linked to Narcolepsy: Finnish Study Researchers Track How Flu Spreads Among Children

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

Seeking Health Information Among Leading Uses of Internet

About 80 percent of American Internet users search for health information, making it the third most common activity among people who go online, according to a report released Tuesday.

Sending and receiving e-mails and using search engines are the only online activities more common than seeking health information, said the study by the Pew Internet Project, the Washington Post reported.

Diseases, treatments and doctors are the types of health-related searches most common among Internet users, who often do it on behalf of a child or other dependent.

"Health care information is there where they need it," said Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet Project, the Post reported.

But the study did find that race and class are factors. Fewer than half of adults in the following groups use the Internet to find health-care information: blacks, Hispanics, people 65 and older, disabled adults, and people in households with an annual income of less than $30,000.


FDA Rejects New Diet Pill

A new prescription diet pill called Contrave has failed to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, drug developer Orexigen Therapeutics announced Tuesday.

The FDA told the San Diego company it must conduct a long-term study to prove that the drug does not increase the risk of heart attacks, The New York Times reported.

This is the latest in a series of setbacks for companies trying to get prescription diet pills onto the U.S. market.

Last year, the FDA rejected lorcaserin from Arena Pharmaceuticals and Qnexa from Vivus. It also forced Abbott Laboratories' Meridia off the market, the Times reported.


Swine Flu Vaccine Linked to Narcolepsy: Finnish Study

Swine flu shots appear to increase the risk of the sleeping disorder narcolepsy in children and teens, says Finnish health officials. Narcolepsy is a rare condition that causes people to suddenly fall asleep.

A preliminary study found that patients ages 4 to 19 who received the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine were more likely to experience narcolepsy than youngsters in the same age group who didn't receive the vaccine, the Associated Press reported.

The "most likely explanation is that the increase in narcolepsy is by joint effect of the vaccine and some other factor," said the National Narcolepsy Task Force. The study was published Tuesday by Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare.

The European Medicines Agency said last summer that it was investigating a possible connection between the swine flu vaccine and narcolepsy, the AP reported.


Researchers Track How Flu Spreads Among Children

Flu spreads predominately from girls to girls and from boys to boys, according to a new study that examined how H1N1 swine flu spread among 370 children, ages 6 to 18, in a rural Pennsylvania community.

The researchers found that children are about three times more likely to pass the flu to children of the same gender, likely because girls tend to mix with girls and boys tend to mix with boys, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Rates of flu transmission were five times higher between classmates than among children in the same grade but in different classes. The highest infection rate was among children ages 6 to 10, followed by those age 5 and younger.

The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tracking how flu spreads "could help us better understand whether and when it would be appropriate to close a school, or whether it might be better to close individual classes or grades," lead author Dr. Simon Cauchemez, a researcher at Imperial College London in the U.K., said in a news release, the Times reported.

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