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Health Highlights: Feb. 10, 2015

Vaccines Safe and Effective: U.S. Senate Committee Health Officials Warn Against 'Measles Parties' Nicorette Lozenge Shortage Concerns Many Ex-Smokers

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

Vaccines Safe and Effective: U.S. Senate Committee

Childhood vaccines are safe and effective, members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee emphasized at a hearing Tuesday.

Senators from both parties and federal health officials said vaccines were a public health priority, USA Today reported.

"Vaccines save lives," committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said. "Children across the country need to be vaccinated," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, said.

During the hearing featuring the federal government's leading immunization expert, committee members dismissed theories that vaccines aren't necessary or can harm children, USA Today reported.

All parents should have their children vaccinated in order to protect them and those who can't get vaccines for medical reasons, the senators said.

"When measles gets into communities of unvaccinated people in the United States, such as people who refuse vaccines for religious, philosophical or personal reasons, outbreaks are more likely to occur," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at the hearing, USA Today reported.

"New research... has found that people who seek personal belief exemptions for their children often live near one another. We think these micro-communities are making it difficult to control the spread of measles and are making us vulnerable to having the virus re-establish itself in our country again," she warned.

Since Jan. 1, there have been more measles cases in the U.S. than in any full year since 2000, Schuchat said.


Health Officials Warn Against 'Measles Parties'

California health officials are warning people against so-called "measles parties" in which children are intentionally exposed to measles in the mistaken belief it will boost their immune defense against the disease.

"CDPH strongly recommends against the intentional exposure of children to measles," the California Department of Health warned. "It unnecessarily places the exposed children at potentially grave risk and could contribute to further spread."

The caution came after a San Francisco radio station said a local woman offered to connect a mother of two unvaccinated children with someone who had the measles. The mother declined the offer, the Washington Post reported.

While state officials said they don't know of any actual cases of intentional measles exposure, a local public health official told the Los Angeles Times his office received several queries about the benefits of "natural immunity" compared to vaccination.

"It doesn't make sense to say I'd rather have my kids get the measles than the measles vaccine," Art Reingold, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Los Angeles Times, the Post reported.

"That's based on misinformation that the measles is a benign childhood illness," he added.


Nicorette Lozenge Shortage Concerns Many Ex-Smokers

A shortage of Nicorette lozenges in the United States has some ex-smokers hunting for and hoarding the product.

Early last year, GlaxoSmithKline stopped making Nicorette lozenges due to quality control problems. The company also voluntarily recalled the lozenges from warehouses and distributors, the Washington Post reported.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration records show the company described the recalled lozenges as "overly thick, overly soft, and sub and superpotent." However, Glaxo also said the lozenges were safe to use and that retailers could sell their remaining supplies.

Glaxo has not said whether it will start making the lozenges again. Nicorette gum is still available, but many former smokers prefer the lozenges.

A nicotine lozenge just sits in your mouth and provides 25 percent more nicotine because it is completely absorbed, Saul Shiffman, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Post.

He led a study that found Nicorette lozenges were at least as effective as the gum.

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